According to records we obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Rabbit 612958 died due to inadequate care at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) in Fort Dietrick, Maryland, on Thursday, February 28th, 2019. Rabbit 612958 had a telemetry device (which transmits biological data to researchers) surgically implanted into her body. Her caretaker noted that she had mild swelling at the incision site but was otherwise normal on Sunday, March 3rd. However, something was wrong.
Rabbit 612958 barely touched her food overnight and did not eat her breakfast. Her caretaker noticed this, but did not act. As other caretakers passed by throughout the morning, Rabbit 612958 was waiting at the front of her cage, ready for attention. She wanted to let the humans know something was off. Each time a caretaker returned to her metal box, Rabbit 612958 wanted that human to hold her. It was unusual for Rabbit 612958 to wait at the front of her cage and want to be held. The caretakers knew this. Yet, they left her alone to suffer in the metal cage and moved on with their morning routines.
Eventually, a veterinarian took Rabbit 612958 out of her cage. Rabbit 612958 was so relieved. Finally, a human was going to figure out what was wrong. She wouldn’t have to be in pain anymore. The veterinarian noted that her incision site was still swollen and that she had an alarmingly low body temperature of 96 degrees (compared to the norm of 101.5-103.5). The veterinarian placed Rabbit 612958 on a warming blanket. But Rabbit 612958 didn’t want to lie on a blanket. She wanted the humans to pay closer attention to her. Something felt very bad, and Rabbit 612958 knew being warm would not fix it. Unfortunately, the veterinarian left her on the blanket and walked away.
By now, Rabbit 612958 could only show the humans how much pain she was suffering. Instead of hiding her pain, she became visibly distressed. Finally, the veterinarian noticed this and decided to conduct a comprehensive observation. But it was too late. Rabbit 612958 was in excruciating pain, and her body was already failing. She died within 1 minute of the veterinarian’s decision.
A necropsy revealed that Rabbit 612958 had suffered from a GI obstruction caused by the surgery she had only a few days before. The blockage led to bloat, which led to her painful death. Then she was “bagged and disposed of,” as if she was a piece of trash and not a living being with a soul who was let down by the very humans who were supposed to care for her.
Awareness of illness symptoms is crucial to proper rabbit care.
At the first sign of a diminished appetite, the animal care staff should have focused their attention on Rabbit 612958. The fact that Rabbit 612958 was acting unusual and wanted continuous holding should have been an immediate cause for concern. This rabbit trusted the animal care staff to have the knowledge and training necessary to keep her safe. But they were unable to recognize the most basic signs of rabbit illness. On top of that, this same incident of intestinal blockage had happened twice before to two other innocent rabbits. After the first instance, the animal care staff should have known that bloat was a possible side effect of the research procedure. But they let a second rabbit suffer a painful death and just watched as Rabbit 612958 suffered the same agonizing fate.
The veterinarian informed the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), the group responsible for oversight of animal care and use at NBACC, that Rabbit 612958 had died due to entrapment of bowel from a suspected failure of the suture product. The IACUC determined that this fell within the approved risks associated with this research study as this was the third time such entrapment of the bowel had occurred. To the IACUC, this only meant it was an acceptable death, and there was nothing left to do. The IACUC completely ignored its job to ensure the humane care of the animals at NBACC.
NBACC needs to end invasive and painful research on rabbits.
The IACUC members, the animal care staff, and the veterinarian all failed to care for Rabbit 612958. They lack the knowledge, compassion, and respect needed to care for rabbits. Please join us in asking the NBACC to end all research with rabbits. Together we will prevent hundreds of other rabbits from being let down by the very humans they trust to care for them.