PCRM Declares Victory In Fight against OSU Researcher

Ohio State University researcher Michael Podell is leaving that university after an incessant campaign against him in which activists sent him death threats and harassed his children near their school. So of course, Neal Barnard and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine issued a press release taking credit for driving Podell out of OSU.

According to the release,

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) today declared a victory in its two-year battle to stop federally funded experiments at Ohio State University (OSU) in which cats were dosed with methamphetamine (“speed”), infected with a disease-causing virus, and finally killed.

The press release also includes Barnard’s typical obfuscation of the facts regarding medical research. Barnard claims that, “This experiment was not only cruel, but also needless.” The press release adds,

The doctors group [PCRM] pointed out that Dr. Podell had failed to consider alternatives to animal use, as required by law. Most notably, HIV-positive human patients who have used methamphetamine are already under clinical study, and the brain-damaging effects of drugs and the virus are well known.

Talk about nonsequitur. Yes, doctors already know that the AIDS virus progresses much more rapidly in people who abuse methamphetamine, but the open question is why this is the case. Podell’s research with cats produced new findings suggesting how this happens, including the surprise that brain cells themselves appear to be resistant to FIV infection but that the disease got into such cells through infected lymphocytes in a process that was accelerated in the presence of methamphetamine.


Doctors declare victory as cruel drug abuse experiments on cats are halted. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Press Release, June 13, 2002.

Feline Research Yields Clues about HIV-Associated Dementia, Progression in Drug Addicts

In human beings the HIV virus enters the brain almost immediately after a person is infected with the virus. As many as 20 percent of people who contract AIDS will eventually develop HIV-associated dementia — defined as a decline in cognitive thinking, motor dysfunction and behavioral changes.

Enter Ohio State University researcher Michael Poddell who conducts research on an animal model of HIV in cats. In a study to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of NeuroVirology, Poddell reports that the feline immunodeficiency virus reproduces in certain types of brain cells much faster than usual if the drug methamphetamine is present.

Poddell’s research surprisingly found that brain cells called astrocytes were resistant to FIV infection. Instead the virus got into the brain cells by being carried there by infected lymphocytes (a type of blood cell). Follow-up tests will be needed to see if HIV infects human brain cells in a similar way.

Adding methamphetamine at levels similar to what a drug users would have in his or her bloodstream increased the infection rate ten-fold.

Experiments are currently underway to see if methamphetamine causes FIV to progress more quickly in cats.

Podell, of course, has been excoriated by animal rights activists for his FIV research. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has called his experiments “cruel, wasteful and bizarre” and Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a lawsuit in January against the National Institutes of Health claiming that the NIH withheld documents that would show that it was unnecessary to use cats for this research.

Cats are used for this research because they are the only laboratory animals other than primates that develop a neurological infections from HIV.


Methamphetamines may assist HIV in brain. Jim Kling, United Press International, June 4, 2002.

Update on Neurology Justin McArthur, M.D., 1998.

AIDS study targeting cats infuriates animal activists. Associated Press, October 9, 2000.

Ontario Prosecutors Appeal Cat Killer's Lenient Sentence

When an Ontario judge sentenced Jesse Champlain Power, 22, to just 90 days in jail to be served on weekends for torturing and killing a cat, animal activists were outraged. So was the prosecutor’s office which announced earlier this month that it would appeal the judge’s sentence.

The prosecutor decided not to appeal the sentence of Anthony Wennekers, 25, who was sentenced to 10 1/2 months in jail, and was released immediately based on time served.


Ontario: Crown to challenge cat-skinner’s sentence. The Ottawa Citizen, May 17, 2002.

Crown appealing cat killer sentence. Gretchen Drummie, The Toronto Sun, May 17, 2002.

Canadian Cat Killer's Sentence Sparks Controversy

Anthony Wennekers, 25, and Jessie Power, 21, were sentenced this month after pleading guilty to animal cruelty charges after police found a videotape of the two torturing and killing a cat.

Judge Edward Ormston of the Ontario Court of Justice earned catcalls in the courtroom when he announced that he had sentenced Wennekers to time served and Power to 90 days in jail, to be served on weekends. Power will then face 18 months of house arrest and three years of probation. Both men could have faced up to 2 and a half years in jail.

Prosecutor Robin Flumerfelt told the Toronto Star that a decision would be made by the end of May on whether or not the prosecution would appeal the sentence.

Ormston’s explained that Wennekers had already severed 10 1/2 months in jail while awaiting trial, and traditionally courts double the amount of such time when considering sentencing. So, under that formula, Wennekers had already served the equivalent of nearly two years in jail.

