Although it’s hard to imagine, dogs have long been used as research and testing subjects. In fact, in 1883, AAVS was founded specifically to protect dogs from being stolen or otherwise collected off the streets so they could be used in research, often suffering in agony with no analgesic or pain relief. This continued through the first half of the 20th century without regulatory oversight, until 1966 when the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was enacted, spurred in part by the death of Pepper, a Dalmatian who was stolen from her family in Pennsylvania, transported to New York, sold to a lab by an animal dealer, and then killed during an experiment. Although animal research and testing are now regulated, the AWA does not restrict the use of certain types of animals, including pets, and dogs are still used in experiments today.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “Annual Report Animal Usage by Fiscal Year” data, in 2018, over 65,000 dogs were held in U.S. laboratories and approximately 60,000 of these were used in experiments, with over 27 percent experiencing pain and distress during testing.
HOW DOGS ARE USED
Dogs are often used in biomedical research investigating heart and lung disease, cancer, and orthopedics. They are also used in toxicity studies to test the safety of drugs and industrial chemicals, but are rarely used to assess the safety of personal care and household products. Most dogs used in research are purpose-bred in laboratories or by private companies that sell strictly to labs. Dogs can be bred to be pathogen-free or genetically manipulated to be a model of human disease.
The most common breed of dog used for experiments are beagles, but not because scientists view them as the best model for human disease. Rather, beagles are convenient to use because they are docile and small, allowing for more animals to be housed and cared for using less space and money.
WHERE LABS OBTAIN DOGS
To acquire dogs with specific traits who are not readily available from breeders, some research facilities obtain dogs directly from pounds and shelters, a practice called pound seizure. These labs may want older dogs to use in age related research or large dogs to study heart disease. Also, medical and veterinary schools have traditionally used dogs from shelters for student training, particularly for surgery. Now the trend is to utilize alternatives that do not harm animals and allow veterinarians to gain experience through beneficial shelter medicine programs.
Several years ago, facilities could purchase dogs from random source Class B dealers, who acquire animals from pounds and shelters and then sell them for use in research. Random source dealers have had a long sordid history of violating the AWA. So, Congress directed the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine the importance of dogs and cats purchased from random source Class B dealers in biomedical research. The resulting 2009 report from the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research concluded that “it is not necessary to obtain random source dogs and cats for NIH research from Class B dealers.” In 2011, the National Institutes of Health announced that it would start to phase out funding for research using dogs and cats obtained from random source Class B dealers. This policy came into full effect for dogs in October 2014, and for cats in October 2012.
Fortunately, over the past several years, Congress has included provisions in federal spending bills prohibiting USDA from licensing random source Class B dealers, effectively leaving random source dealers unable to do business.