U.S. Bill Aimed at Research Trade

July 1, 2006

Oh my goodness.

Activists target dealers who collect animals– including, some say, stolen pets–for sale to science facilities

By Marni Goldberg
Washington Bureau
Published June 30, 2006

He calls it the “blood belt.”

Chris DeRose uses that phrase to describe 15 sites, stretching from Oklahoma to Pennsylvania, where dogs and cats gathered from random sources are sold for research. DeRose, president of the non-profit animal welfare group Last Chance for Animals, says dealers at these sites even steal pets from ordinary homes.

His organization has conducted undercover investigations of so-called Class B animal dealers, which are certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to collect animals from flea markets and pounds, among other places, and sell them to research facilities. Last Chance and like-minded groups say the animals are mistreated. But their most incendiary charge is that Class B dealers regularly steal pets from homes and sell them to research facilities for hundreds of dollars.

“Anyone whose animal is missing shouldn’t have to stay up at night wondering if their animal ended up in a lab,” said Cathy Liss, legislative director for the Society for Animal Protective Legislation.

According to those in the research community, the idea that pets are being stolen from back yards is ludicrous and the allegations of animal welfare activists represent another attempt to turn the public against animal research.

But activists have been heard on Capitol Hill, where the Pet Safety and Protection Act is again pending in both houses of Congress. The act would prohibit Class B dealers from selling random-source dogs and cats to laboratories.

Proponents of the act, which has not passed Congress in previous attempts, insist the legislation has a chance this time, crediting the added momentum to a recent HBO documentary.

HBO’s “Dealing Dogs” documents practices at Martin Creek Kennels, an Arkansas facility that was owned and operated by C.C. Baird, a Class B dealer. An undercover investigator from Last Chance worked at Martin Creek for six months.

Stephanie Loranger of Washington now owns Skittles, a terrier mix who was rescued from Martin Creek Kennels, which the USDA charged with more than 100 counts of animal abuse and neglect.

“Since we got her home she’s learned how to be loved,” Loranger said of Skittles. “She’s got some problems still from being in that place for so long.”

Should the legislation pass, research facilities would have to rely on Class A dealers who breed and raise animals themselves. According to the USDA, of the 92,475 dogs and cats used in research in 2002–the latest year for which figures are available–about 70 percent came from Class A dealers. Of the remaining 30 percent, two-thirds –about 18,500 cats and dogs–came from Class B dealers, and the rest came from other sources.

Dogs shot, corpses in heaps.

The legislation would allow research institutions to continue breeding animals and, in states where it is still legal, pounds could release animals to research facilities with the consent of the owners who turned in their pets.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) is co-sponsoring the House bill with Rep. Phil English (R-Pa.).

“You couldn’t watch [“Dealing Dogs”] for any more than 5 to 10 minutes and not be convinced that the only way to solve this problem is put Class B dealers out of business,” Doyle said.

The documentary depicts graphic images, including dogs being held to the ground and shot, dead animals being tossed into heaps, and trenches full of decaying bodies of dogs.

“As upsetting as it may be, please understand that what we go through watching [the film] is nothing compared to what these animals go through,” said “Pete,” the investigator who surreptitiously filmed the images in the documentary.

In 2003, Last Chance gave its footage to federal officials, leading to a raid of Martin Creek Kennels. The USDA then charged Baird with animal abuse and neglect, and he was ordered to pay a $262,700 civil penalty, the largest ever for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Baird’s Class B license was permanently revoked. In addition, Baird and his wife pleaded guilty last August to felony charges in a mail fraud scheme related to the sale of dogs and cats to research facilities. Their sentencing is scheduled for July 14.

“Pete,” in a hat and sunglasses to conceal his identity, was at a Capitol Hill luncheon for congressional staffers this month where “Dealing Dogs” was shown to generate support for the bill.

The USDA inspects Class B facilities as part of its enforcement responsibility under the Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966 to establish minimum standards of care and treatment required for certain animals used in research. According to the USDA, Class B dealers are subject to at least one unannounced inspection yearly.

The animal law was amended in 1990 in an effort to prevent lost and stolen pets from ending up at Class B facilities. The change required that pounds hold animals for at least five days before turning them over to dealers and that dealers be able to provide paperwork that connects each animal from a random source to its original owner.

According to activists, the USDA does not have the capacity to adequately regulate these dealers. While rules are in place, documentation is regularly falsified and records are not adequately checked, resulting in lost and stolen pets becoming research subjects, critics contend.

Researchers: Thefts a myth.

Researchers, however, label claims of pet thefts a myth. Amanda Banks of the California Biomedical Research Association said there is no evidence to support the claim that pets are being stolen by Class B dealers. Instead, she says there is good evidence that pets are being stolen for fighting.

Banks added that researchers are concerned about the perception “in the general public’s mind that animals are acquired inappropriately for animal research. That doesn’t happen.”

Some also say the claims from animal rights activists, and the potential elimination of Class B dealers, could hurt animal research.

Statistically, dogs and cats constitute a low percentage of animals used in research. According to 2004 USDA figures, dogs and cats constituted 8 percent of the 1,101,958 research subjects. The majority were rodents.

Animal rights activists say that preventing Class B dealers from selling dogs and cats from random sources thus would not have an impact on the work of the research community. They add that some research facilities have already stopped using Class B dealers.

But biomedical research advocates say random source animals sold by these Class B dealers, or released to research facilities from pounds, serve a purpose.

“While we mostly don’t use Class B animals now, we don’t know what the future of animal research will require,” Banks said. “We don’t want to close doors not knowing what’s in the future.”

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