Legislation calls for adoption of lab test animals

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published April 26, 2019

 Greta Guest, of St. Clair Shores, holds Teddy in her home April 25.

Greta Guest, of St. Clair Shores, holds Teddy in her home April 25.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

 Guest and her husband, Dave Rubello, brought their dog, Cleo, right, to meet Teddy at the Michigan Humane Society to make sure the pair would get along in the same home.

Guest and her husband, Dave Rubello, brought their dog, Cleo, right, to meet Teddy at the Michigan Humane Society to make sure the pair would get along in the same home.

Photo provided by Greta Guest

 Rubello said that he hopes Teddy’s story will bring more awareness to what is going on with animals used in laboratory testing.

Rubello said that he hopes Teddy’s story will bring more awareness to what is going on with animals used in laboratory testing.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

METRO DETROIT — When a stranger approaches the house, a deep, telltale baying erupts from Cleo, letting everyone within hearing range know that someone is there.

Teddy doesn’t bark.

When Cleo first met her new brother, she bowed and danced around him, trying to engage him in play.

Teddy didn’t know what to do.

Cleo, at 3 years old, has the characteristic rotundness of a happy, well-fed beagle.

Teddy still has the stature of a puppy, despite being a year and a half old.

Nowhere is it more apparent the treatment that lab dogs have suffered through than in a home in St. Clair Shores, where two young beagles, Cleo and Teddy, are living together after very different starts in life.

Teddy was born at a breeder that sells dogs specifically to laboratories for testing. According to the Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS, about 60,000 dogs are used in testing and research each year.

In March, HSUS released a video recorded as part of an undercover investigation at the Charles River Laboratories in Michigan that showed a beagle that had had his chest surgically opened and two chemical substances poured in. The beagle shown in the video, Harvey, and the 21 other dogs that were being used for testing in that lab, were subsequently euthanized.

Beagles are most commonly used in research, according to HSUS, because of their docile nature.

When HSUS released its undercover investigation, however, 36 different beagles were currently being housed at the laboratory, part of a pesticide test commissioned by Corteva Agriscience, the agriculture division of DowDuPont.

According to HSUS, the test involved force-feeding the dogs various doses of fungicide every day for a year and had been required by Brazil before a certain pesticide could be sold in that country. Although Dow has advocated for eliminating the test in numerous countries since its scientists had deemed it unnecessary, according to HSUS, Brazil has taken steps to eliminate the one-year dog trial from its list of requirements, but had not done so at that time.

Teddy was one of those dogs.


A new beginning
Following the release of the investigation and the subsequent outcry, Corteva did end the test on the dogs in mid-March. It was supposed to run until July. On its blog, the Humane Society of the United States said that it applauds “Corteva for making the right decision by ending the test and urge(s) them to work with us to get the dogs out of the laboratory and to our shelter and rescue partners so they can be adopted into loving homes.”

Corteva noted in a tweet that it is continually working to “refine, reduce, and replace animal tests wherever possible and finding alternative means of obtaining the data necessary to assure our products are safe for humans, animals and the environment.”

Greta Guest, of St. Clair Shores, said that she had been following the story of the beagles since the investigation first came to light. She and her husband, Dave Rubello, have had several beagles in their home,  and currently have a female beagle, 3-year-old Cleo.

So, on the evening of April 12, when the Michigan Humane Society posted that it was accepting applications for 32 of the dogs rescued from the Charles River facility, she immediately filled out an application.

But with only 32 dogs up for adoption, she said she didn’t think much about it because, “What are our chances?”

Just five days later, however, a member of the Michigan Humane Society called her about the application.

“They basically interviewed me about our situation, why we wanted to adopt. ... The fact that we had Cleo and she was still relatively young and that we had a fenced-in yard already,” made the Guest/Rubello household a good fit, she said.

“We’ve raised two beagles from puppies, so we’re very familiar with the whole housebreaking routine and the destruction that a young beagle can take out on a house,” she said. “We love our dogs.”

That was important, she said, because the lab dogs had spent their entire lives in steel cages. They were not housebroken or socialized, and the Michigan Humane Society does not know what kind of health or social issues the dogs will face outside of captivity.

“Cleo can teach Teddy how to be a dog,” Guest said. “When Cleo would (bow to indicate) let’s play, Teddy would just look at her, (like) ‘What are you doing?’

“Over just a few short days, he has understood a lot of those cues.”

She said that they have been warned to expect health issues down the line, but that Teddy’s initial bloodwork came back normal. They don’t know if Teddy doesn’t bark because he has permanent damage, but they noted that he is also very scared of loud noises — even just opening the freezer drawer can send him running.


Help is on the way
While Teddy’s story is on the path to a happy ending, he and his kennel mates could have had a much different end to their lives — one shared by other laboratory cats and dogs used for testing. After the initial undercover investigation was published, Corteva was going to send the dogs to another out-of-state organization that may have euthanized the animals.

State Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, said that shouldn’t happen to any laboratory dog or cat.

“There’s folks that want to keep this quiet. They don’t want folks to know how many animals are being tested on in Michigan,” he said.

He introduced House Bill 4496 April 24 to mandate that companies that perform animal testing release cats and dogs to animal shelters once the testing is completed. The bill’s provisions would limit the release to cats and dogs that don’t pose a threat to human health, and that shelters be used in the state of Michigan so that accurate records of releases and adoptions can be kept.

Hertel said that the bill, if passed, would require the laboratories to report to the Michigan Department of Agriculture how many animals they have and what testing is being done on the animals.

“I think it’s important that we have a full understanding of what’s going on,” he said. “This is a perfect example. You have a family that’s thrilled to have Teddy join them. There were 32 beagles, and the Humane Society received over 800 applications to adopt them.

“There’s no reason these animals should be going out of state or being euthanized.”

The legislation makes sense, Hertel said, because it doesn’t cost any more for the animals to be sent to a shelter where they can be adopted by loving families instead of sent elsewhere to be euthanized. The bill, if approved, would also allow lawmakers and the public “to get an understanding of how much animal testing goes on in our state,” he said.

“This is a first step that we can do very easily right now.”

Teddy is a great example of how the dogs used for research can have a great life afterward, Guest said.

“(Teddy) has, like, maybe 15 more years of life that she can be happy and giving happiness and joy to her humans,” said Guest, who said that Teddy looks so much like a former dog they had that she lapses into female pronouns by accident.

“Just looking at how much Teddy has blossomed in the last week, it’s like that never happened.”

Guest said that it has been wonderful to watch Teddy getting to experience the outdoors and so many different smells and textures that he had likely never been exposed to. He spent much of his first day sniffing around their entire kitchen, she said, and then doing the same thing around their backyard.

One of their neighbors uses a wood fire to heat his home, she said, and one of the first days she took him outside, she could smell wood smoke.

So could Teddy. She said he lifted his nose and sniffed the air and “I was like, wow, he really appreciated that.”

Guest said that they didn’t receive any explanation of why four of the dogs weren’t released. Some of the dogs allegedly had patches of their fur missing, she said, and although Teddy looks healthy, he and the other dogs were all very skinny.

“It makes me want to not put any pesticides on my grass,” she said.

Rubello said that he hopes the publicity will lead companies to find other ways to test their products instead of through animals.

“I don’t believe that there’s not a better way to test whatever they’ve got to test,” he said. “If these dogs start dying from this stuff, they’re going to have their hands full.”