Misconduct at A&M-Commerce Led to Animal Mistreatment

Infighting and poor oversight, including an instance of "profound neglect," contributed to the mistreatment of animals at a Texas A&M University campus, according to federal and university reports.

Texas A&M University in Commerce, northeast of Dallas, violated three provisions of the federal Animal Welfare Act, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report dated Sept. 15. Among the findings were a veterinary care manager who was banned from the School of Agriculture's farm, an administrator who changed operating procedures without the authority to do so and at least one horse that suffered because an equine manager failed to follow instructions for its care.

"This facility has had ongoing problems communicating with and following guidance from the attending veterinarian," USDA inspector Cynthia Digesualdo wrote.

The report follows on the heels of Texas A&M-Commerce's interim president, Ray Keck, announcing in August a "zero-tolerance policy" toward the neglect and mistreatment of animals. Keck said then that he'd been impressed by the quality of work at the school, but that "my review of the care and past oversight of animals on our campus, particularly in our agriculture department, proved to be an exception."

Texas A&M-Commerce and Texas A&M System spokesmen did not return messages Wednesday seeking comment on the federal report.

An internal review in 2015 determined that a pregnant mare had suffered for months with a condition where bones had rotated through the soles of her feet. Despite her condition, she was used in breeding, contributing to her suffering. The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, a campus panel, was faulted for not properly overseeing the care of animals.

"The breeding of this mare in her lame condition was a severe violation of veterinary care standards and is evidence of profound neglect by the A&M-Commerce animal care staff, attending veterinarian and IACUC," according to an internal report separate from the USDA findings. "Personnel who were responsible for this decision were relieved of duty."

The mare eventually was euthanized.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, recently filed a complaint with the Hunt County district attorney's office, alleging the school was guilty of cruelty to a livestock animal. District Attorney Noble Walker did not return a call Wednesday inquiring whether his office is investigating the matter.

Despite Keck's public assurances, the federal inspection in September found that two other horses suffered mistreatment over the summer because of staff mismanagement.

In one case, a veterinarian determined that a new mare was too thin and ordered an equine manager to feed her separate from the herd. But log records show the instructions weren't followed until a month later and the mare's condition further deteriorated.

In another case, an animal care worker was concerned with a problem a stallion was having and sought contact information for the horse's owners. The worker was told by another staffer that the owners had already been notified and declined any treatment. The worker still went ahead and contacted the owners, who said they hadn't been notified and in fact wanted the stallion treated.

Keck promised in August to adopt reforms, saying "new leadership is being installed in order to further increase oversight of animal care and assist in the enforcement of the school's new zero-tolerance policy."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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