A crusading online news site called The Intercept has published an enlightening story that sparked my deepest empathy for thousands of man’s best friends being sold by massive “Class A” breeding farms and others as subjects of experiments that often cause suffering and death.
This profitable and legal use of domestic dogs for science-related studies is a far bigger industry than most of us ever realized, stretching back to radiation experiments on beagles in the early 1950s.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, who provides reportedly ineffective oversight over the country’s breeder/suppliers, reports 60,979 dogs of various breeds and 18,898 cats (out of 820,812 animals overall) were used for experimentation in 2016, the article says.
Dogs alone represented about 7.4 percent of the overall number of domestic animals used for experiments that year, just behind guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, and non-human primates.
Intercept co-founder and editor Glenn Greenwald wrote the story titled “Bred to Suffer: Inside the Barbaric U.S. industry of Dog Experimentation” (along with documentary filmmaker Leighton Akio Woodhouse). A press release on the exposé says their investigation shines a “light onto a ‘largely hidden, poorly regulated, and highly profitable industry in the United States’ dedicated to ‘breeding dogs for the sole purpose of often torturous experimentation’.”
See the groundbreaking report with photos at tinyurl.com/BredtoSuffer.
I’ve long known laboratory-related studies have sacrificed various animals such as rodents and guinea pigs. It’s far more disturbing to learn so many loyal companion animals are raised specifically to be test subjects, caged in miserable conditions throughout brief lifetimes, whose remains are disposed of like Monday’s trash.
I visualize our family’s beagle Bubbles happily sprinting alongside my bicycle when I was 8, his massive velvety ears flopping and long pink tongue hanging from the side of his droopy jowls.
Greenwald reports the beagle is considered preferable because it is predictably gentle. The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Research Integrity puts it this way: “Most of the dogs used in research are beagles due to their convenient size and docile nature,” the story explains.
Greenwald also quotes a neuroscience professor, Lawrence Hansen, who regrets once experimenting on dogs, writing in an op-ed: “Of all the animals used in research, subjecting dogs to invasive experiments is especially condemnable because humans have selectively bred dogs to unconditionally love the very people who sometimes visit abuses upon them.” Greenwald adds, “That is especially true of beagles, because of how kind, loving, and thus malleable they are.”
The story examines the Animal Welfare Act, which governs the process of animal experimentation nationally under the USDA. The reporter also profiles the efforts of nonprofit organizations that advocate for the welfare of animals used for experiments.
One controversial animal activist group called Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) allowed The Intercept access to its footage of Ridglan Farms, one of the nation’s three largest USDA-registered “Class A” breeding companies that has supplied beagles to research facilities for over 40 years. Supplying dogs for biomedical and other research can prove lucrative.
A 2015 news story by Craig Malisow in the alternative weekly Houston Press reported that a 33-pound beagle minus working vocal cords and requiring no more than 8 square feet of kennel space could be purchased from a breeder for about $700, Greenwald writes.
The DxE investigators say they found about 4,000 caged beagles at Ridglan being kept in small, stacked cages to await sale and transfer to experimentation facilities.
Greenwald said his investigation revealed the beagles and other dogs to be sacrificed to science “are often purposely starved or put into a state of severe thirst to induce behavior they would otherwise not engage in. They are frequently bred deliberately to have crippling, excruciating diseases, or sometimes are brought into life just to have have their organs, eyes, and other body parts removed and studied as puppies, and then quickly killed.”
“They are force-fed laundry detergents, pesticides, and industrial chemicals to the point of continuous [throwing up] and death,” the report continues. “They are injected with lethal pathogens such as salmonella or rabies. They have artificial sweetener injected into their veins that causes the dogs’ testicles to shrink before they are killed and exsanguinated. Holes are drilled into their skulls so that viruses can be injected into their brains. And all of that is perfectly legal.”
Greenwald’s report focuses primarily on Ridglan, which DxE investigators say has long provided dogs to several research facilities and universities, including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Minnesota, and various colleges within the University of California system. Studies reportedly show more than 60 percent of universities surveyed say they use companion animals from various sources for dissection at their schools.
The DxE investigators say they entered through a door ajar at the Ridglan facility to investigate conditions and rescue a sampling of distressed dogs. “What they found horrified even these hardened activists, who have seen years’ worth of severe animal abuse,” Greenwald reports.
DxE investigated Ridglan and the lab-animal industry for a year and have since released their footage and accompanying report.
The first thing investigators say they saw (and documented) inside were dogs “housed in huge, industrial sheds with massive ventilation fans,” Greenwald writes. DxE investigator Wayne Hsiung told Greenwald in an email: “Thousands of dogs are held in cages, usually 1-2 to a cage and stacked on top of one another, that are about twice the length of the dog’s body. We found no facilities for the dogs to step outside or exercise. The dogs sit on their own feces and urine, unable to escape their own waste.”
Whether conservative or liberal politically, I thought all readers would want to know how we humans have for many years been inflicting such government-sanctioned pain, terror and death on dogs who enjoy a profound emotional connection with our species.
If this information strikes your gut as painfully as it does mine, consider also the hypocrisy of people who are equally cruel and barbaric to their pet dogs or cats today facing felony charges and jail time.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.