University of Wisconsin closes laboratory, ending cat experiments

(Reuters) - A University of Wisconsin research laboratory that attracted controversy for using live cats in experiments is closing this year, the school said.

The University of Wisconsin at Madison said its Department of Neuroscience will no longer conduct experiments related to “sound localization” because Tom Yin, the department interim chair and chief researcher, is retiring at age 70.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had criticized Yin for experiments the advocacy group said were cruel.

In 2009 PETA sought information on Yin’s experiments through an open records request, which led to investigations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Health.

The lab was cleared for continued research involving the cats. However, the agriculture department fined the university $35,000 last year for seven separate violations of the Animal Welfare Act, citing instances of animal negligence.

Yin was hired by the university in 1977 and his research is linked to breakthroughs involving how the brain processes and localizes sounds.

Chris Barncard, a department spokesperson, said on Monday that four of the five remaining cats in Yin’s laboratory have been adopted into private homes and the other was euthanized. He said it was “unlikely” Yin’s replacement would continue similar research.

PETA focused national attention on Yin’s laboratory, yielding an email campaign and drawing interest from comedian Bill Maher, actor James Cromwell and other celebrities.

On its website, PETA has characterized the shuttering of Yin’s lab as a “victory.” The university disputed the assertion.

“The important research conducted by Dr. Yin and his colleagues was in no way affected or curtailed due to activity by animal rights organizations and any such claims are patently false,” the university said in a statement.

Reporting by Mark Guarino in Chicago; Editing by Sandra Maler