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Alliance for Animals and PETA seeking prosecution for mice aggression experiments at UW-Madison

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The local Alliance for Animals and PETA are this week sending a letter (PDF) asking Dane County's district attorney to prosecute the UW-Madison for allegedly violating a state law against "instigating fights between animals."

At issue are experiments by a team of UW scientists into aggression by mice. According to one published study, the scientists found that mice who won fights with other mice were more likely to seek out future fights. It is not known whether proximity to bartime was also tracked.

State statute 951.08(1) says "No person may intentionally instigate, promote, aid or abet...a cockfight, dog fight, bullfight or other fight between the same or different kinds of animals," except at exhibitions like rodeos.

"It's pretty clear the law says you can't stage fights between animals," says Alliance co-director Rick Bogle, who is also filing a complaint with federal officials who fund UW research.

In August 2009, the Alliance lodged a similar complaint against UW researchers who engaged in sometimes fatal decompression experiments involving sheep. District Attorney Brian Blanchard agreed these experiments violated a state law against killing animals through decompression but declined to prosecute. The Alliance and PETA successfully petitioned for the appointment of a special prosecutor, who just last month also decided against bringing charges.

Bogle is hopeful that Dane County's new DA, Ismael Ozanne, may "feel the university should be held accountable for violations of state law."

Dr. Eric Sandgren, director of campus animal research, says the UW reviewed all experimental protocols after the sheep issue was raised, and concluded that the experiments involving mice did not violate the law. He says the "fights" generally consist of one mouse charging at another, who retreats, and that no encounters led to serious injuries. "It's a behavioral fight."

Still, Sandgren says the mice studies were stopped after the sheep experiments stirred talk of civil and even criminal charges. "This whole thing really did upset researchers on this campus."

The UW, in response, has sought legislative remedies. Last week the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee approved a change specifying that state laws regarding crimes against animals "would not apply to persons engaged in bona fide scientific research at an educational or research institution...."

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