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August 28, 2013
 

Inside the Beagle Freedom Project

‘These are dogs no different than the ones we share our homes with—temperamentally, physically, they are normal, healthy dogs. They just happen to be destined for a metal crate, not the soft spot on the bed.’

The beagle.

Name a cuter dog. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

It can’t be done, right? Oh, sure, there might be some dogs as cute as the beagle. But cuter? No way.

But it’s not just the cuteness that accounts for the towering beagle appeal–for decades, beagles have ranked among the top ten most popular breeds across North America.

Beyond their good looks, these dogs have irresistible personalities: warm, friendly, docile, trusting, enormously kind and accommodating. To borrow a phrase from self-help jargon, they’re people pleasers.

Turns out there’s a downside to the beagles’ charming disposition. A gigantic downside, actually, particularly for the beagles in question.

“Beagles are the breed of choice for research institutions precisely for the reasons they’re one of America’s favorite pets,” declared Kevin Chase–director of operations at The Beagle Freedom Project, a nonprofit that seeks to rescue beagles used in animal experimentation in research labs and place them in loving adoptive homes–in a July 31 interview on Talking Animals.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXcL_gt7L-A

On December 23, 2010, ARME rescued two Beagles from a medical testing laboratory. These dogs had never seen the outdoors, walked on grass or felt a gentle touch. We captured their first steps into a kind world. They had also been de-barked and fed only “laboratory chow.” ARME will continue with these rescues when it can. If you are interested in adopting or fostering our next rescues, contact ARME at: armeteam@gmail.com

By which Chase doesn’t just mean there are a few beagles employed for animal experimentation in research laboratories, or that there are a few more beagles than other dogs used for these purposes.  

Nope, not by a long shot. The numbers are genuinely staggering. Chase explained that there are about 380 research institutions and labs in the U.S., at which about 70,000 dogs are being experimented on—and 96% of those dogs are beagles.

Let me repeat that: 70,000 dogs are being experimented on—96% of those dogs are beagles. By my math, that means we’re talking some 67,000 beagles residing in labs, undergoing all manner of scientific testing.

Holy smoke! While reeling from the wallop of this surprising information, I observe to Chase that I can’t help thinking the beagles may be too nice and accommodating for their own good

“It’s precisely what makes them a great pet to have around the house, even if you have small children or a cat,” he responded. “They’re not aggressive. They’re sweet little dogs that just want to please you, and also get a cookie. Beagles are very food motivated.”

A 40-BEAGLE RESUCE BY ARME: On November 23, 2011, ARME’s Beagle Freedom Project rescued 40 beagles from a laboratory in Spain where some had spent their entire lives. Others had come from other labs to the lab in Spain, only to be tested on in there. When we heard the lab was closing and the dogs would be killed, we stepped in and rescued them by flying them to Los Angeles, CA, to BFP Headquarters.

Same here. I’m also now motivated to inquire where the labs get all those beagles, surmising there must be commercial breeders that supply these dogs to the institutions.

“Absolutely,” Chase instantly confirmed. “Almost all the dogs in U.S. laboratories come from huge commercial beagle breeders. There’s a couple—the most famous are Marshall Farms in upstate New York, and Ridglan Farms in Wisconsin, and they breed beagles specifically to be sold to research institutions.

“These are dogs no different than the ones we share our homes with—temperamentally, physically, they are normal, healthy dogs. They just happen to be destined for a metal crate, not the soft spot on the bed.”

Boy, are these beagles landing far, far, far from the soft spot on the bed.  Almost instantly regretting it, I asked Chase to describe the conditions the beagles would typically face once ensconced in a laboratory.

Kevin Chase and Willy

Kevin Chase and Willy

 “These dogs,” he said, “once they get into a research laboratory–and they get in there as puppies usually–can spend upwards of seven, eight, nine years in a research laboratory. First, they have no name. They’re known by a number that’s tattooed inside their ear. They live in a stainless steel cage, and the cages are stacked two to three high, usually in basements, lit only with fluorescent lights. Concrete floors. And the room is heavy with the smell of urine and ammonia.

“And it’s like an echo chamber there too. They can hear the other dogs, they can hear barking if they still have their vocal chords. More often than not, research laboratories are devocalizing the dog, because [otherwise] the dog is howling and baying and barking and whimpering, which causes stress to each other and to the researchers when you’re working in a concrete room.

