Three employees of Green Hill, a company that breeds Beagles for scientific research, received jail sentences in a criminal court in the northern Italian city of Brescia on Friday. The three have been charged with cruelty to animals in their care and with unjustifiably putting down some of the dogs. The fourth defendant was found innocent, ScienceInsider reports.
The Green Hill facility is located in Montichiari, near Brescia, and is branch of the U.S.-based Marshall BioResources animal-breeding company.
Roberto Bravi, director of the Green Hill facility, received a one-year jail sentence. Renzo Graziosi, a veterinary surgeon at the facility, and Ghislaine Rondot, manager of Marshall’s European programs, each received one and a half years.
According to the Italian media, the Green Hill employees plan to appeal; and the judge in the case, Roberto Gurini, has suspended their sentences pending a final verdict. However, the three have also been barred from breeding dogs for two years, reports Science Insider.
Enrico Moriconi, a veterinarian who reviewed evidence gathered by the police and served as a consultant to the prosecutor, reported that 6,023 dogs died at the center between 2008 and 2012. The number differs greatly from the 98 animals that died in the two-year period following their seizure in 2012.
The court was able to establish that 44 dogs were euthanized even though they suffered only from mild, curable diseases, Moriconi says. Some of the Beagles were put down with Tanax—which causes cardio-respiratory failure—without anesthesia, which is widely considered a less ethical way to kill them.
Dogs are used in the testing of new drugs and in some types of basic biomedical research, particularly cardiovascular and diabetes studies. But they make up less than 0.25% of the animals used for scientific purposes in the European Union, according to 2011 statistics, Nature reports.
The Green Hill facility was temporarily closed in 2012 after the LAV and Legambiente, an organization that campaigns for the environment and cultural heritage, made allegations of animal mistreatment. A local court allowed the activist groups immediately to distribute the animals to foster homes, and an investigation began.
In May 2013, the Brescia court declared Green Hill innocent of all charges. But a week later, public prosecutors brought the same charges against four individuals.
The judgment was announced on Jan. 23, but the reasoning behind the verdict will not be made known for another two months.
Italy's Anti-Vivisection League (LAV) celebrated the rulings as a major victory but said they are disappointed the sentences were so light.
Dario Padovan, president of the scientific-research defense group Pro-Test Italia, which has been following the court case closely, said that he had expected the defendants to win.
“We were shocked,” he said. “It is another attack on Italian biomedical research, which is becoming increasingly vulnerable.”