Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard has concluded that the UW-Madison is breaking the law every time it kills sheep through experiments involving decompression, just as local activists have charged (Watchdog, 8/28/09). The bad news, from their point of view, is that he's not going to do anything about it.
"[I]t would not be a wise use of the resources of this office to pursue forfeiture actions for each sheep death in connection with peer-reviewed, potentially life-saving research," Blanchard wrote in a letter to the UW last Friday.
The UW argued in a letter to Blanchard ("Sheepish Response," 9/25/09) that the sometimes fatal experiments, meant to simulate the reactions of deep sea divers ("the bends"), do not run afoul of a state law against killing animals by means of decompression. It said that the Legislature meant to ban decompression as a euthanasia technique, and that sheep deaths are not an intended consequence, although it admits that at least 26 sheep have died over the last decade.
Blanchard rejects both arguments, saying "the plain language of the statute is unambiguous," and intent is not needed to establish a violation. Thus, "it is a civil violation each time an animal dies" from decompression. He says that if the UW considers this "an absurd legal result," since it can freely subject animals to "even very painful" decompression, it can ask the Legislature for a research exemption for decompression deaths. (For Blanchard's letter, see here.)
This response angers Lyn Pauly, co-director of the local Alliance for Animals. "Why should the UW care what the law prohibits if it is not subject to its penalties anyway?" she asks, "The district attorney's decision... reinforces what everyone already knows: Animal experimentation at the UW is above the law."