In early 2006, Leslie Hamilton spoke to a UW Veterinary School class about animals and the law. Afterward, one student approached her to say he had, as a part-time lab assistant, witnessed decompression experiments involving sheep.
"He was very bothered by it," recalls Hamilton, an attorney and member of the local Alliance for Animals.
Hamilton made an open records request seeking necropsy reports on sheep who had died. The UW refused on various grounds, including "trade secrets." The state Attorney General's Office declined to get involved. Sighs Hamilton, "We had to let it drop."
Then, last December, Alliance member Ann Emerson was present as a UW review panel discussed the decompression experiments. She got the sense that one overseer, a veterinarian, "wasn't comfortable at all with this."
The meeting minutes identify a number of concerns, including: "It is unclear to the committee when the [experiment] would be terminated due to animal suffering." The panel has since quizzed the principal investigator, Aleksey Sobokin, and asked for monthly reports - both unusual steps.
Hamilton was able to obtain protocols for these experiments. They describe how the sheep are placed in a hyperbaric pressure chamber to simulate what happens during a deep-sea dive, then monitored for signs of decompression sickness - the bends. The experiments, which the UW last fall classified as being in the highest category for animal pain and discomfort, are often fatal.
And that, Hamilton believes, makes them illegal.
State Statute 951.025 reads, in its entirety: "Decompression prohibited: No person may kill an animal by means of decompression."
The Alliance has written the federal authorities that oversee animal experiments and Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard, saying the UW has been killing sheep through decompression at least since 1988. And more than 100 group members have sent postcards urging Blanchard to "investigate this matter and bring charges against those responsible for conducting and approving these cruel acts."
Blanchard has asked the UW for more information "on the facts and the law" and is awaiting its reply before deciding what to do. His initial take is that another section of the statute that exempts scientific research "would not apply to a violation of 951.025."
Hamilton agrees. She notes that a research exception was added to another section barring the use of poisonous and controlled substances but not to those against animal fighting, shooting at caged animals and decompression. "The legislative intent was clear," she says.
Eric Sandgren, director of the UW's Research Animal Resources Center, offers this response:
"We're still reviewing the complaint and preparing our response to Mr. Blanchard, so it wouldn't be appropriate for us to provide detailed comments right now. We do believe that the research studies at issue were fully compliant with the letter and spirit of all applicable state and federal laws governing the use of animals in research. The studies were humanely conducted according to generally accepted veterinary practices, and serve the important public purpose of helping people working in deep-sea environments, such as submariners, to survive a rapid ascent."
Last week A&E debuted a new reality show, Hoarders, about people who engage in pathological accumulation, often due to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Last Saturday, Madison police found the body of a 70-year-old woman in the garage of a house described as "full of garbage," in some places stacked five feet high.
How big a problem is hoarding in Madison?
"We deal with it, and the Health Department deals with it," says George Hank, head of the city of Madison's Building Inspection Division. "These cases are very time-consuming."
Hank's division focuses on tenant hoarders, generally about one new case a week. The health department, meanwhile, handles owner-occupants. Both work cooperatively with residents, to get them to, er, clean up their acts.
"We use, for lack of a better phrase, the baby-steps approach," says Hank, explaining that tenants may be asked to just make a dent. "We've worked with people for a year to get things cleaned up, because we know this is a mental health issue."
When children are involved, the urgency increases. A few years back, a child protection worker joined Hank on a visit to a tenant with "huge storage and garbage issues" and laid down the law: "I'm coming back at four o'clock, and if this place isn't clean the kids are coming with me."
The dwelling, says Hank, "was substantially cleaner by the end of the day."
Bonnie Lynn, a sanitarian with Public Health Madison and Dane County, says her department currently has 16 hoarding cases, in various stages. Its authority is limited to public health concerns - odor problems due to rotting food or garbage, rodent or bug infestations, pet or human waste, faulty plumbing. Things like that.
"If it's just that they've got a lot of clothes or books," says Lynn, "we're not going to get involved." Referrals may be made to other agencies: animal control, building inspection, elder abuse, mental health and child protective services.
Lynn says most hoarders "are willing to work with us," so it's rarely necessary to use warrants to gain access to dwellings or levy fines. But some properties have been condemned.
Hank says some hoarders are grateful for the cleanup call: "We've gotten thank-you cards - 'I can't believe what I was living in.'" And Lynn feels compassion toward those who suffer from this "unique disorder."
"This is a coping mechanism for them," she says. "They just can't help themselves."
Madison officials say they've found credible evidence that a city employee molested a child. They plan to look into it more and may fire the employee. But the city says the victim doesn't want to make a fuss, so that's that.
Relax. This isn't really happening.
But substitute a few words and it describes the situation surrounding the Rev. Joseph Gibbs Clauder.
On Aug. 11, the Madison diocese issued a press release (PDF) saying a "credible" allegation of child sex abuse had been made against the longtime Madison-area practitioner. The diocese has referred the matter to the Vatican, which could defrock Clauder or ask him to pray about it.
Um, what about the cops? Isn't child molestation a crime?
William Yallaly, executive assistant to Madison Bishop Robert Morlino, tells Isthmus the minor, now an adult, was molested sometime after Clauder was sidelined in 1999 for sexual misconduct involving an adult.
"We've told them [the victim] that we would be completely supportive...if they wanted to go forward with any sort of police reporting," says Yallaly, "but they do not want to do that at this time."
Yallaly won't say whether the victim is male or female, where the abuse occurred, or whether Madison cops have sought more information, although "we would do everything we could do to cooperate." Madison police officials, including Chief Noble Wray, Assistant Chief Randy Gaber and Capt. Vic Wahl, dodged requests to say whether an investigation has been or will be opened.
No fans of drive-by texting
The Wisconsin State Journal on Sunday ran 17 letters from readers agreeing that texting while driving is dangerous and should be outlawed, compared to a grand total of none who took a contrary view. Surely, given all the people who do this, someone must be willing to defend it. Text your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. But please - not while you're driving.