Monday, September 19, 2016

Beagle Freedom Project Offers to Settle Mizzou Litigation — for $1 and an Adoption Plan

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2016 at 11:51 AM

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/BROWNPAU

A group of animal-loving advocates has a deal for Mizzou.  

The Beagle Freedom Project, the California-based non-profit suing the University of Missouri over an $82,000 bill for public records related to the care of animals used in medical research, says the university could face up to $900,000 in fines, plus attorney fees and costs, over its Sunshine law missteps.

But the non-profit will settled the suit with Mizzou for just $1 — provided the university agrees to work with it to safeguard the animals' well-being.

Among its demands? That Mizzou develop a post-research adoption program to allow the public to adopt research cats and dogs, as well as place a live-stream web cam in the animals' living area, paid for by the non-profit.

The web cam wouldn't show the animals as they're researched upon, says attorney Daniel Kolde. But it would allow the public to see their living conditions — increasing "public accountability."

Kolde, the Clayton attorney representing the Beagle Freedom Project, says he made the settlement offer in a letter this morning. A spokesman said the university would have no comment, citing the fact that litigation is pending.

Kolde says his clients first filed the Sunshine law requests to see records relating to the 179 animals being experimented upon at Mizzou. The requests asked only for basic info that the university was already required to keep, he says.

But the university responded with bills totaling $82,222. Staffers were being paid as much as $125/hour to compile them, and in some cases, the records would cost as much as $7 a page.

Rather than write a check, the non-profit filed suit. And since that time, it's raised awareness about six beagle puppies who were slaughtered at Mizzou after being blinded and then subjected to test treatment — a case that's generated lots of bad press for the university. A change.org petition has generated more than 130,000 signatures from people asking the university to end animal research.

With well over 100 dogs and cats still being used for research at Mizzou, Kolde says his clients will continue to push — for information and for policy changes.

"These six adoptable animals were already lost," he says. "For these 179 animals we've requested information about, we have no way of knowing how many are alive or dead at the moment." 

The nonprofit specializes in rehoming animals used in research. That's not just beagles, but cats and even in some cases lab mice as well. "If they need homes, we want to get them homes," he says. "Our fear is that they'll be dead by the time this lawsuit is over."

In addition to the $1 settlement, Kolde's letter asks that the university agree to waive all future fee demands for the Beagle Freedom Project. The law allows Mizzou to do so if records are not being used for a commercial purpose and are "in the public interest."

Editor's note: We updated this story after publication to add mention of the change.org petition.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com



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