Animal Welfare Group Sues A&M for Withholding Lab Dog Records

Animal Welfare Group Sues A&M for Withholding Lab Dog Records

Sergeant Martin Palmer chose his beagle, which was being experimented upon by researchers at Texas A&M, because they had the same birthday. 

The only other thing Palmer knows, from the scant information obtained by a rescue group called Beagle Freedom Project, which works with labs to find homes for retired lab dogs, is the dog's ID number: 30393. He doesn't even know if the dog is still alive. Now the Beagle Freedom Project and Palmer are suing A&M, on behalf of dozens of others who are seeking similar information from the school, for the dog's veterinary care records.

In order to get information about how laboratory dogs like 30393 are cared for by public research institutions — mostly universities — the Beagle Freedom Project initiated its Identity Campaign, in which volunteers virtually "adopt" dogs and cats from a master list and then submit requests for information about the animals' daily care logs, health records, treatment and progress reports, and other basic data. 

Most universities have produced records. Texas A&M has not, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says the school doesn't have to, because the information is protected by veterinarian-client privilege. 

But the Beagle Freedom Project claims in its lawsuit, filed earlier last week, that the veterinarian-client privilege is meant to "protect private individuals from the risk that their veterinarian would release their animal’s private information without their consent. This exception was never meant to apply to animals being experimented on by a taxpayer-funded state institution of higher public education."

The suit also states that the group and its volunteers didn't ask veterinarians for any records — they asked the university, which, they say, is bound buy the Texas Public Information Act. 

According to the San Antonio Express-NewsA&M "reported last year using 428 dogs and 15 cats for research. In 2009, Texas A&M said three-fourths of tests done on 82 dogs produced some 'pain or distress,' according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

That same year, the American Anti-Vivisection Society reported that A&M had engaged in a practice called pound seizure, in which labs obtain animals from municipal shelters. The report stated that:

Between January 2005 and July 2008, Texas A&M acquired 474 live dogs from local shelters, primarily Lehman Animal Shelter in Giddings, Texas. Records indicate that the dogs were euthanized at the university on the same day they were acquired from the shelter. Between January 2006 and March 2008, Texas A&M acquired 86 dead cats from Lehman Animal Shelter.

Palmer, a Hutto native who's currently stationed in Colorado, already adopted one dog through Beagle Freedom Project. The dog, released from a lab in Memphis, swapped his ID number for a more fitting name: Elvis. Palmer hopes that one day Elvis will meet 30393, which he named Wooderson. 

But as Palmer points out, since A&M is withholding records, "It's a guessing game. For all I know, whatever testing they've done on this beagle, the beagle could already be dead. Or they decided they were done with the testing...and decided to euthanize it." 

It's that lack of information that another A&M virtual adopter, Marla Filipponi, finds nerve-wracking. She named her dog, previously known only as 30406, Henry, after Henry David Thoreau. 

"Is it worse knowing or not knowing?" says Filipponi, who lives in California. "It's hard not knowing, but hearing what other dogs and cats are going through, it's really rough." 

What really stuck out to her was the cardiovascular experimentation at Wayne State University in Detroit, where dogs undergo multiple surgeries and endure forced heart failure by implanted electrodes. The dogs' heart rates are monitored by having them run on treadmills before and after surgeries (at mild, moderate and severe speeds).

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the lab "has a 25-30 percent death rate for dogs during surgery, recovery, and the experiments, before experimental protocols are completed."

We get it — stuff like that is hard to read, which is why A&M is more comfortable generating press releases about its football team's collie mascot, Reveille VIII, whose retirement was the subject of a recent Houston Chronicle puff piece. We're happy for that dog, of course, but we don't understand why her life is fit for public knowledge but so many others aren't.

We reached out to Texas A&M for comment, and will update if we hear back. 

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