Companion Animal Law Blog

Bringing together those whose lives and livelihoods revolve around companion animals


Wonderful Week for the Animals, Part One: Undercover Investigation of North Carolina Laboratory Leads to First Time Felony Cruelty Charges

This past week has been a landmark week for the animals in many ways, worthy of three back-to-back blog posts!

On Tuesday, July 5, 2011, a North Carolina jury indicted four lab workers for felony animal cruelty charges. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) conducted an undercover investigation of Professional Laboratory Research Services (PLRS), a company that conducts research for pet products like flea and tick medication. PETA’s blog reports that lab employees Mary Ramsey, Jessica Detty, Christine Clement and Tracy Small were

among those caught on video kicking, throwing and dragging dogs; hoisting rabbits by their ears and puppies by their throats; violently slamming cats into cages; and screaming obscenities at terrified animals. One of those named is the worker seen on video trying to rip out a cat’s claws by violently pulling the animal from the fence onto which he or she clung in fear.

PETA reports that the investigation led to citations by USDA for Animal Welfare Act violations, closure of the lab, surrender of almost 200 dogs and 50 cats, and 14 felony cruelty charges counts against the four PLRS employees.

Prosecution of laboratories and their employees is rare. One reason is that animal cruelty statutes tend to have exceptions for laboratory animals. Virginia’s animal cruelty statute, Code Section 3.2-6570, exempts “bona fide scientific or medical experimentation.” North Carolina’s animal cruelty statute, Section 14-360, makes intentional animal cruelty a misdemeanor, and malicious animal cruelty a felony, but has an exception for “lawful activities conducted for purposes of biomedical research or training” and “activities conducted for lawful veterinary purposes.”

Another reason that cruelty prosecution involving laboratory animals is so rare is that states often defer to federal authorities. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which establishes basic standards of care and regulations for laboratory animals. But enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act is hardly common or consistent.

This time, PETA reported its findings to USDA, which took the situation seriously and worked together with state officials to bring the PLRS employees to justice — with felony animal cruelty charges.

PETA has been harshly criticized all too often for their own antics. But this time, PETA focused their efforts properly, with a fantastic result – and captured national attention, including with the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Kudos to all involved for seeing the PLRS employees’ acts for what they were – malicious cruelty that should never be justified as “lawful activities” in the name of research.