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Too Much Monkey Business

On Friday, September 9, the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations (ISHAR) at Canisius College held a presentation featuring Dr. James Ha, head of the primate breeding program at the Washington National Primate Research Center (WNPRC) at the University of Washington. The talk, entitled “The Use of Primates in Biomedical Research: A Personal Perspective,” was given by Dr. Ha at the invitation of Dr. Michael Noonan, professor of biology at Canisius.

Enter local animal rights activist Morgan Dunbar, director of Animal Allies of Western New York, president of the Animal Allies Club of Canisius College, and president of the Companion Animal Rescue Society of Canisius College.

On August 9, Dunbar sent an email to Noonan, copying a range of Canisius administrators as well as people in the animal rights community including representatives at the Jane Goodall Institute, raising concern that the event—billed as a “symposium”—would be one-sided, since only one speaker would be there. Noonan replied to the email:

Jeepers Morgan:

You are already complaining about an event without even knowing what its content will be.

Would it be right to paint you personally with all of the sins that occur in the pet industry just because of your own work in that industry? It seems to me that you are doing exactly that with Dr Ha.

In ISHAR we want to have serious conversations about how to improve the ways we think about animals and the way we treat them. I could have chosen a nice safe topic about which no one would disagree. But what would be the point of that? The issue of the use of primates in research is an important one. You are not alone is saying that their use should be stopped. I am using this ISHAR event to shine some light on that very question.

My hope is that you will be part of the conversation that we have at the symposium. It is open to the public and we will welcome all points of view.

Jump forward a month. On September 8, Dunbar sent out an email press release for the protest animal activists planned for 5pm the next day, prior to the event with Ha, in front of the Montante Cultural Center at the College. The next day, as advertised, some advocates staged a little street theater dressed in lab coats while others donned monkey suits and sat in cages to dramatize their position. Soon, however, things would get hairy.

By all accounts, the protest outside was peaceful. Afterward, participants joined the audience for the lecture. The talk also went smoothly. Then came the question-and-answer portion of the evening.

Dunbar waited in line for her turn at the microphone. She came prepared with two questions for Ha. Armed with copies of reports from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, she asked him about various citations that had been issued to the University of Washington in September 2009, including the discovery of two adult male baboons with cranial implants so large that they were unable to sit upright on their perch without the devices bumping into the ceiling.

By most accounts, Ha addressed these citations by explaining that corrections had been made at UW.

Then Dunbar asked about a more serious allegation in the report. While going through records, USDA inspectors had discovered that a three-and-a-half year old “male, nonhuman primate had been found dead due to malnutrition with a resulting 25% loss of body weight.” Closer monitoring should have prevented his death, but the animal had not been weighed in over two months.

According to witnesses, Noonan attempted to put an end to Dunbar’s questioning. She was told she’d had her turn and to pass the microphone to the next person. She refused. Her mic was turned off. She turned to the audience and tried to let them know about another speaker who would be coming to campus, offering a different view on animal rights.

Public safety officers approached her. In the chaos that followed, Dunbar was hustled out of the auditorium, pushed up against a wall, and handcuffed. She repeatedly shouted, “I am not resisting!” She was told she was being arrested for criminal trespass. Her mother, Sandra Dunbar, who attended the program with her, was told that she was being arrested and sent to the Erie County Holding Center.

As Dunbar was led away, her mother drove down to the holding center to await her arrival. Staff there explained they had no record of such a prisoner, and that there would be no way to see her that night anyway. If she was being brought in, it would be best to wait for a phone call from her the next day.

As Sandra Dunbar left the holding center, her cell phone rang. It was Gary Everett, director of public safety at Canisius. His officers had discovered that Morgan Dunbar was a student at Canisius, not some off-campus rabble-rouser. Her treatment radically improved. Wanting to avoid a situation that would unnecessarily put the blemish of an arrest on her record, and sensing that the situation might have been handled differently, Everett offered to release Dunbar into her mother’s custody.

When Sandra Dunbar arrived back on campus at public safety, both she and her daughter claim they were asked to sign a document saying they would not sue the school. Everett denies that part of the story.

Noonan sees it all differently. “She started yelling. She was yelling lots of things. I don’t recall what she was yelling. The mic was cut of by the AV people, and she started screaming louder. So public safety walked down the aisle—never touched her—asked her to leave. She refused to leave and kept screaming. Public safety touched her on the arm and asked her to leave. She started twisting.”

Twisting against what?

“The public safety’s hand,” he said. “You’re a tough reporter, and I’m giving you a lesson on how to report. I asked her to sit down. They asked her to sit down. She was screaming. She took the option of escalating it in a rough way.

“Did you put in the part that there were people in the audience screaming—asking—her to sit down and respect his rights as a speaker? No, you didn’t hear that part. I feel like I’m being ambushed here. I’ve done my best and you’re gonna write what you’re gonna write. You want to quote me on something? I hope Morgan’s all right, and I hope she didn’t get in trouble, because that’s genuinely how I feel.”

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