Animals

Tens of Thousands of Dogs are Still Used in Laboratory Testing Every Year

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For some research, including certain cardiovascular and skeletal studies — and especially testing that involves a treadmill — a beagle may not be appropriate. The preferred model for these studies is a large, mature, outbred, barrel-chested mongrel or hound. Their larger size ensures a higher volume of blood that can be sampled.

In 2013, approximately 74,000 dogs were used in scientific research, according to the Humane Society of the United States' tabulation of data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The majority of dogs were used by private companies, but in 2012, the National Institutes of Health funded $263.5 million in grants for studies using dogs, with $45.3 million devoted to pharmaceutical testing.

Even though much of the work is taxpayer-funded, these institutions are loath to discuss specific studies, or even the use of dogs in general, with the media.

Most institutions purchase their dogs from just a handful of large dealers, including Marshall BioResources in upstate New York, which has trademarked the phrase "Marshall Beagle." Another supplier, Ridglan Farms in Wisconsin, boasts a "breeding colony which consists of approximately 750 bitches and 70 stud dogs." Covance Research, based in New Jersey, is another major player in purpose-bred beagles and "industry-leading hounds optimal for a variety of studies."

In the private sector, companies like Stillmeadow in Sugar Land contract with pesticide manufacturers to conduct toxicity testing on dogs, as well as pharmacokinetic testing — how a drug is absorbed into the body — for pharmaceutical companies. Nanospectra, a start-up that licensed intellectual property from Rice University to eradicate cancerous tumors with lasers, tested its promising device on the healthy prostates of beagles. A veterinary ultrasound company in Arlington, Sound-Eklin, borrows dogs from the municipal pound for training purposes, adopting out the dogs when it can or returning them to the shelter when there aren't enough fosters or adopters available.

Because of public sentiment surrounding the practice, the word "dog" does not appear in the SEC filings of some publicly owned animal providers, such as Charles River Labs, nor does the literature include stock photos of scientists working with beagles — these are limited to mice. Marshall Bio-Resources' online catalog of trademarked beagles and crossbred hounds is password-protected.

The basic outlines of dog-related research conducted by public institutions can be gleaned from published studies and online grant-tracking through the National Institutes of Health, although it helps to have a PhD in order to translate the abstracts into plain English. With private companies, finding out what dogs are being used for is more difficult, and depends in large part on a company's transparency.

In addition to cancer studies, Texas research institutions are using federal money for dog-related studies to improve treatments for hemophilia, for brain protection after cardiac arrest, for MRSA and even for obesity.

In Houston, where globally renowned public institutions such as MD Anderson and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston are working to develop treatments and cures to reduce human suffering, dogs are a part of the process that public-relations departments would rather not discuss.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow