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New PETA ad takes aim at Johns Hopkins’ testing on owls

Shreesh Mysore, assistant professor in the psychological & brain sciences department at Johns Hopkins University, studies brain communication in owls.
Shreesh Mysore, assistant professor in the psychological & brain sciences department at Johns Hopkins University, studies brain communication in owls. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun)

An advertising campaign sponsored by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals calls out Johns Hopkins University for its testing practices on barn owls, saying the institution “doesn’t give a hoot” about animal welfare.

The ad blitz, launched Tuesday on International Owl Awareness Day, will target newspapers, social media and bus stations near the Hopkins campus. Calling on the university to suspend its testing practices, the animal rights organization said the experimenters are brutalizing the owls by cutting into their skulls, implanting electrodes in their brains and restraining them as they run sensory tests before killing them.

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“Mutilating, tormenting, and killing sensitive barn owls sounds like something out of a horror movie—but that’s what Johns Hopkins is spending money on,” says PETA Vice President Shalin Gala. “PETA’s ad blitz will let residents of Baltimore know how they can speak out against JHU’s junk-science brain experiments on owls that aren’t applicable to humans, squander taxpayer funds, and waste lives.”

Hopkins funds such research using money from the National Institutes of Health, making it a matter of public interest, PETA claims.

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“It is disappointing that some seek to deliberately mischaracterize the treatment of animals involved in research at Johns Hopkins,” a Johns Hopkins spokesperson said in a written statement. “The care of our research animals is incredibly important to us, and a responsibility that we take very seriously. We apply significant oversight to ensure that our laboratory animals are well cared for and comfortably housed. Full-time specialist veterinarians provide round-the-clock care, and our expert team insures proper housing and welfare protocols that meet rigorous standards set by the federal government and our own institution.”

“Dr. Shreesh Mysore’s research has the potential to provide new and critical insights into a number of important medical conditions, including ADHD, autism and schizophrenia so that scientists can develop better interventions and treatments to help people in need.

“The role of laboratory animals in research is essential to medical discovery,” Hopkins’ statement continued. “It allows for groundbreaking scientific advances that significantly expand our knowledge of devastating illnesses in humans and how we can treat them. Insights learned from laboratory animals have led to critically important advances including the acceleration of new cancer treatments for people who once had little hope of survival and the development of treatments for those suffering from debilitating sickle cell disease, diabetes, arthritis and organ and limb transplants.”

The new advertisements specifically highlight the work of Mysore, an assistant professor in Hopkins’ psychological & brain sciences department whose work focuses on deconstructing neural circuits in the brain and understanding how they shape behavior. Citing documents obtained from Hopkins in March, the organization said Mysore’s work — which uses owls to investigate brain activity and could provide insight into attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia and autism — involves as many as five dozen owls.

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In March, as the coronavirus pandemic forced institutions of higher learning to close their campuses and send students and faculty home, PETA sent a letter to Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels, asking the institution to make transparent the animals in its labs considered “critical” and “extraneous” and to release the owls not involved in ongoing experimentation.

PETA has previously run several high-profile advertisements in the city, including one urging Baltimore to stop eating crabs. Another city billboard took aim at President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, after the commander in chief denounced Baltimore as a “rat and rodent infested mess” last summer, calling him a “rich pest.”

In its latest blitz, PETA argues that the goal does not compensate for the “cruel” methods used.

“Numerous published studies have shown that animal experimentation wastes resources and lives,” the organization wrote in a Tuesday news release. “More than 90% of highly promising results from basic scientific research—much of it involving animal experimentation—fail to lead to treatments for humans.”

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