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University of Iowa goat escape could prompt procedure changes

Search costs expected under $10,000

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IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa-owned goat nabbed this week after his widely-publicized escape sent authorities on a 10-day chase will not go to a “sanctuary” as requested by animal activists and instead will continue being used in a nearly $1 million orthopedic research endeavor.

The escaped goat, nicknamed “William” by the community before his capture Monday, also could prompt changes to the university’s animal transportation procedures, according to Stephen Pradarelli, UI strategic communications director.

The university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee is investigating the goat escape, which occurred Jan. 29 at the UI Research Park in Coralville while the animal was being transferred to a vehicle for transportation to a housing facility. Officials also are reviewing relevant policies, practices, procedures, personnel, and training at the lab involved in the escape to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The research project involving the escaped goat, using $914,555 in National Institutes of Health funding, aims to better understand post-traumatic osteoarthritis in hopes of developing treatment for the degenerative joint disease that affects — for example — members of the military and athletes, Pradarelli said.

UI currently has about $111 million in public and private research funding associated with projects involving vertebrate animals, including 14 goats. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Care Information System shows the University of Iowa in the 2015 budget year used 1,659 animals for research, including 20 goats.

The goats, according to the federal agency, were used in experiments that involved pain but for which pain medication was administered.

Although the escaped goat’s research project — which involved about seven UI faculty and staff members — has been suspended pending further investigation into the incident, the project’s federal funding remains unaffected, Pradarelli said.

And, “for the sake of preserving the integrity of research,” he said the involved lab has been allowed to work on other funded projects — although with greater oversight.

Although the total financial impact of the escape still is being tabulated — including staff time spent following up on goat sightings and time lost in the lab — Pradarelli said costs are expected to come in under $10,000.

He said this is the first time the university has lost one of its research animals.

The university in September paid $1,009.58 to acquire the goat from a local farm, as it generally does not accept donated animals for research, according to Pradarelli. He cited one recent exception involving a staff veterinary scientist who oversees a small project using donated animals who become sick with an infection for which researchers are trying to develop preventions and treatments.

“This study has involved only two animals of the same species over the past three years,” Pradarelli said.

Last week, after news of the goat escape spread, a national representative with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a complaint with the USDA calling for an investigation and wrote a letter to UI President Bruce Harreld asking the goat be sent to a sanctuary after being found.

Pradarelli this week told The Gazette — despite offers — the university is not considering propositions from members of the public or organizations wanting to take over the goat’s care.

“Because the animal is part of ongoing, federally funded research, the University of Iowa is not in a position to consider offers,” Pradarelli said.

UI is not the only public institution in the state using animals for research. Iowa State University in 2015 used 1,060 animals for research, including 36 goats. Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids in the 2015 budget year used 140 research animals.

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