Judge Dismissed Cruelty Charges Against Charles River Laboratories

In March, a New Mexico judge dismissed three misdemeanor animal cruelty charges against employees of Charles River Laboratories.

The charges stemmed from the 2002 deaths of two chimpanzees and the near death of a third chimpanzee at a Charles River Laboratories primate facility in Alamogordo , New Mexico.

In all three cases, veterinarians looked after the animals and then left the facility, instructing security guards to monitor the animals’ condition overnight. The security guards had no veterinary training.

The misdemeanor charges alleged that this constituted animal cruelty, but State District Judge Jerry Ritter ruled that since the deaths of the animals occurred in the practice of veterinary medicine, the animal cruelty statutes did not apply.

In Defense of Animals complained that this was a “technicality” although it seems exactly the sort of situation the veterinary medicine exemption was intended to avoid — clogging up the courts with claims of animal cruelty based on differing opinions about appropriate veterinary care procedures would be a serious misallocation of law enforcement resources.

IDA’s Elliott Katz said in a press release,

We now know that for Charles River and the NIH, the ‘practice of veterinary medicine’ constitutes intentional and repeated abandonment of critically ill chimpanzees to once-per-hour observation by security guards.


New Mexico Judge Dismisses Animal Cruelty Charges Against NIH Chimp Lab Operator on Legal Technicality. Press Release, In Defense of Animals, March 30, 2005.

Animal Cruelty Charges Dropped. Rene Romo, Albuquerque Journal, March 29, 2005.

Cruelty charges dropped against Charles River Labs. Christopher Rowland, The Boston Globe, March 29, 2005.

Charles River Laboratories Faces Animal Cruelty Charges

In September a district attorney in New Mexico charged Charles River Laboratories and two of its employees with misdemeanor animal cruelty in the case of three non-human primates which the complaint charges did not receive adequate care at a facility the company managed.

In 2001 Charles River was awarded a 10 year, $42 million contract from the National Institutes of Health to manage the troubled Alamogordo Primate Facility which had previously been managed by the now defunct Coulston Foundation. The Coulston Foundation had turned over ownership of 288 primates at the facility to the NIH as part of settlement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture stemming from violations of the Animal Welfare Act. NIH then contracted with Charles River to manage the facility.

The criminal complaint filed against Charles River alleges that through negligence the company provided inadequate care to two chimpanzees which resulted in their death, and that it provided inadequate care to a third chimpanzee which survived despite a serious injury.

According to the complaint, on Sept. 16, 2002, Charles River employees failed to provide adequate veterinary care to a chimpanzee which had suffered an injury, instead leaving the animal to be monitored by security guards overnight. The animal died as a result of the injury.

Similarly, the complaint alleges that around Dec. 30, 2002, Charles River employees failed to provide adequate veterinary care to a chimpanzee who failed to wake up from anesthesia. Employees allegedly directed security guards to monitor the animal overnight. The chimpanzee died.

Finally, the complaint alleges that around June 26, 2003, Charles River employees again failed to provide adequate veterinary care to an injured chimpanzee, and instead directed security guards to monitor the animal overnight. The animal eventually recovered.

The complaint also notes that three chimpanzees were accidentally electrocuted earlier this year when repairs caused their cage to come in contact with a high voltage electrical circuit.

Charles River denied the charges, saying that in the instance involving alleged neglect, that “veterinarians provided the immediate and appropriate medical attention necessary to the animals, all of whom had underlying health issues because of the diseases to which they had been exposed.”

The criminal complaint names the company itself, as well as its CEO James Foster and the chief veterinarian at the Alamogordo Primate Facility, Dr. Rick Lee.

Conviction on each count of misdemeanor animal cruelty would carry a maximum penalty of up to 364 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.


Las Cruces Chimp Lab Facing 3 Cruelty Charges. Rene Romo, Albuquerque Journal, September 8, 2004.

Complaint alleges animal cruelty at federal facility. Christopher Rowland, Boston Globe, September 10, 2004.