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          Front Page




Animal Cruelty Charges Dropped

By Rene Romo
Journal Southern Bureau
    LAS CRUCES— Three state charges of animal cruelty have been dismissed against Charles River Laboratories Inc., a federal contractor managing an Alamogordo-based primate facility.
    State District Judge Jerry Ritter of the 12th Judicial District ruled last week that the alleged misconduct, which District Attorney Scot Key said led to the deaths of two chimpanzees in late 2002, occurred in the practice of veterinary medicine and was therefore exempt under the state's animal cruelty law.
    "They (chimps) weren't abandoned, and they received all proper veterinary care," said Albuquerque attorney Charles Daniels, who represented Charles River, the huge laboratory animal supplier headquartered in Wilmington, Mass. "The judge made some very thoughtful and correct legal decisions in determining this was an inappropriate prosecution."
    Key said on Monday that he was disappointed by the ruling, because it headed off the fact-finding stage of the case. Key said he was reviewing the case to determine whether to appeal the dismissal.
    The animal cruelty law's exemption for veterinary medicine, Key said, "was not intended to give blanket exemption to criminal behavior."
    Elliot Katz, president of California-based In Defense of Animals, said Ritter's decision did just that. IDA is a longtime critic of the federal government's oversight of roughly 265 federally owned chimpanzees housed at the Animal Primate Facility on Holloman Air Force Base.
    In the spring of 2001, the National Institutes of Health gave Charles River a 10-year, $42 million contract to manage the facility previously run by the embattled Coulston Foundation.
    Last September Key filed charges against Charles River and two officials for the treatment of three chimps, when two died and a third nearly did. In the cases of the two chimps that died, Key alleged Charles River personnel left the ailing animals overnight under the watch of security guards who had no veterinary training.
    Katz, in a news release, said that for "Charles River and the NIH, the 'practice of veterinary medicine' constitutes intentional and repeated abandonment of critically ill or injured chimpanzees to once-per-hour observation by untrained security guards."
    Daniels said IDA has "misplaced suspicion" about Charles River based on the animal-rights group's long-running battle with the Coulston Foundation.