Drugs, Near Drowning, and Electric Shocks in 'Child Abuse' Experiments

UN LAB Middleware Label: Title Ends


Updated on October 29, 2018: New federal documents obtained by PETA through a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that the University of Delaware violated animal-protection guidelines—resulting in the deaths and suffering of animals. In one incident, a rat drowned when a worker wasn't paying close enough attention. The animal was being used in the notorious "forced swim" test—in which animals are placed in inescapable beakers of water where they swim frantically to keep from drowning, try to climb up the sides of the beaker, or dive underwater in a desperate attempt to find a means of escape. In another incident, experimenter Anna Klintsova deviated from the approved experiment and withheld food from rats who were used to study "fetal alcohol effects." The animals lost nearly 15 percent of their bodyweight in just nine days. In a third incident, a fire in the ventilation system poured smoke into a room in which 75 rats being used by experimenter Tania Roth were imprisoned. Roth had been using them to study stress and had them killed after they were exposed to the smoke. (See more on Roth's cruel experiments below.)

The University of Delaware's Tania Roth claims that she studies child abuse. But her experiments are all about making vulnerable and sensitive rats suffer. She's forced alcohol down the throats of newborn ones. She's stuffed pregnant mothers into tiny restraint tubes and blasted them with strobe lights. She's purposely terrified rats by repeatedly shocking their feet, and she's taken newborns away from their mothers and given them to other rats who are unable to care for them.

Roth has been tormenting rats in a laboratory – to tune of 1.8 million tax dollars – supposedly to study human child abuse. What is there to show for it? Published papers with glaring omissions about the treatment of Roth's victims, no apparent benefits for human children who are abused, and a mountain of nonhuman children's bodies.

newborn rats and mother
Sensitive adult rats and pups imprisoned in Roth's lab were destined to be tormented in her experiments.

Attacking the Most Vulnerable

Since 2000, Roth has been subjecting rats to mistreatment in early life in order to study their genetic and behavioral changes. In other words, she makes baby animals depressed, anxious, and fearful. Among her cruel and sordid methods to distress newborns are these:

  • Injecting infant rats with opioids
  • Frightening baby rats by exposing them to the odor of fox urine so that they believe they're in danger
  • Artificially increasing the level of the stress hormone corticosterone in rats to make them even more afraid when exposed to the odor of fox urine
  • Electrically shocking infant rats

In a recent study, Roth terrified pregnant rats to see if it affected their babies. Three times a day, for three weeks, these animals were squeezed into PVC tubes only 2.5 inches wide and then exposed to high-frequency strobe lights and bombarded with white noise.

rat inside lab device
The image above, taken from an article on rodent handling and restraint techniques written by University of Notre Dame staff, depicts a restraint tube similar to the ones used by Roth in her experiment.

These animals were tormented both day and night. Roth then removed the pups from their mothers at birth and put them with other rats.

In another experiment, Roth placed pups with adult rats whose own babies had been taken away from them and purposely deprived the foster moms of sufficient nesting materials. The mothers were so stressed that they dropped, dragged, ignored, and stepped on their foster pups.

In yet another experiment, she stuffed rats into plastic, wedge-shaped cones so small that they were unable to move. She then placed them inside a Plexiglas enclosure, smeared cat food on top of it, and placed that enclosure inside a tiny metal cage with an adult cat for one hour. This was so that the rats would experience "direct cat gustatory activity."

rat in wedgecone
This image, taken from an article on rodent handling and restraint techniques written by University of Notre Dame staff, shows a restraint cone similar to the ones used by Roth in her experiment.

This image depicts an experiment similar to one that Roth conducted, in which a cat was enticed to lick food off an enclosure containing terrified rats.

Roth has also subjected rats to a "forced swim" test, in which the animals are placed in beakers of water and experimenters measure how long they struggle to stay afloat.

forced swim device
© FST.jpg | TaoPan | CC BY-SA 3.0

These experiments are riddled with mistakes.

A Trail of Little Bodies in Roth's Wake

Roth also routinely kills newborn pups whom she deems "excess," treating these babies like disposable lab equipment—to her, their lives seem to have no value. She describes killing some by injecting formalin (liquid formaldehyde) directly into their hearts—a killing method that is not approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association because it's considered inhumane.

Rats are excluded from the Animal Welfare Act—the only federal law with legally enforceable animal-welfare standards—so they aren't even afforded the meager protections it offers. What's more, Delaware exempts laboratory experiments from cruelty-to-animals prosecution. So Roth gets away with tormenting these social, intelligent beings by doing things that would warrant criminal charges if they were committed outside a laboratory.

We're demanding that the University of Delaware put an end to these tests, and we're calling on the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to stop funding Roth's experiments.

Please speak out!

You're welcome to use our template letter, but remember that putting your subject line and message into your own words will help draw attention to your e-mail.

Catherine Y.
Spong, M.D.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Dr. Robin
Morgan, Ph.D.
University of Delaware

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