Call Kurtis: Is Your Rescue Dog A Research Animal?

GRASS VALLEY (CBS13) — Theeadore was Virginia Moran’s companion for three years.

The Grass Valley woman rescued him from the county animal shelter. They went backpacking, camping and kayaking together.

“He was phenomenal on cross-country skis,” she said.

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One day, Theeadore suddenly got sick. He was losing weight and unable to use his back legs. Veterinarians gave Moran the news no pet owner wants to hear—Theeadore had aggressive cancer in every organ in his body.

“It was so bad that they rushed into the room and said, ‘You need to put this dog down like now, ’cause the dogs in incredible pain,” she said.

And so she did.

But as the veterinarian comforted her, something he said stood out. He asked if she knew where he came from before the shelter. She then remembered Theeadore’s unusual behavior when she adopted him.

“I don’t think he’d ever been walked before, so we had to go through that process, teaching him how to walk,” she said.

Then she learned that beagles are used for research because they’re gentle, forgiving and people-pleasing.

The shelter said he was a stray.

Lab research on dogs is legal, but heavily regulated. Federal records show 37 facilities in California perform some sort of research on dogs.

The California Biomedical Research Association says dog research has led to medical breakthroughs with pacemakers, insulin pumps and treatments for things like bleeding disorders and respiratory distress in premature babies.

There are six facilities in the area whose research involved nearly 2,000 dogs in 2015 alone, including UC Davis and Cosumnes River College.

Dr. Christopher Impinna at Cosumnes River College takes issue with the feds labeling the school a research facility.

“We do not do any research here on animals whatsoever,” he said.

No experimenting, just teaching. He says they rescue dogs from animal shelters and future veterinary technicians treat the animals’ medical conditions.

“They get spayed and neutered; they get excellent healthcare,” he said.

UC Davis admits it performs biomedical research on dogs, and wouldn’t allow CBS13 into its facilities. It says it’s accredited by an organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science.

But animal rights activists paint a different picture of what happens in some labs. Undercover video released by PETA in 2008 shows a drooling beagle in an out-of-state lab being force-fed oxycontin. At another lab, a beagle confined to a steel cage is seen anxiously circling.

What concerns many animal rights groups is after the experiments are over, many dogs are euthanized.

The Beagle Freedom Project rescues beagles from labs.

“If we didn’t rescue them, they’d be killed,” said Shannon Keith.

She described the moment when beagles first see freedom.

“They’re seeing the outdoors for the first time,” she said. “It hurts their eyes to see the sun. They don’t know how to walk on grass; many of them have no muscle tone, so its hard to even walk at all.”

Her group successfully got California to pass a law requiring taxpayer-funded labs find homes for any adoptable animal used for research.

But how would you know if your dog was used for research?

Keith showed us Rocky, who was rescued from a lab.

“We would just flip his ear over and see does he have a tattoo,” she said.

Inside, you can faintly see his identification number. Another giveaway is if it’s missing its vocal cords.

“If you have a dog that cannot make a sound, that dog is typically from a laboratory,” she said.

It also may have a microchip that traces it back to a lab.

Moran doesn’t recall a tattoo on Theeadore’s ear and said he would bark. His microchip only traced back to the shelter, with no inkling of his past life.

A trade organization for researchers says less than one half of one percent of animal testing happens on dogs. The majority is on rats and mice.

We reached out to six labs in the area known to do testing on dogs. You can read their full responses here.

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