But what apparently set off the crowd of onlookers in attendance was not so much the sentence but Ormston’s inexplicable statement that, “There are worse ways that this cat could have died.”

On the one hand certainly it is possible to take almost any death and conceive of ways in which that death could have been worse. On the other hand, Wennekers and Power hung the cat by its neck from a telephone cord, slit its throat, stabbed, kicked and then skinned the animal. Yes, this writer can conceive of an even worse death, but that’s already a pretty damning roster of acts already.

The sentence would have made more sense had Wennekers and Power divulged the name of a third man who is depicted in their videotape of the cat torture but who has so far remained unidentified. Their guilty plea can, as Ormston noted, be used to infer remorse and regret, but surely their failure to name their accomplice mitigates against this explanation.


Cat torturers’ sentences anger activists. Nancy Carr, Montreal Gazette, April 19, 2002.

Cat killers’ sentence draws anger. Nick Pron, Toronto Star, April 19, 2002.

College Students Tortured, Killed Cat to Highlight Cruelty of Meat Eating

Last June, I wrote about two men arrested in Canada who had videotaped gruesome scenes of themselves and a third, as yet unidentified man, torturing and killing a cat (see Did Animal Activist Torture Cat?). At the time there was speculation among people who knew Anthony Ryan Wennekers, 24, and Jessie Champlain Powers, 21, that they had made their videotape to highlight the plight of animals.

In fact, that was the argument their lawyer made in arguing for light sentences for Wennekers and Powers. Lawyer Andrea Tuck-Jackson told a Toronto court last week that Power was an art student at The Ontario College of Art and Design who wanted “to challenge the decision of people who choose to eat meat.”

Wennekers and Powers plead guilty to charges of mischief and cruelty to animals rather than go to trial.

Tuck-Jackson argued that since her client was a vegan and a pacifist (who just happens to torture and kill cats on occasion), he should receive a 60 to 90 day jail sentence along with the equivalent of 12 to 18 months under house arrest. The maximum sentence that each man could receive would be 2 and a half years in jail.

After reading what Tuck-Jackons and Wennekers did to the cat, however, it is difficult to believe that they do not deserve the maximum. Here’s how The Ottawa Citizen described the 17-minute videotape that was played in court (warning this is extremely graphic and disgusting),

The 17-minute tape shows Mr. Power, Mr. Wennekers and an unidentified man putting the cat in a makeshift noose. The two have declined to help police identify the third man.

As the cat is flails [sic] in the noose, the men stab and slash at repeatedly at it. About halfway through the video, one man can be heard saying, “It’s still alive.”

The cat is stabbed several more times and two men kick the animal as it dangles from the cat’s neck and stomach area are sliced before it dies and the video ends.

The cat’s cries of pain can be heard throughout the attack. Several people in the public gallery blocked their ears, bowed their heads and could be heard crying during the presentation.

As prosecutor Robin Flumerfelt put told the court, “The videotape makes it clear that what these men lack is an appreciation of the wrongfulness of their crime.” Flumerfelt argued that the men should receive the maximum possible sentence.


Student tortured cat to support animal rights, lawyer tells court: Video of the killing brings public to tears. Shannon Kari, The Ottawa Citizen, March 29, 2002.

Cat torture horrifies court: ‘Art’ video of men skinning stray prompts tears, disgust from spectators. Nancy Carr. Montreal Gazette, March 29, 2002.

Guard Who Crushed Kittens Receives One Year Jail Sentence

A former Sing Sing prison guard was sentenced this week to a year in jail for killing five kittens in a garbage compactor.

Saying that the crime was “so offensive and so calculated and so gratuitously cruel, it diminishes the humanity of everybody,” Westchester Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Lange sentenced Ronald Hunlock, 48, to a year in prison.

Hunlock actually received six separate one-year sentences — one for each of the kittens as well as one for the mother cat — but the judge allowed Hunlock to serve the sentences concurrently.

Under 3-year-old New York statute, the maximum prison time Hunlock could have received was two years.

On March 22, 2002, Hunlock was officially fired from his job (he had been on suspension without pay since being arrested) and forfeited over half a million in pension and retirement benefits as a result.


Sing Sing guard gets year in jail for crushing cats. Owen Motiz, New York Daily News, March 23, 2002.

Sing Sing guard gets year in jail for killing 5 kittens. Jim Fitzgerald, Associated Press, March 22, 2002.