Madison Metro transit system in middle of battle over PETA ads

MADISON (WITI) -- Pictures of a lab cat are now being displayed throughout Madison -- on the sides of city buses. It's part of a new PETA ad campaign -- and the picture shows a cat with a metal bar screwed to his head. The copy reads: "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments."

WARNING: Images displayed in the video above may be disturbing for some.

PETA says the cat pictured in the ad campaign was starved and intentionally deafened -- and PETA hopes the public will find the images disturbing, and will call the state and federal government to get funding taken away from these experiments.

UW-Madison has released a statement saying the picture of the cat was taken four years ago from a pilot study.

UW-Madison says right now, two cats are part of research involved in ear implants for people, and credit many lifesaving procedures and techniques to animal testing.

The ad campaign has Madison Metro receiving calls from upset individuals -- but folks at Madison Metro couldn't do anything about it.

"We worked with the organization and we couldn't get them to change the image that went on there,  so those images went on the buses today," Madison Metro spokesperson Mick Rusch said.

Rusch says if they could leave the lab cats of the buses, they would.

"It is a First Amendment right for these advertisers," Rusch said.

Madison Metro has a policy, but that policy is 20 years old. The policy keeps libelous and obscene ads off the sides of buses, but...

"By the legal definition of obscene as our legal office has determined, this doesn't meet that criteria," Rusch said.

PETA first came to Madison Metro about two months ago, looking to put up the advertising. Rusch says it's been a back and forth battle since then.

"We tried to disallow that image and the First Amendment rights were pointed out to us in a legal way and yeah, a lawsuit was threatened," Rusch said.

The picture is now plastered on the sides and back of a handful of buses and is pictured inside about 100 more -- leaving Madison Metro stuck in the middle of a fight, and in turn, taking all the heat from riders.

Rusch says the phones have been rang all day Monday about the cat images.

"We're not endorsing either side. Our buses are a public forum where anyone can advertise -- so we don't have the luxury of having an opinion on this," Rusch said.

Rusch says Madison Metro is revisiting the 20-year-old policy, but until then, PETA can keep sending their message out through the bus systems.

"Everyone has an equal right to display their opinion in the form of an advertisement on our bus," Rusch said.

The deal PETA made with Madison Metro will go for the next eight weeks, and is costing them $12,000.

Rusch says the advertising on the sides of buses helps to keep fares low for riders.