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An animal rights advocacy organization filed an official complaint against Mayo Clinic with federal regulators, saying the institution should face a stiff penalty over a puppy's death at a research facility.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now's executive director, Michael Budkie, sent the letter to the USDA's Animal Welfare Operation director Monday. In it, he argues Mayo Clinic was in "clear violation of the Animal Welfare Act" over the incident with the 9-month-old puppy.

Budkie references a Sept. 24, 2021 USDA routine investigation of Mayo Clinic's S.C. Johnson Research Facility. The department found that on June 23, 2020, the puppy died from asphyxiation two days after undergoing a procedure to place a tracheostomy tube — a breathing tube that is put directly into the windpipe through a surgically created incision.

According to the USDA's investigation, the puppy had a "large mucous plug" just below the tube, which blocked its airway and caused it to suffocate to death. A member of the research team had noticed the blockage on June 21, but it wasn't reported to the attending veterinarian as was required, the report continues.

The USDA then directs Mayo Clinic to "develop and implement a plan for effective communication of abnormal findings to the attending veterinarian."

"The Mayo Clinic must be severely punished to demonstrate that the USDA has no tolerance for animal abuse/deaths/injuries which result from incompetence," the complaint from Stop Animal Exploitation Now reads. "You must take meaningful action to protect all other animals still in possession of the Mayo Clinic."

Budkie also urges the department to fine the clinic $10,000 per infraction at the conclusion of an investigation.

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The Mayo Clinic, in a statement, called the puppy's death "unfortunate," noting that the research project investigation "is no longer active" and saying it reviewed its care processes immediately after the incident.

"Mayo Clinic makes every effort to ensure the safety and well-being of animals and adheres to or exceeds all federal and state laws and regulations regarding animal use in research," the statement continues. "Mayo uses animals in research only when necessary and always with the goal of providing improved treatment or therapies for patients."

The five other routine inspections of the S.C. Johnson Research Facility done since the start of 2018 found no non-compliance.

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