PETA protests against teacher charged with animal abuse
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11/13/09 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Friday | Listen to this entire show:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says they'll look into complaints by PETA about how animals are treated at University of Utah research facilities.

An operative for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spent eight months working undercover in the Utah labs and documented harmful conditions and neglected animals.

University of Utah officials say they will also investigate PETA’s allegations but they stress their researchers have always met animal care standards.

Closer to home, Hillsborough County Animal Services cited the head of Freedom High School’s science department, Margaret Barthel, with animal cruelty in September.

According to the Clerk of the Circuit Court’s office, today the teacher agreed to terms with Hillsborough County Animal Services. Barthel was found neither guilty nor innocent and agreed to pay fines.

Early this morning outside the County Courthouse in downtown Tampa where the hearing was held, a handful of PETA activists held signs and educated passersby.

Amanda Fortino: "The head of the science department at Freedom High School allowed various different animals to die in her care."

Amanda Fortino is a campaign coordinator with PETA.

Fortino: "Gerbils were left to starve. They had inadequate food and water; they had inadequate bedding. Oftentimes they cannibalized one another. Finches were left in a draft; they died within weeks. A ball python was denied a heat source; it also died. Allegedly, she purchased frogs for a dissection exercise and put them in the refrigerator to kill them and reportedly when student started dissected them, they bleed and started moving. They were not dead yet."

Another PETA activist, Shannon Dinkins from Tampa, felt compelled to protest after she heard what was alleged to have happened to the animals in Barthel’s classroom.

Dinkins: "I think she should be banned from being allowed to have animals in her classroom. Moving forward, I fell she should also pay a fine and do some community service at maybe an animal shelter.”

The teacher Barthel agreed to pay $1,500 dollars in fines to Animal Services for the care they provided to injured animals and a ball python. Barthel is also required to give up ownership of the snake. Before those fines were announced, Bryan Wilson drove from Orlando and held a sign reading “Max. fines for cruel crimes.”

Wilson: "Any cruelty to animals need to be punished by the maximum fine. If we are not using our maximum fines then these crime will effectively go unpunished. So the cruelty that was engaged under the guise of education is unnecessary. There are so many options without bringing animals into the classrooms. we encourage all the teachers and all the educators to take advantage of these many different alternatives without bringing animals into the classroom."

Hillsborough County Public Schools spokesperson Linda Cobbe says the school district can’t provide much additional information because there is still an investigation open.

Cobbe: "Margaret Barthel is regarded as a good teacher. Her students have great comments about her. We still have an investigation open so I can't go into much detail, but she is still in the classroom. We typically wait for outside investigations to be closed or charges to be resolved before we make a decision on a persons employment status."

As part of the agreement with Animal Services, the teacher Barthel, agreed not to have animals in her classroom. PETA’s Amanda Fortino thinks that teachers should not be allowed to keep animals at Freedom High.

Fortino: " So we want people to know that students belong in the classroom not animals. This is just one of the cases of many where something bad happens to animals because they are left in a classroom."

As he walked by the protest, Tampa resident Robert Kriska stopped to say he supports justice for animals.

Kriska: "I think it is a good idea really. I think they are all in the right groove, better than what our president is doing."

As part of the agreement with Animal Services, the teacher Margaret Barthel, agreed not to have animals in her classroom.

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