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Animal Kingdom

LACF director wins Perkins Award

Beverly Keninston

Frogs, and turtles, and gerbils — they’re all in a day’s work for Beverly Keniston, director of Boston University’s Laboratory Animal Care Facility (LACF). In May, Keniston received a John S. Perkins Distinguished Service Award, one of three given by the Faculty Council each year to nonfaculty employees who have served the University with great distinction and who have made important contributions toward the goals of BU.

Keniston arrived at BU 16 years ago, after having worked in several other animal facilities, from her native Maine to British Columbia.

“We provide the housing and all of the TLC for the animals,” says Keniston, who directs a staff of five at the LACF.  “Every day of the year we have somebody coming in and checking on each animal to make sure of its health status and take care of its bedding, and food and water needs.” Plus, about once every other week, a veterinarian visits and makes the rounds.

“The LACF is absolutely essential for research that ultimately benefits humankind,” says Howard Eichenbaum, a College of Arts and Sciences professor and chair of the department of psychology. “There’s an enormous amount of concern that all things be done in the best possible way to ensure that animals are taken care of humanely. And [Keniston] is absolutely fantastic in ensuring that we meet the highest possible standards.”

In addition to overseeing the daily care of the animals, she also advises researchers on the requirements of submitting animal-research applications to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and attends to an array of climate-control requirements for the facility’s assorted furry, scaly, and sometimes slithering inhabitants. Federal guidelines, for instance, typically require rodents to be kept in air temperatures between 72 and 76 degrees and birds between 74 and 78 degrees.

“I like the variety of my job,” says Keniston, whose facility houses a constantly changing cast of animal characters — from mice, rats, and gerbils to snakes, turtles, and horseshoe crabs. And Keniston is reluctant to play favorites. She says the most unusual creatures to come through the facility have been baby skates, who needed to be hand-fed tiny pieces of fresh clams. She also admits to a fondness for zebra finches, which she says are “very cool, but very messy,” as well as ferrets, who are “extremely interactive, cute, and smart little animals.” As for the infamous odor of ferrets, she admits, “they do have a strong smell. They’re part of the weasel family, which is related to the skunk family. But you get used to it.”

Keniston’s care of the animals and smooth directorship of the LACF are much appreciated and admired by the BU scientists who use the facility and nominated her for one of this year’s Perkins Awards.