Dogs and cats used in publicly-funded university research facilities got one step closer at a second lease on life on Tuesday, March 14, when the Minnesota State Senate Higher Education and Research Committee unanimously passed Senate File 1164. The bill, authored by State Senator D. Scott Dibble (DFL-61), requires higher education institutions that receive state monies to release dogs and cats used in research to have the opportunity to be taken by rescue organizations and adopted into homes, rather than destroyed. State Representative John Lesch (DFL-66B) introduced a companion bill, HF 1370, in the House.
Shannon Keith, President of Animal Rescue Media and Education, which administers the Beagle Freedom Project, testified in support of the measure. Keith explained the origin of her interest in the issue as being originally approached to take in beagles that had lived their lives out in laboratory research facilities, only to be threatened with euthanasia once their scientific use was complete. Keith made a video of the dogs’ transport and first experience outdoors, placing their paws on fresh grass, and the video quickly went viral, with close to one million YouTube views. “The dogs had never before experienced outdoors, sunshine, or a loving touch,” Keith said, ”For the first ten minutes after I opened their [kennel] doors, they were too nervous to even step out. When they eventually did, they walked awkwardly and gingerly on the grass. They had never felt anything but concrete and steel. The video captures a remarkable transformation as their canine instincts kicked in, and they went from numbered research subjects to cautiously playful dogs.”
In the wake of the video’s popularity, Animal Rescue Media and Education experienced a flood of contacts from other university laboratories that wanted to participate in her rehabilitation and re-homing project. To date, the group has rescued over 110 research beagles, including 40 beagles flown-in from Spain. According to Keith, a pharmaceutical company there had closed and was “liquidating all of their animals.” Keith received more than 6,000 adoption applications for those 40 beagles alone. “People want to give something back to those animals who have given so much for the sake of testing our cosmetics, household products, drugs, and medical devices,” Keith said.
The bill does not condemn animal testing, nor does it attempt to stop animal research for going forward. Some of the strongest supporters tend to be the lab technicians themselves, according to Keith, who are troubled by the prospect knowing that the animals for whom they have cared will be euthanized. The bill encouraged collaboration between university laboratory institutions and rescue organizations.
Aaron Zellheofer, a Minnesota resident who adopted a rescued beagle named Junior, also testified in support of the bill.
To learn more about the Beagle Freedom Project, go to http://beaglefreedomproject.org/. To see the video described above, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXcL_gt7L-A&feature=player_embedded