Turlock Planning Commissioner Nick Hackler had to remind his fellow members to consider a new animal research laboratory proposal strictly as a land issue and not an emotional one before they ultimately voted to approve the project on Thursday evening with a 4-1 vote.
“I just want to express my discomfort with this,” said Commissioner Soraya Fregosi, who was the sole dissenter of the proposal. “I don’t feel comfortable supporting it outright just based on the kind of issues I have with the treatment of animals. It is a land issue, which is very clear, but it causes moral discomfort for me.”
Young Veterinary Research Services, which is a locally-owned contract research laboratory working with the animal health industry to develop new veterinary drugs, was approved to construct a 21,775 square foot research facility consisting of 17,584 square feet of animal storage and 4,191 square feet of office area on a 1.21 acre parcel at 3000 Spengler Rd. The research facility, which is currently housed on East Avenue, has operated for more than 30 years.
“The type of research that we do is in support of new product registrations with the animal health industry,” said David Young. “We are the independent laboratory that provides the data to the EPA and the FDA that allows them to make determination whether or not the product is safe and effective. The research that we do is for animal health.”
The new research facility will house all animals indoors in an insulated and conditioned environment to minimize and contain odors and noise. Approximately 250 dogs will be housed in 4 feet by 8 feet runs and 110 cats will be housed in steel cages in thermostatically controlled rooms.
“When the dogs aren’t on study—and typically two-thirds of our population isn’t on study—they can stay in an outdoor shelter, which is great for them. They get fresh air, sunshine,” said Young. “But unfortunately we have seen some threats from rights activists liberating the animals. That’s always a potential concern.”
Young said that YVRS sources their animals from United States Department of Agriculture registered Class A breeders, which provide animals that are specifically bred for research, as well as an in-house colony that YVRS maintains.
“We breed dogs to generate mixed breed dogs that are also available for some of these projects that we do,” said Young. “Typically from a Class A breeder, you’ll get either beagles or kind of a hound-type, and it doesn’t really have the diversity in terms of body size or hair coat, so we also maintain a mixed breed colony in house so we can get little dogs, big dogs for various kinds of products that may have weight ranges.”
Young said that he and his wife Corie Young do not believe in euthanizing animals once the study is over and instead maintain their animals through old age. Despite this, Young noted that some cases federally mandate euthanasia. For instance, if YVRS were to evaluate a de-wormer, the Food and Drug Administration requires researchers to euthanize the animals in order to examine the gastrointestinal tract and see if there are any parasites present. YVRS has a contract with Family Pet Mortuary to dispose of the animals as needed.
“But as for the natural course for the type of work we do, we don’t routinely put the animals down,” said Young.
Although commissioners voted strictly based on land, a number of community members stood before the Commission on Thursday to voice their opposition to the proposed facility.
“My concerns regarding the proposed project are many, beginning and ending with the welfare of the cats and dogs used in this facility,” said retired City planner Rose Stillo. “It is only by cruel circumstances—not of their making—that these companion animals end up in a for-profit animal experimentation research facility instead of in a loving home.”
While YVRS received some pushback from community members on Thursday evening, the Youngs received support from local veterinarian Carol Van Hoogmoed.
“I for one would like to thank Dave and Corie for being able to step up and being able to test products so that my personal pet is safe and healthy,” said Van Hoogmoed. “Is it unfortunate that we do have to do animal testing? Yes, but they do an excellent job of caring for those animals.”
Following Thursday’s vote, Deputy Director of Development Services and Planning Debbie Whitmore said that this item can be appealed to the Turlock City Council within 10 days. The City of Turlock reported that it has not received any appeals as of 4 p.m. on Friday.