Companion Animals used in Research
In the United States companion animals can be taken from shelters and pounds and sold to research dealers or research institutions. This is known as either pound seizure or pound release. Only 14 states ban shelters and pounds from selling or giving companion animals to research dealers or research institutions.
USDA Class B Dealers are licensed to sell dogs and cats to research institutions. It is believed that there are 15 Class B Dealers operating in the United States, most in the Midwest. The Class B Dealer system is very controversial, rife with frequent allegations of abuse and illegal activity. Basically, dogs and cats that are strays are picked up the Class B Dealer from shelters, when the stray hold period is up (by federal law 5 business days if the animal does not have identification, 10 business days if there is a collar or other form of identification.) The dog or cat is taken back to the B Dealer kennel and held with sometimes hundreds of other animals until there is an order from a research institution. The animal is then sold for hundreds of dollars to the research institution. The dog or cat will become a research subject and will never see the outside world again.
What types of research use companion animals?
Class B Dealers sell dogs and cats to a variety or research institutions including hospitals, private companies that manufacturer medical devices and universities. Generally, these animals are used in short term research projects. For example, cats taken from a shelter in Tennessee were used in research on AIDS and methamphetamine addiction. Basically, cats were injected with the feline equivalent of HIV and then fed methamphetamine so researchers could see what the brain of a meth addict with AIDS looked like. Greyhounds, fraudulently taken by a Class B Dealer and sold to a private corporation, were used in heart research. They spent hours on treadmills after mechanical devices were implanted in their chests.
Dog labs are run by teaching veterinary universities, although they are becoming less common. Companion animals are used to teach surgical techniques to veterinary students. Sometimes the dog is purposely injured so the students can watch the techniques to repair the injury. Most dog labs kill the dog at the end of the school year or during surgery. Proponents of dog labs claim that this is the best method to teach surgery to veterinary students. Opponents question why animals are harmed and killed in order to teach students who are supposed to be compassionate professionals. Also, computer models and assisting in surgeries provide adequate learning opportunities for students without purposefully harming or killing animals.
Class B Dealers and Illegal Activity
Many activists consider the Class B Dealer system a dirty business. A number of Class B Dealers have been charged with serious offenses ranging from abuse, neglect to fraudulently acquiring animals and theft. The most recent case involved Arkansas B Dealer, C.C. Baird, one of the largest dealers in the United States. An undercover investigation by Last Chance for Animals (LCA) exposed horrendous abuse and mistreatment of dogs in the dealer kennels. It was discovered that many of the dogs were stolen or taken fraudulently from free to good home ads. Baird lost his license and is not allowed to buy and sell companion animals to research institutions as a result. The HBO documentary “Dealing Dogs” chronicles the Baird investigation.
C.C. Baird is not the first Class B Dealer suspected of pet theft. Critics of the industry have consistently charged that many dealers acquire animals through fraud or theft. Because of poor enforcement by the USDA and lack of regulation, it’s difficult to determine the scope of the pet theft problem. The book Stolen for Profit by Judith Reitman is a well written account of the free to good home and pet theft ring led by a California Class B Dealer.
The Pet Safety and Protection Act passed the United States House of Representatives in July, 2007. Also known as “Buck’s Bill” this law will end the Class B Dealer system and will stop shelters from selling to research. The Pet Safety and Protection Act is expected to be taken up by the United States Senate during the fall 2007 session. Last Chance for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute and American Anti-vivisection Society are leading the campaign to pass the Pet Safety and Protection Act.
Arguments for and Against Using Companion Animals in Research
Proponents of the Class B Dealer system argue that over 5 million dogs and cats are killed in United States shelters every year. Since the dog or cat will die anyway, they argue it is better that they serve a purpose. Researchers argue that dogs and cats purchased through Class B Dealers are less expensive than dogs and cats purposely bred for research by Class A Dealers.
Opponents of the Class B Dealer system point to the neglect and abuse of dogs and cats in some Class B Dealer kennels. Instead of dying a somewhat humane death in a shelter, many animals used in research suffer painful procedures before death. Proven cases of pet theft and acquiring dogs and cats through fraud lend credence to the calls for disbanding the system.
How you can Help End the Class B Dealer System
Email your United States Senator and ask them to quickly pass the Pet Safety and Protection Act. You can find your US Senators through this link: United States Senate.
Let your friends know about the Pet Safety and Protection Act and ask that them to write their Senators too.
Join one of the organizations leading the fight to pass the Act, such as Last Chance for Animals, Animal Welfare Institute or American Anti-vivisection Society.
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