On a cold day in January 2006, Roslyn native Justin Goodman, a University of Connecticut graduate student, marched up to the university's Wilbur Cross Building and chained himself to the fence, well in view of UConn's bigwigs and media that had gathered to celebrate the school's 125th anniversary.
As he sat, 20 fellow protesters screamed out their chant: "There's nothing to celebrate/ UConn kills primates." It was a showy move, but only a snippet of what had become a long, ongoing struggle against the university health center, which was experimenting on rhesus monkeys and attaching electrodes to their brains, according to Goodman, causing seizures and, in at least two cases, death.
At the time, UConn president Philip Austin said the university had no intention of stopping its experiments, because they were scientifically valuable.
But Goodman, who maintained that the monkeys -- better known as organ-grinder monkeys -- were being treated barbarically, had other ideas.
Empathy for the primates
"The monkeys in the lab were ... suffering the way I'd suffer," Goodman said, adding that researcher Dr. David Waitzman had drilled holes in the monkeys' heads and implanted metal coils in their eyes for the study.
Waitzman, a medical doctor and a primary researcher at the center, did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the accusations or respond to questions for this story. Neither he nor the university would give details on the experiments.
"When you go to sleep knowing this is going on anywhere ... how can you not" act? Goodman said.
And act he did. It took more than a year, several requests under the Freedom of Information Act and a steady stream of petitions to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But after the USDA cited the lab for numerous violations, the health center stopped its experiments on the monkeys -- though only one of the three had survived.
Last month, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals awarded Goodman its Nanci Alexander Activist Award, the organization's highest honor, for an "exemplary activist that really goes above and beyond."
"He did everything he could think to, and in the end the experiment ended," said PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk.
Goodman, 27, first discovered evidence of what he believed was mistreatment in October 2005, when the USDA reported that UConn was experimenting on primates.
After contacting the center's main veterinarian, he petitioned the USDA for an inspection.
That November, the USDA discovered 20 violations, according to documents. Of particular concern, Goodman said, was the finding that, in violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act, scientists hadn't tried to cause the least possible pain to the monkeys -- who had been chained to chairs, had open head wounds, and, in one instance, had been choked by a restraint.
"It was noted that the consideration of alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary pain or distress to the animals was not addressed" in previous inspections, the document said.
Goodman later learned that Cornelius, a 7-year-old monkey, had died when it was restrained after a series of experiments. The monkey, which had shown signs of distress, suffered a grand mal seizure and a heart attack. Another monkey, Lips, had been paralyzed on the left side and later was euthanized. The surviving monkey, Mowgli, had begun bleeding from its eyes.
The experiments continued until March 2006, when Dr. Peter Autenried, director of the university's Center for Laboratory Animal Care, pulled Mowgli from the experiment. In a letter to Waitzman, Autenried said Mowgli might not be "suited for these types of experiments," as the monkey wasn't very trainable.
The health center maintains it tries to ensure the well-being of all its research animals.
"The UConn Health Center is committed to full compliance with all relevant animal-welfare laws and guidelines followed by major research universities throughout the country," a recent statement said. "We constantly monitor and evaluate our use of animals in research."
Goodman, though, wasn't done. He petitioned the USDA again, spoke to UConn's president, collected about 4,000 signatures and scheduled regular demonstrations.
It was a stretch for someone who was making his first real foray into major activism, according to his brother, Jared Goodman of Park Slope. "He's never done anything like that before, taking on a huge by himself," said Jared Goodman, also an animal activist.
A developing activist
Though Justin Goodman, 27, became a vegetarian 12 years ago, after being inspired by socially conscious music at Roslyn High School, and though he later was named "most radical" by his graduating class, it was only in college that he became heavily involved in animal activism.
Eventually, the USDA performed more inspections at UConn, issued an official warning and added four violations in January 2007. The university was fined $11,000, though it later settled for $5,532.
By then, Waitzman had voluntarily stopped his experiments and the equipment was later dismantled. Mowgli was shipped off to the University of Mississippi, Justin Goodman said. That university said in a recent statement, "This animal was employed in research," but would not confirm whether Mowgli was alive or give details of how he was used.
The animal care program at the health center was again awarded full accreditation this week by the group that promotes humane treatment of animals in science.
Connecticut State Rep. Diana Urban (D-Stonington), who supported Goodman, said the fight is only beginning.
"I want UConn to be held accountable," she said, promoting greater transparency and an end to primate testing. Though primate testing has not occurred on campus in more than 20 years, a UConn spokeswoman said, the off-campus health center hasn't banned it.
Goodman, who lives in Vernon, Conn., and is continuing his studies, said he still is dedicated to the cause.