ONLY ON 3: Local family rescues missing dog from experimental surgery at Tuskegee University

Alabama

When the Hively family’s 7-year-old mix Sheba went missing, they never dreamed where she would end up.

“I mean we were scared for her of course. By the time I found out she had been at the Russell County animal shelter, her seven day stray hold was up,” Tina Hively says.

However, Sheba didn’t stay at the shelter for long. Tina says she soon discovered the shelter staff had sent Sheba to the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine to be used as surgery practice.

“I’m not her registered owner, my daughter’s ex-boyfriend is, but he gave permission for me to call on her. I gave the shelter officer a little background of what was going on, and he just wouldn’t hear of it. He knowingly left Sheba there knowing I was looking for her,” Tina tells News 3’s Mikhaela Singleton.

“By that time I was desperate and started posting on Facebook groups to ask anyone if they had an idea what I could do.”

That’s when she says she was directed to the Stop Pound Seizure In Alabama Facebook group. According to the American Anti-Vivisection Society, pound seizure is the sale or release of dogs and cats from a pound or shelter to a research, testing, or educational facility. A 2016 study by the Humane Society of the United States found only 18 states ban pound seizures.

The Hivelys say they were shocked to think their beloved pet had been taken to be test subject.

“I was angry and scared and just, why is this happening? What’s the point? How could somebody be doing this to somebody’s pet?” asks Tina’s daughter, Caroline Hively.

Tina says after several calls to the Tuskegee vet school, she connected with a professor who was able to locate Sheba in the holding kennels. The school sent Sheba back to Russell County where the Hivelys were able to have her back by the end of the week.

“We were like yay, she’s back! We were so sure they had killed her,” she says.

Tina claims when she asked the shelter for answers, she was met with mixed answers.

“At first he wanted to tell me she had been sent to a rescue. I said no, I know she’s been sent to Tuskegee. Then this officer — Officer Harrison — wanted to tell me, well I don’t know what they do with them over there, which I find hard to believe,” she says.

News 3 reached out to Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith, who’s office oversees all Russell County-Phenix City Animal Shelter operations. He sent back a statement which reads:

As for the Tuskegee Veterinary School picking up animals from our shelter, I can verify that this private school, governed and licensed by the Alabama Veterinary Board, does from time to time pick up animals from our shelter. The animals they pick up are on the list to be euthanized. In an attempt to save as many as we can, we often provide doges to several organizations, including the Russell County Humane Society and other shelter groups. A list of the organizations that pick up animals from us are available on our web page (https://rcpcasa.com/ ) with a report of which agency and how many animals each month are picked up. The animals are not “seized” by these organizations and the city does not charge for these organizations to pick up the animals. We only allow legitimate shelter groups or approved Veterinarians licensed by the Alabama Veterinary Board to pick up animals from our shelter to ensure ethical treatment of the animals once they leave our facility. The Tuskegee Veterinary School is a legitimate veterinary organization and must abide by the same ethical standards as any veterinary office. The care of animals is their primary goal and the animals they “rescue” are ones that we would otherwise be euthanized. I urge you to reach out to Alabama Veterinary Board if you feel that the school is engaging in animal cruelty, unethical treatment etc.

-Chief Ray Smith

According to Alabama Code Section 3-1-13:

The necessary expenses incurred for the care and keeping of the animal after such notice by the humane society shall be a lien thereon and, if the animal is not reclaimed within 10 days from the giving of such notice, the humane society may sell the animal to satisfy such lien. If the humane society determines that the animal cannot be sold, it may cause the animal to be otherwise disposed of.

Alabama law also allows individual counties and municipalities to decide whether or not to participate in pound seizure. The Hivelys say they hope city leaders will make a change for other families who may not be as lucky as they were.

“Put themselves in our shoes and in other people’s shoes. We’re not the only ones this has happened to, we are just one of them,” Caroline says. “[Sheba’s] just one dog this has happened to and there are plenty of families who never get their dog back and they have no idea what happened and they probably couldn’t even imagine this is what happened to them.”

“Trauma” within Tuskegee

The Hively’s certainly aren’t the only ones expressing anxiety over Tuskegee University’s practice to use live animals for their junior surgery classes.

An anonymous graduate from the College of Veterinary Medicine spoke exclusively with News 3 on the “trauma” she says she and her classmates experienced during surgeries they were required to perform on healthy animals sent from Russell County.

“There have been eye enucleations (ie. removal), there are amputations, there have been where they’ll place a foreign body in the dog’s throat, wait a couple hours, and then we have to go in and retrieve the foreign body,” says the unnamed woman.

She says she witnessed the university accept an average of 15 dogs every two weeks. After a seven day quarantine, the experimental surgeries would be held on Wednesdays. She says by Friday, the dogs would be euthanized.

“I mean, come terminal surgery day we were all in tears. I was a basket case. These animals, you know, they trust you. Even when they’re in kennels and in pain, they’re still looking at me, at us, for comfort and I had to betray them. It was sickening and very traumatic.”

The graduate tells News 3’s Mikhaela Singleton she and several of her classmates expressed discomfort with performing unnecessary surgeries on otherwise healthy animals.

“When you try and ask any questions, you’re just brushed over. You’re made to feel like if you don’t do the curriculum they have, they won’t keep you in school,” she says.

“It’s such a catch 22 situation, because this is what you wanna do. You worked so hard to get here, come to find out this is not what you signed up for. But you get it in your head that these animals are giving their lives so we can to hopefully use the knowledge we gain to save other animals. That was the only way I could get through it.”

However, the woman says she couldn’t control her horror when she started to suspect people’s pets were being sent to the vet school’s operating tables.

“They try and make it seem like these are unwanted animals and they were scheduled for euthanasia anyhow, but when you start seeing dogs come in with collars still on them, I mean you as a student are mortified because you could have potentially done unnecessary surgery on this dog and euthanized it and it was someone’s pet.”

She tells News 3 she’s aware of other universities and their alternatives to live surgeries. She says she questions why Tuskegee would continue to opt for pound seizures.

“We’re surrounded by some of the poorest counties with people who can’t afford a full service vet. If the university were to open it’s doors more to the community, the students could get their experience that way similar to Auburn. Even starting their clinical rotations early to assist practicing vets and learn on hand then. There are just so many other ways,” she says.

“If a medical doctor were to practice on a live person and they end up dead by the end of it, it’s murder. So why would you force me to do that just because it’s a dog?” she goes on to ask.

Tuskegee University responded to News 3 requests for comment by directing to a statement issued in March addressing animal rights groups’ concerns over the vet school’s junior surgery practices. It includes a statement from the College of Veterinary Medicine’s dean who states:

“Our use of animals to prepare the next generation of veterinary practitioners is endorsed by many professional and industry groups that regulate our use of animals as part of our teaching efforts. These groups, as well as schools of veterinary medicine across the country, regard this type of surgical experience essential to preparing skilled, future veterinarians.”

-Dr. Ruby Perry, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine

Read the full Tuskegee University response here.

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