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More research animals could be adopted as states pass the Beagle Freedom Bill

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ANNAPOLIS, Md (Circa) - George Washington spent the first four years of his life in a research lab.

No, not America's first president George Washington, but George Washington the beagle.

When George left the lab, he was adopted into a loving home, but that is not always the case for animals used for testing and research, and some states are trying to change that.

Maryland is now the seventh state to enact legislation nicknamed the Beagle Freedom Bill, a law that will help healthy dogs and cats used for research have a better chance at becoming someone's pet.

"It just requires that research institutions in the state that use dogs and cats in research, when the research is complete, and that is up to the research facilities to determine, any dogs or cats that are healthy enough to be adopted they will work to get those animals adopted," said Emily Hoverale, Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

Over 60,000 dogs were used for research in the United States in 2016, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, and Hoverale said typically dogs used for research are euthanized when the testing is over.

"There is just no way of really knowing what is happening to these animals once the research is complete, and in many situations they are euthanized simply because it is the most convenient thing to do even if they are healthy and even if they would be able to live in a home and live out the rest of their lives that way. So this legislation just ensures that when they are healthy enough they can go to a home and they can live out the rest of their lives," Hoverale said.

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Minnesota became the first state to enact a similar law in 2014, and since then California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada and New York have also passed Beagle Freedom Bills.

"As we see success in major states that have research, like California and Illinois and New York that are research hubs like Maryland is, I think that it’s something that will continue to gain popularity." Hoverale said.

In Maryland, the opposition to the bill originally included Johns Hopkins University because an adoption program for research animals was already in place at the university, and the initial legislation did not allow for direct adoptions outside of an animal rescue organization.

"We actually have well-established processes in place to ensure the safe rehoming of our animals. We go to great lengths to customize placements based on the needs of each individual animal. In collaboration with faculty, staff, community partners, as well as reputable rescue organizations, our rehoming efforts have been incredibly successful," director of Media Relations for Johns Hopkins Medicine Audrey Huang told Circa News in an email.

Once amendments were made to the bill to allow for the university's current system, they joined the pack of supporters.

"These dogs and cats are being used for the betterment of mankind in some ways they are being used in medicine to make it better for us, well they deserve a little bit of human kindness in exchange for the sacrifices they are making on our behalf," Hoverale said.

Animals used in research have contributed to the advancement of medicine, including polio vaccines, organ transplants and open heart surgery.

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"I’m not going to deny that there has never been research that has benefited humans that came from animals. The question now is, do we have better ways to do it that don’t use animals? And I think the answer to that is yes," said director of legal and legislative programs at the National Anti-Vivisection Society Marcia Kramer.

According to the Rescue and Freedom Project, a nonprofit that supports and helps efforts to pass the bill in each state, almost 96 percent of dogs used for research are beagles because of their submissive, friendly nature.

George has now been out of a lab for years, but his owner Gail Thomsseen said at first becoming a pet was a large adjustment.

"He was very timid and shy and was not house broken hadn’t didn’t know how to play with a bone didn’t really have a voice so they typically cut them in the labs so that they can't bark so it took him a while to find out that he did have a voice so he has made a lot of progress and he’s just a wonderful family dog now," Thomssen said.

Today, Thomssen said George loves cuddling, chewing on bones and being an activist for other research animals.

"For all they’ve gone through I think that it’s the least we can do for them is to give them a home and a love and a loving touch and not just poking and prodding," Thomssen said.

Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa and Massachusetts are also considering the Beagle Freedom Bill in 2018.

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