Call for debate
Worked in a monkey lab?
Judge OKs museum that protests animal research
By Ryan J. Foley
Published November 28, 2006
MADISON, Wis. -- A judge on Monday removed a major obstacle from animal-rights activists' plans to build a first-of-its-kind museum protesting animal research in between two University of Wisconsin primate research labs.
Dane County Judge Sarah O'Brien ruled that a contract between the activists and business owner Roger Charly for the purchase of property is valid and enforceable. She ordered Charly to sell it for $675,000 as specified in the contract, but both sides said they expected the sale to be on hold while Charly appeals.
Rick Bogle, founder of the Primate Freedom Project, hugged his wife after O'Brien read the ruling, which he said removed "the biggest hurdle" for the idea that he moved to Madison to pursue more than two years ago.
He said the museum would feature graphic depictions of what he considers the cruelty of research on animals. It would be housed on property containing sheds and warehouses between the National Primate Research Center, one of eight federally funded labs, and the Harry Harlow Primate Psychology Laboratory. Harlow was a pioneer in animal research.
"For once in Madison and in Wisconsin, the animals won," Bogle said. "It's just a matter of time before we are able to open our doors and invite the public in so they can actually learn what's going on inside the monkey labs in Madison and around the country."
Bogle's group filed a lawsuit to force the sale after Charly tried to back out of the deal by claiming the contract wasn't valid.
The university's real estate arm offered Charly $1 million for the land after learning of the proposed sale to activists, who university officials feared would harass researchers experimenting on primates as they search for cures to human ailments such as AIDS and Parkinson's disease.
But O'Brien rejected arguments that allowing the sale would put researchers in danger.
While the university is appropriately concerned about activists trying to use force to stop research, she said she failed to understand "how there is increased danger to university property if plaintiffs met next door or camped out on the sidewalk."
But Joe Kemnitz, director of the primate center, said the proposed museum would be a magnet for out-of-town extremists who would threaten researchers.
"Continual presence right outside our door would have a factor of intimidation, and I think it would be bad for morale and feelings of safety of our staff," he said.
O'Brien also rejected the claim that the sale would add $3 million to $5 million to a planned lab expansion by forcing the university to build around the property.
As a government agency, the university has the legal authority to seize the property for its use in the future if necessary, she noted. Its "lack of foresight" in not purchasing the property earlier should not scuttle a valid contract, she said.