UI e-mails: "William" the research goat euthanized after capture involving cages, tranquilizer darts

The university also considered utilizing drones, helicopters, hunters, herding dogs, and a "female goat in heat"

  • Photo

IOWA CITY — In a 10-day escapade earlier this year to capture a “skittish” escaped research goat nicknamed William, the University of Iowa used tranquilizer guns and cages and considered tapping drones, helicopters, hunters, herding dogs, and a “female goat in heat” to track and lure him.

After dedicating countless man hours, spending nearly $10,000 dollars, and attracting widespread public attention that had the City of Coralville leafleting “wanted” posters and North Liberty asking residents to be on the lookout, UI officials captured the goat about 3:30 p.m. Feb. 8.

The following month he was euthanized, “per the protocol.”

Emails and documents obtained by The Gazette, however, show the high value university officials placed in the animal’s life in January and February as they balanced desperation to catch him with their desire to temper negative publicity.

“I think the risks (publicity and reaction) outweigh the potential benefits,” Daniel Reed, vice president for research and economic development, wrote in a Feb. 5 email responding to a proposal to use a helicopter to track the animal.

“I keep having this image of the local TV news cutting into the caucus coverage to announce we’ve caught the goat,” Reed wrote to colleagues on Jan. 31 — two days after the goat’s Jan. 29 escape from the UI Research Park in Coralville.

The escape prompted UI officials to create a new policy related to animal transportation, suspend the research project for weeks so the team could receive additional training, buy its own tranquilizer gun, and spend more than $4,500 to install temporary fencing at the escape site.

It also resulted in a citation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which found the university violated the Animal Welfare Act requiring institutions handle animals as “expeditiously and carefully as possible in a manner that does not cause trauma, overheating, excessive cooling, behavioral stress, physical harm, or unnecessary discomfort.”

But publicity around the goat and its capture wasn’t enough to alter the goat’s fate — despite appeals from residents, along with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, that he go to an “accredited sanctuary.”

Some community members even offered to take him in, but UI spokesman Stephen Pradarelli said the university was not in a position to consider those offers due to the goat’s involvement in federally funded research. The animal, one of 14 goats involved in UI research during the spring semester, was used in a study to better understand post-traumatic osteoarthritis in hopes of developing treatment for degenerative joint disease.

“This animal was nearing the conclusion of its role in the protocol when the incident occurred,” Pradarelli told The Gazette in an email.

Part of the goat’s role involved euthanasia and post-mortem study.

“As with most protocols involving medical research, euthanization was necessary so the area being studied could be examined closely in a lab setting and to allow for data collection,” Pradarelli said.

Upon hearing of the goat’s demise, Alka Chandna, senior laboratory oversight specialist with PETA, said, “It’s very very heartbreaking.”

“William’s escape really did signal to people that this was a being who wanted to be free,” Chandna said. “He didn’t like being held captive or prisoner or being used in painful and deadly experiments.

“It really is a tragedy to learn that, after being recaptured, the university didn’t heed its better angels that would have counseled that the goat be surrendered to a sanctuary,” she said.

Chandna also expressed concern with ways the university tried to track, lure, and capture him.

“There certainly seems to be additional trauma he endured,” she said.

The following is a timeline of events surrounding the goat’s escape and recapture, according to emails and documents obtained by The Gazette.

Jan. 29: The goat escaped about 9 a.m. from a portable carrier while being moved to a vehicle for transportation to a housing facility. Nancy Marks, director of the university’s Office of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, emailed the USDA to notify officials.

That afternoon, the UI committee held an emergency meeting, and actions at the lab were suspended temporarily.

Jan. 30: UI officials launched efforts to install a temporary fence around the driveway at the research park, calling it a “priority request.” Community members began calling in goat sightings, including one who spotted the animal crossing First Avenue, headed east, at 10:45 a.m.

Jim Sheets, attending veterinarian and interim director of the Office of Animal Resources, went looking for the goat but reported at 11:35 a.m., “The goat was spooked and bolted.” He also began trying to secure a tranquilizer gun to use “as needed.”

That evening, about 5:30 p.m., the goat was spotted near a home, and officers got within 30 yards of the animal.

“He wouldn’t approach for treats I offered and ran east a short distance into woods,” Sheets wrote in an email. “I left food and treats on the ground near the residence and hope he will stay in the area until morning.”

Sheets asked Dave Visin, interim director of UI public safety, to contact local game wardens or state park police “to see if we can locate a tranquilizer gun or even a large species capture cage.”

“As skittish as this goat is, I think we will be hard pressed to catch him without additional resources or a good bit of luck,” Sheets wrote.

Visin offered another suggestion, “Have you considered using another goat to lure it in, maybe one of the opposite sex?”

“This is a castrated male, so I don’t think he will have much interest,” Sheets wrote.

Jan. 31: At 9:32 a.m., university officials mulled ideas of how to obtain a tranquilizer gun, emailing out contact information to local zoos, animal clinics, and farms. Some suggested large animal veterinarians, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Cedar Rapids Animal Control, and Iowa State University.

Visin suggested the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center.