“So they devocalize them and they’re living in these cages and the only time they’re ever handled and taken out is when they’re picked up and brought into an area and they’re sat on tables like at a veterinary clinic, and they’re tested on.

“Beagles are commonly used for toxicity testing, and one of the most common ways they are tested is by having a toxic or noxious substance administered to them is via oral lavage. Oral lavage is when they take a long plastic tube, they stand the beagle up and they slide it down his esophagus, and they can simply pour the substance into the stomach. And the beagles will then be monitored to see what sort of symptoms or repercussions come from having a heavy dose of a substance that’s essentially poison.”

‘Beagles are commonly used for toxicity testing, and one of the most common ways they are tested is by having a toxic or noxious substance administered to them is via oral lavage. Oral lavage is when they take a long plastic tube, they stand the beagle up and they slide it down his esophagus, and they can simply pour the substance into the stomach. And the beagles will then be monitored to see what sort of symptoms or repercussions come from having a heavy dose of a substance that’s essentially poison.’

‘Beagles are commonly used for toxicity testing, and one of the most common ways they are tested is by having a toxic or noxious substance administered to them is via oral lavage. Oral lavage is when they take a long plastic tube, they stand the beagle up and they slide it down his esophagus, and they can simply pour the substance into the stomach. And the beagles will then be monitored to see what sort of symptoms or repercussions come from having a heavy dose of a substance that’s essentially poison.’

Among the substances being shoved down the dogs’ throats in the name of research are household products, detergents, coffee sweetener (Splenda was tested on beagles), and a variety of pharmaceutical drugs.

This information makes the beagles-in-research saga curiouser and curiouser, if “curiouser” here can translate to “more and more outrageous.” I mean, what could a beagle’s reaction to swallowing detergent possibly tell us about that detergent, other than “Hey, whoever you are, don’t swallow the detergent!

“That’s a really important point,” he said. “And that’s why for cosmetics and household product testing, it is not legally required by the FDA. It’s not. In fact, in Europe, India, Israel they’ve banned products from being for sale to the public if they were tested on animals first.

“In the United States of America, it’s optional, there are many alternatives and if you go into any grocery story, health food store or Target or Whole Foods or anything like that, you can always find products that say Not Tested On Animals, whether that’s your toothpaste or your laundry soap

“And for the sake of drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, we still take issue and think that this is an inappropriate model, for ethical reasons, but also for scientific reasons. Now I have a dog, my dog can go drink from a puddle on the street and not get sick. He walks on four legs, he has a different circulatory system—we have different bodies. What works for him is not necessarily going to work on me. If I want to know what a good cure for feline leukemia is, I don’t use an elephant as a model….”

Indeed, as we’ve seen revealed and underscored in recent years when it comes to medical testing on chimpanzees—the results of, say, HIV experiments don’t translate to human beings, so why introduce the virus into the chimps in the first place; the National Institutes of Health have drastically reduced this sort of research, and huge squadrons of chimps have recently been released from these institutions—research conducted on beagles often does not yield relevant human information, rendering the whole enterprise worse than moot.

Until a far greater, broader awareness of this monumentally important point and scientific boner takes hold, and research involving beagles is significantly reduced—or halted—the best move people can make while continuing to spread the word, is to help spring the beagles from these joyless joints and find warm, loving homes where they can start living normal dog lives.

The Beagle Freedom Project’s most recent rescue: July 15, 2013. Seven beagles are rescued from a lifetime in a laboratory. This video records their very first steps to freedom and their hopeful new lives.

If you’ve read this far, it may come as no surprise that securing the release of the beagles and matchmaking them with willing adopters is far easier said than done—and that the obstacles are suitably nefarious.

Of course, that’s not counting the depressing news that some beagles don’t survive the experimentation they’ve undergone, or that the testing has been so intrusive and hazardous that when their research project is completed, these dogs are euthanized.

That’s awful information to ponder, but those aren’t the dogs I’m referring to.

I’m talking about the beagles that reach the end of their research tenure, are physically well enough to leave under their own power and sidle into a welcoming adoptive home—but more often than not are blocked from doing so by the institutions themselves.

Why not get them into homes, or make them available to the Beagle Freedom Project for the purpose of placing them into homes?

