It was just last month that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed the Beagle Freedom Bill into law, making Minnesota the first U.S. state—and only political body in the world—to require healthy laboratory cats and dogs to be put up for adoption once they are no longer being used for research.
The Beagle Freedom Bill is so named because beagles are the most common breed of dog used in scientific research, and because the Beagle Freedom Project was pivotal in getting this law passed. These dedicated animal activists sent emails and letters, made phone calls, and lobbied at the Capitol, eventually raising enough awareness to gain the support of Senator Scott Dibble, who wholeheartedly endorsed the bill.
Prior to this ruling, there were no federal or state laws protecting former lab animals, and euthanasia has generally been standard procedure once the experiments are over.
Many animal lovers may be eager to seize the opportunity to adopt a former lab animal. After all, most of these cats and dogs have never seen the world outside the laboratory, and they deserve loving homes and individual care and attention. However, this undertaking requires serious consideration and research, as there may be behavioral issues that may need to be addressed.
Generally, lab animals are not vicious. A good disposition and proper socialization are high priorities for breeders, as it makes it easier on handlers and researchers. But given their limited contact with humans and fellow animals, they will likely be anxious and uncertain of how to behave, so potential owners must be prepared for possible biting and scratching during the training process. Also, once a cat or a dog becomes accustomed to having an owner around, they may develop separation anxiety.
As a result of being kept indoors, lab animals often lack hunting instinct, and dogs are usually not housebroken or crate-trained. Their lack of exposure to outdoor climates may trigger seasonal or environmental allergies, and their first car ride may result in motion sickness.
If you wish to adopt, foster, or otherwise help lab animals, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. Contact a rescue group such as Kindness Ranch, Animal Rescue Corps, or New Life Animal Sanctuary for answers to any questions you may have. Take time to consider whether you have the time, patience, and resources to meet any special needs of your prospective pet.
Sammy is one of the Beagle Freedom Project’s success stories. Upon his rescue, he refused to eat, was easily spooked, and would run and hide when people were around. Though it took him a while to trust humans, now he’s happily adopted and has learned to revel in everyday joys that most dogs take for granted, like going for walks, playing fetch, and sticking their heads out a car window.
In addition to dogs, the Kindness Ranch rescues cats, horses, sheep, and pigs from research facilities. Among the cats available for adoption are brothers Willy and Chester, who are described as confident, friendly, playful, and curious—despite having spent the first months of their lives as research subjects for the Feline Herpes Virus.
These animals are living proof that years of alienation in a lab do not make them unadoptable. Hopefully the Beagle Freedom Act will make the general public more aware of this, and provide more exposure for retired laboratory cats and dogs seeking homes.
– Särah Nour