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Crowd Boos Board's Refusal to Ban Sale of Animals to Labs

June 11, 1986|BILL BOYARSKY | Times City-County Bureau Chief

Bombarded by boos and hisses from an unruly audience and protected by heavy security, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday refused to order county shelters to stop selling animals to medical research centers.

Most of the 450 people in the supervisors' 650-capacity chambers appeared to favor the proposed ordinance by Supervisor Mike Antonovich. But Antonovich failed to pick up a second to his motion from the other supervisors present, Deane Dana, Ed Edelman and Kenneth Hahn. As a result, the measure died--over the loud objections of protesters.

Nor was the audience satisfied by a board attempt to compromise with a request to Brian H. Berger, director of the Department of Animal Care and Control, to set up a computerized system to help pet owners recover animals picked up by the county.

As the crowd shouted its objections, Rita Bernier of Altadena strode to the front of the room and said loudly, "I can't stand it any longer."

Antonovich, presiding, tried to silence his enthusiastic supporter.

"I am sorry, Mr. Supervisor," Bernier said, and repeated, "I can't stand it any longer. I must speak out."

But as she began to tell how she picked up stray dogs to save them from animal shelters, and possible medical experimentation, a sheriff's deputy, under Antonovich's orders, escorted her from the chamber.

Before and during the session, deputies guarded each door and searched bags carried by those coming in.

Larry J. Monteilh, board executive officer, said the officers were taking "normal precautions" for expected demonstrations.

Asked if the security was especially heavy because of raids that animal activists have made on some Southern California research facilities, Monteilh replied, "No."

The stormy session marked the resumption of an old battle between animal rights activists opposed to research use of animals, and physicians and other researchers who believe it is necessary. It is part of a nationwide fight that is becoming hotter; some activists have made violent assaults on laboratories.

Antonovich's proposal would have banned such sales to laboratories of animals at the county's six shelters in Downey, Baldwin Park, Carson, Agoura, Castaic and the Antelope Valley.

At present, Berger said, sales for research are banned through much of the state. He said they are allowed only in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Mendocino, San Joaquin and Yolo counties and the city of San Bernardino.

He said that last year, 1,400 of the 92,000 animals picked up by county officers were sold for research. The number has declined from 2,400 four years ago.

He said that precautions are taken to make sure pets are not sold. Animals with collars--even cats with flea collars--are exempt, as are any dog and cat that appears to be a purebred. In addition, he said, there is at least a seven-day waiting period before an animal is sold.

Research Called Ineffective

Among Antonovich's supporters were physicians who said that research on animals from pounds is not effective.

One, Dr. Bruce M. Schwartz, said that the blood and genetic background of such animals is not known, thus wiping out scientific validity of research on them.

Wayne Besenty, president of the California Assn. of Animal Control Officers, said he and his colleagues oppose the sales. "Mistakes are made and innocent animals are sent to places where they shouldn't be sent," said Besenty, an animal control officer in Long Beach, which bans the sales.

Speaking for the other side, Dr. Charles R. Kleeman, a UCLA professor of medicine, recounted instances of animal research helping make medical breakthroughs and said that scientists "rely on animal research because they have no other choice."

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