“They do have a tranquilizer gun but had some concerns about its use,” Visin wrote, adding they had just captured a goat a couple months ago and could have “some ideas.”

At the end of the day, Sheets reported “two near misses today.”

“Almost had him cornered on a porch but he darted away before we could get close enough to try to grab him,” Sheets wrote. “Very disappointing that IC police couldn’t cooperate a bit better to get us that tranq gun today, as we had a great shot at him this morning.”

Feb. 1: Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture arrived on site at 9 a.m., and colleagues emailed out, “Good luck,” and “sending good thoughts your way.”

In the evening, Sheets reported “a few hours searching today but no luck.”

“This is the first day since the escape that we haven’t had any public sightings called in to the UI police,” he wrote in an email, noting one man reported an animal hitting his bedroom window in the morning.

“The gentleman said he didn’t have his glasses on but thought it looked like a light colored deer,” he wrote. “Most likely our guy.”

According to Pradarelli, the UI Office of Animal Resources borrowed a tranquilizer gun from a local animal control agency and later bought its own equipment and accessories for $984. Liz Ford, supervisor of the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center, confirmed for The Gazette the center loaned the university two tranquilizers to help capture the goat.

And, Ford said, she thinks their use was reasonable.

“I think they needed to use all the resources available to them to get the goat out of trouble and prevent something worse from happening — like a traffic accident,” she said.

In a Feb. 1 email, Sheetz reported testing the tranquilizer guns.

“We hit the target all but one time!” he wrote.

Feb. 2: Heather Gipson, assistant vice president for UI Research Compliance, suggested buying a tranquilizer gun “in light of the recent events.” Visin gave approval to move ahead with the purchase.

“No matter what I can authorize it,” he wrote. “Consider it done.”

Several raised questions about how to purchase the weapon and who would use it.

“Jim Sheets, the attending vet, will be in charge of the tranquilizer gun,” one UI official wrote. “He has been fully trained on its use. He currently has access to the one from IC Animal Shelter. If there is a clear and safe opportunity, he plans to use it.”

Later that evening, officials expressed concern around comments on a news report — specifically involving one UI employee.

“There was discussion about the goat being euthanized, and he commented that it would not be euthanized,” an official wrote. “Maybe we need to think about reminding employees that they should not be commenting.”

Feb. 3: Sheets emailed new Google maps showing directional arrows with dates for each sighting. Pradarelli, around noon, questioned Coralville’s “lighthearted treatment of this issue” with its Tweets and “wanted” poster. Visin suggested letting it “blow over.”

Feb. 4: UI officials spent much of the day drafting notification letters to federal agencies.

Feb. 5: Discussion swirled around a new UI policy for animal transportation while Sheets continued to think creatively about other options.

About 12:30, an emailer reached out to Sheets to suggest tapping a local “avid hunter” who knows well the area “our goat has been roaming for the past week.” Sheets said he’d keep the hunter’s phone number and “add him to the call list.”

Later in the afternoon, Sheets reached out to Tom Schnell, associate UI professor and director of the Operator Performance Laboratory, about the possibility of using a drone to track the goat. After a phone called, Sheets reported to supervisors, “The drone idea is a non-starter” due to legal and logistical hurdles.

“Tom did, however, offer the use of his helicopter,” Sheets wrote. “The hourly rate for the helicopter would be around $1,200.”

Administrators expressed reservations about using a helicopter, and Assistant Vice President Gipson said, “I worry about the attention it may draw.”

Sheets later told Schell he’d been advised to “stand down on any chopper deployments.”

“But I can be pretty persuasive if it looks like we have a prime opportunity at hand,” he wrote. “So I’ll let you know if we get a green light.”

Feb. 6: About 8:30 a.m. the goat was spotted near a home and located in a nearby yard where officers hit it with a tranquilizer dart. The dart, according to Sheets, “must have struck the bony prominence on its hip because the dart fell to the ground and didn’t discharge any of the drug.”

Multiple police and staff tracked the goat, chasing it through a pasture, and cornering it near two properties.

“I was able to take a second shot but missed it,” Sheets wrote.

Feb. 7: Sheets spotted the goat on a front porch after 1:30 p.m. and waited about 30 minute for campus police and UI staff to assist. He managed to hit the animal with a tranquilizer dart, but the goat ran across a stream and stopped by a house, where officers watched him for 15 to 20 minutes.

“Unfortunately, the dart was stuck in his side and in the location of his stomach so the drug contents may not have gone intramuscular and we did not see an obvious sedative effect,” Sheets wrote. “We attempted to get another dart into him but he ran back across the stream.”

Sheets suggested looking into “baiting and capture” using a livestock trailer and a motion-activated camera “so we could monitor the trap continuously via cellphone or computer.”

“I’m running out of other options,” he writes.

Feb. 8: Sheets went out for a quick look around at 11:10 a.m.

At 4:47 p.m., director Marks emailed out, “Goat recaptured.”

“Back in pen,” she wrote. “Vets doing exam now but appears to be in good health.”

Feb. 9: UI officials continued drafting new animal transportation policies. One person, whose name was redacted by the university, wrote, “As long as people remember locks, we should be good!”

Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.