“The reason why not is that they don’t want bad publicity,” Chase explained. “Animal research, like what happens with the dogs in these laboratories, operates and is protected under a veil of secrecy and public ignorance. Now the last thing a company wants, or a university wants, is an organization like mine on the front page of a newspaper with the image of a dog seeing sunshine for the first time, and trembling in fear of a human hand.

Daisy & Breezy are among six dogs Beagle Freedom Project rescued in January 2013 from a laboratory in Idaho. They are being rehabilitated and will be ready for their forever homes soon.

“And having that connected to what they do. They don’t want that—it’s bad PR. They don’t want the scrutiny, they don’t want the criticism. So for the sake of their egos, it’s easier for these companies to kill the dogs than to let them go

“We’ve been told this flat-out by a researcher who uses beagles and wants to cooperate with us, and does have a pang of conscience that these dogs are adoptable at the end of her study, and [feels] we should get them. But her school won’t let her cooperate with us, because, they said, ‘We don’t need this in the press. We don’t need this sort of black eye.’”

It’s a huge, immensely frustrating barrier to providing these pooches a happy, relatively normal life after the unhappy, abnormal life they’ve endured. Chase noted that in the two-and-a-half years since The Beagle Freedom Project was launched—by its parent nonprofit organization, Animal Rescue, Media & Education (ARME)—it has rescued 120 dogs from about 14 laboratories across the country.

He releases a sigh weighted with exasperation: “That’s 120 out of the 70,000 that are being used, 14 labs out of 383. It’s been a drop in the bucket.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KW5vU-bsyNo

Uno is one of forty beagles rescued from the testing lab in Spain. This video shows the scars remaining from the lab tests conducted on him.

Unbowed, Chase and his BFP colleagues are determined to pour more and more drops into that bucket. Even at the moment, when conducting a rescue, the Beagle Freedom Project already offers contracts assuring confidentiality about the institution that has provided the beagles, transports them, takes full liability, lines up veterinary care, absorbs all costs of placing the dogs in top-notch, carefully-evaluated homes.

Now, though, they’re ratcheting up and expanding their efforts, recognizing that these institutions aren’t internally inclined to shake up the status quo—far from it—and now championing legislation in California, Michigan and Minneapolis, asking those states to mandate that facilities there relying on state funds for their research operation must make the dogs available for public adoption.

Moreover, Beagle Freedom Project not only asks that everyone adopting a beagle closely adhere to its prevailing philosophy, embracing a cruelty-free lifestyle—they don’t cotton to the idea, for instance, of your using shampoo that was tested on a dog while you’re living with and helping rehabilitate a dog that was tested on—but also help spread the word about the whole beagle-in-research phenomena

“The only way we’re ever going to get increased funding for alternative forms of research,” Chase said, “is when public policy reacts to public opinion. Public opinion is only informed by knowledge and right now, sadly, too many people just don’t realize just how many animals are still in labs.”

One encouraging glimmer of how profoundly the public at large can be touched by this sort of information when exposed to it came early on, a couple of years ago, when NBC Nightly News did a piece about Beagle Freedom Project executing a rescue of 40 beagles from a facility in Spain. Chase said the program had to air a follow-up program because they were so overwhelmed with viewers asking what they could do to help.

Guess how many applications BFP fielded to adopt those 40 dogs? 6000. The NBC report was a poignant piece, to be sure. But this is also proof positive that people absolutely adore beagles. Isn’t this where we came in?

Along those lines, Chase himself doesn’t just talk the talk, doesn’t even just walk the walk. He walks the dog. A beagle, of course. Named Willy.

“I live with a research beagle,” he mentioned toward the end of our Talking Animals chat. He was in his lab for five years. For the first couple of months, he was nervous, he had some anxiety. For his first two weeks, we had to feed him by hand on the couch, because that was his safe spot; he wouldn’t move from there.

“He hated hallways and doorways, because in his previous life, every time he went through one of them, somebody on the other end was going to hurt him. It took a long time for him to trust and realize that he is safe, that he is free, that only good things from here on out are coming his way.”

Something tells me it won’t be long before there’s a battalion of beagles sharing Willy’s experience, feeling similarly safe and free, with a lot more good things coming their way, too.

Click here for the July 31 Talking Animals, featuring the Kevin Chase interview

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