Rick Bogle doubts the UW-Madison paid much attention to the state's animal cruelty statute until last year, when the local Alliance for Animals began questioning the legality of sometimes-fatal decompression experiments involving sheep (see Watchdog, 8/27/09, 9/24/09 and 10/8/09).
Now he thinks UW officials are actively committed to change - not in the experiments but in the law.
Bogle, the Alliance's co-director, points to a recent amendment to a bill meant to strengthen state laws against animal mistreatment. The amendment, offered by the bill's author, Rep. Nick Milnoy (D-Superior), exempts "bona fide experiments carried on for scientific research" from the section requiring that animals be given adequate food and water.
Milnoy tells Isthmus he made this tweak in response to concerns raised by the UW-Madison's representative at a recent hearing. But he doesn't think it changes anything: "There currently are exemptions for scientific research in the state statutes."
That's where it gets dicey. The Alliance argued, and Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard agreed, that the statute's exemption for research pertained only to a more general section on animal cruelty, not the section that prohibits the use of decompression to kill animals.
The same appears true for the section on food and water, meaning Milnoy's bill could provide a research exemption where none currently exists. Does that mean researchers could starve and dehydrate animals? Bogle: "If they wanted to, yes."
While Blanchard felt the sheep experiments violated the law, he opted not to prosecute, calling this an unwise use of his office's resources. The Alliance and the national group PETA have filed a petition urging that the university be prosecuted for the sheep experiments.
A court hearing on this petition was held last week. A written ruling is pending.