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Petaluma Wildlife Museum changes rodent euthanasia policy

After videos depicting high school students killing feeder rats by throwing them against walls and rocks sparked public outrage, the Petaluma Wildlife Museum staff began to train museum students on the proper ways to euthanize rodents this week.

The student whistleblower who posted the videos, whose name is being withheld by the Argus-Courier, claims she witnessed such abuse of the rats over the past four years, and was compelled to upload proof of those actions to an online gallery last December.

One month later, the videos were sent to Petaluma's Animal Services along with a complaint about the museum's practices. Animal services gave the museum, located on the campus of Petaluma High School, 120 days to purchase a CO2 chamber, which is the preferred industry standard for killing rodents that are used as food for reptiles.

The machine was purchased April 24, and museum supervisors and animal control officers will now hold training sessions in the fall and spring semester for students who want to participate in euthanizing the animals. About 12 students attended the inaugural training on Tuesday, and only students who have gone through training will be allowed to euthanize rodents in the future.

Led by supervising veterinarian Dr. Dan Famini, the students learned about the purpose of a feeder rat colony, different methods of euthanasia and how to properly operate a CO2 chamber. At the end of the class, students, animal control officers and supervising teacher Kim Arntz observed Famini euthanize three rats with the chamber.

Prior to the visit from animal control in January, Arntz and volunteer students in her Museum Management class reportedly utilized "cervical dislocation" — essentially, breaking the rodents' spines — to euthanize the feeder animals.

The videos inspired a Pennsylvania woman to start a petition to close the museum entirely, which so far has received more than 1,700 signatures.

The young whistleblower has launched a new campaign to save as many of the feeder colony mice as she can, which she plans to purchase at a cost of $5 a mouse. The museum would use the money to buy frozen rodents to feed to reptiles.

With the help of a Petaluma resident who connected with the student online, the youth purchased 20 rats yesterday, and is now adopting those animals free of charge to homes from Sacramento to Los Angeles. The student said an online fundraiser is now in place at GoFundMe.com to raise the money needed to prevent the museum from using feeder rats in the future. About $300 of the $500 sought has already been secured from donors from across the country.

Famini said Tuesday that he plans to present the student's proposal to the museum's board of directors at their next meeting on June 6. Should they accept it, the museum would use frozen mice for the future instead of euthanizing live animals.

(Contact Allison Jarrell at allison.jarrell@ar guscourier.com)


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