A series of videos showing Petaluma High School students killing rodents in brutal ways has hundreds of observers calling for the closure of the school's Petaluma Wildlife Museum.
The videos were taken surreptitiously by a student horrified by the treatment of the mice and rats, which are used as food for the museum's reptiles. She posted them along with several photos in an online gallery, leading to an online petition to shut down the Petaluma Wildlife Museum that has now gathered more than 900 signatures.
In one video, a boy is seen standing next to a large bin, holding a rat by its tail. "You may not want to watch this," a bystander says. A girl says, "I don't want to see." The camera is lifted just in time to see the boy bludgeon the animal against the bin. The rat twitches as it hangs by its tail.
Another short video shows a girl pelting a rat against the museum's wall.
The student posting the images, whose name is being withheld by the Argus-Courier, claims she has witnessed such abuse of the rats over the past four years. The videos and photos were uploaded to Dropbox in December of last year.
One month later they were presented as evidence in a complaint against the museum, which the Petaluma Animal Shelter responded to.
Senior Animal Control Officer Mark Scott said an officer visited the museum on Jan. 23 and issued a request for the museum to comply with American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA, guidelines for euthanasia within 120 days.
The animal control officer saw no abuse during his visit, and observed conditions he considered to be good. Scott said the officer spoke with Dan Famini, a museum board member and veterinarian who assists the museum with animal care, who said that the students were not trained to kill rats in the manner the videos depicted.
The officer requested that the museum use an industry-approved CO2 machine for the euthanasia of rats.
Prior to being contacted by animal control in January, supervising teacher Kim Arntz and volunteer students in her Museum Management class reportedly utilized "cervical dislocation" – essentially, breaking the rodents' spines – to euthanize the feeder animals.
Students from her class described putting rats into bins of dry ice until the CO2 levels caused them to pass out. Then the students used their hands to snap the animals' spines. Finally, they were put into a freezer and then later thawed out in warm water for use as food.
AVMA guidelines state that when properly performed, cervical dislocation is a humane way to euthanize mice and rats weighing less than 200 grams. The guidelines also state that cervical dislocation requires "mastering technical skills to ensure loss of consciousness is rapidly induced."
Arntz, who has a degree in agricultural science but no specific certification for working with animals, said the students volunteer to perform the euthanasia.
"Mostly I rely on the students who have experience," Arntz said. "Many students don't want to participate in that experience, and I don't expect them to. Students currently involved with (euthanasia) have learned from other people outside of the school. We have a conversation about feeder rodents and insects, but it's not taught as part of the curriculum."