Oversight group to probe treatment of animals at University of Calgary lab

A national group that oversees rules for the use of animals in labs says it's looking into allegations that rats woke up in the middle of surgeries at the University of Calgary due to "mismanagement" of the anesthetic.

Group says 'no animal welfare issues' currently in play because the lab has been shut down

Students in the lab at the centre of allegations, at the University of Calgary's Department of Psychology (Twitter)

A national group that oversees rules for the use of animals in labs says it's looking into allegations that rats woke up in the middle of surgeries at the University of Calgary due to "mismanagement" of the anesthetic.

Former students in the lab at the university's psychology department say they witnessed many cases of rats waking up during surgery, "crying, screaming and fighting."

The students, who spoke to CBC News on condition of confidentiality, say the lab was shut down in March after the university's top veterinarian started looking into the complaints.

Another student said she didn't see any rats wake up during surgery during her time at the lab, which stretched from November 2015 until it was shut down earlier this year.

Review of university lab

The Canadian Council on Animal Care, which sets standards for the treatment of animals used in science, said it has been in touch with the university's veterinarian about the allegations. It said "no animal welfare issues are at play," given that the lab has been shut down.

"The CCAC takes all allegations of animal mistreatment very seriously," spokesperson Sandra Lea MacInnis said in a brief statement.

"I can assure you that the CCAC will continue to work with the University of Calgary to ensure that all of the CCAC's guidelines and policies are being observed and followed."

According to the national guidelines, "appropriate anesthesia" is among several components that are "essential to the welfare of the experimental animal and the success of the surgical component of the research project."

Animal rights group calls for investigation

The national group Animal Justice is urging the Calgary Humane Society to investigate the allegations.

"When these instances do come into public light because of the brave actions of whistleblowers, it's all the more important for enforcement agencies to take action, when this type of cruelty rears its ugly head," said executive director Camille Labchuk.

The Calgary Humane Society said it received the group's complaint but added it cannot open an investigation unless someone with direct knowledge complains directly to the agency. Brad Nichols, the senior manager of animal cruelty investigations, said staff rarely get complaints involving lab animals.

Asked to comment on the fresh animal rights concerns, the University of Calgary reiterated its previous statement that it is reviewing claims about a lab at the department of psychology. It said the university will make changes at the end of its review, if necessary, "to ensure that our procedures continue to be upheld to the highest standards."

CBC News has attempted to contact the professors identified by sources, but there has been no response.