Advocates Cheer Law Giving New Life to Animals Used in Test Labs
CHELMSFORD -- There appears to be nothing out of the ordinary about Frank Peabody’s 7-year-old beagles, Lilly and Daisy -- until you look at the underside of their big, floppy ears, where an inked identification number is still visible, but a little faded with time.
Peabody had lost a beagle who was “literally the best friend I ever had, human or animal,” when a friend said she could get him two beagles from the Massachusetts pharmaceutical lab where she worked -- two dogs that had spent the first two years of their lives in testing.
“At first I was skeptical. I thought, I don’t want some messed-up beagle that’s been tested on. I really wrestled with that, but I wanted to honor my old beagle’s memory. And of course I got two, because one isn’t enough,” Peabody said.
Now, Peabody can’t thank the lab enough for his best friends. After he got Lilly and Daisy, Peabody says he was able to get about 50 other dogs out of that lab to adoptees until the company stepped in and put a halt to the outside adoptions. He would not disclose the name of the lab to protect its employees.
Today, Lilly and Daisy run around the Chelmsford dog park among lots of other pups that came out to play, including two other beagles whose lives began in animal testing labs. These play dates happen frequently in the summer.
The beagle owners -- Peabody, Lisa DeMattea and Janet Waldron -- met one other through a mutual love for their pets, and a dedication to helping other animals like theirs, through a bill mandating that animal testing labs release healthy dogs and cats to animal shelters after testing is completed, rather than being euthanized.
Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill into law on Friday.
The lead Senate sponsor, Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, Tarr said he was prompted to act following the “Puppy Doe” case, in which a Quincy man was convicted of 12 counts of animal cruelty and sentenced to eight to 10 years in prison.
According to the Department of Agriculture, 80,000 dogs and cats are used for research annually. About 90 people of those animals are dogs, and specifically beagles, due to their submissive nature, thus the nickname “Beagle Freedom Bill.”
“There are no laws other than this law that tells researchers what they should do with the animals once the research is over,” said Matt Rossell, director of advocacy, programs and public policy at the Rescue and Freedom Project, a national nonprofit that has been promoting the bill in states across the country. Similar bills have been adopted in nine other states since 2014.
″(This bill) mandates that if the laboratories have dogs and cats that are healthy and potentially adoptable at the end of the experiment, they need to reach out to a shelter and find them a home,” he said.
Cara Zipoli, a volunteer for the Rescue and Freedom Project in Massachusetts, herself works at a small biotech company that tests on animals. She doesn’t have any beagles of her own, but believes that viable animals should be put up for adoption after testing is over.
“We’re not trying to stop testing. It has nothing to do with the research. There are hundreds lined up to adopt these dogs and cats,” Zipoli said.
James O’Reilly, president of the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research, doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s entirely unnecessary, to be perfectly frank,” he said about the Beagle Freedom Bill, “Already in the biomedical field, institutions that use animals like dogs and cats, they already have very robust adoption plans that keep the say in the hands of the attending veterinarian.”
O’Reilly said MSMR’s affiliates give test animals up for adoption within the company, but not to local animal shelters.
″(Shelters) are not trained to understand the particular medical or behavioral conditions that the these animals may have. To deal with humane societies is putting the public at risk, and it is unnecessary,” O’Reilly said, also pointing out that shelters euthanize animals at a higher rate than private institutions, and shelters don’t have to report their euthanasia numbers. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has estimated that 1.5 million companion animals are euthanized in shelters every year, a number that has decreased since 2011 due to increases in adoption rates.
“His adoption program is entirely voluntary,” Zipoli said of MSMR, “We’re just saying that when voluntary adoption is over, that’s when the law kicks in, and giving these animals to shelters for adoption is mandatory.”
DeMattea, Peabody and Waldron say that their dogs have adjusted perfectly well to their surroundings. Lilly and Daisy are both perfectly healthy, except for some rotten teeth, and the only fear they have is of trash bags, Peabody says. And by the end of her visit to the Chelmsford dog park, Lilly has already made friends with every other pup and person there, her smiling face dripping with drool. DeMattea’s beagle, Sunny, sniffed the park’s perimeter and greeted newcomers who opened the gate.
“They’re not numbers, they should be names and they should be in homes,” Peabody says.