River Scientific, a small biotech company, was long on ideas and short on cash. The company's laboratory, which included a small mouse facility, was located in an isolated part of the city to take advantage of low rental costs. Dr. Laszlo Crutch was the part-time Attending Veterinarian (AV). Now a private practitioner, Crutch had five years' previous experience as a laboratory animal veterinarian in a university setting. Harry Wilensky, an experienced but semi-retired animal facility manager, worked half-days managing the facility and caring for the small number of mouse cages. Weekend husbandry was provided by students from a local community college who were trained by Wilensky. The company had a small business grant from the NIH, an IACUC and an NIH/OLAW Assurance.
As often happens with part-time employees, full-time problems arise. In this case, it was a classic power struggle between Crutch and Wilensky. A small disagreement escalated to the point where River Scientific's owners had to step in and try to mediate. Crutch was unhappy with Wilensky's provision of minimal enrichment for mice. For his part, Wilensky said he was there five days a week and Crutch was there five minutes a month, so unless Crutch found a problem with animal health or well-being, he should mind his own business. During the mediation it became obvious that the underlying problem was not about animal enrichment but about who had the authority to direct the program of animal care. Wilensky said that the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals1 (the Guide) gave the AV the responsibility to oversee—not to direct—the husbandry program. Wilensky believed he himself was responsible for daily animal care and facility management. Crutch, with a sarcastic grin, agreed that Wilensky had responsibility, not authority. Crutch said that the PHS Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals2 (PHS Policy) gave him programmatic authority and responsibility for activities involving animals and that this was a pretty clear statement about who was in charge.
The owners of River Scientific said that they would review their OLAW Assurance statement and, if necessary, consult with OLAW. Privately, they felt that Crutch was probably right because their Assurance said that the AV had direct program authority for activities involving animals, but they were not sure just what that meant and they most certainly did not want Wilensky to get upset and leave the company. Do you think Crutch was right? What would you do to resolve this problem?
Institute for Laboratory Animal Research. Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals 8th edn. (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2010).
Public Health Service. Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (US Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC, 1986; amended 2002).
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Silverman, J. Power struggle between part-time employees. Lab Anim 40, 239 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/laban0811-239a