According to Kevin Chase, vice president for the project, it exists to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome animals from laboratories around the world. By sharing stories of individual animals rescued, it is able to “promote and provoke a public conversation about animal testing and our moral obligations toward these animals who suffer and endure so much for our ostensibly benefit.”
Chase, who has adopted two former lab Beagles himself, explains that many people don’t realize that dogs are still being used as test animals in the United States.
Beagles are the breed of choice for laboratories for the same reason they make great family pets. They are docile, people pleasing, forgiving, and easy to take care of. Although the Beagle Freedom Project will, and has, rescued other dog breeds as well as other animals — including cats, rabbits, pigs, goats, guinea pigs, rats, and even goldfish — 96 percent of dogs used in testing are Beagles.
Taking the steps to rescue these animals is no easy task. First, a laboratory has to be convinced to release its “retired” animals. Chase explains, “We [the Beagle Freedom Project] have a policy position against animal testing. We don’t like it philosophically, scientifically, even personally. We don’t like it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground, a common-sense solution, to bridge two sides of a very controversial and polarizing debate, which is animal testing, and find this area in the middle where we can get together to help animals.”
Often because of the type of testing the animal has endured, he simply cannot be released and must be euthanized for necropsy and/or tissue samples. If a dog can be released and the lab is willing, the Beagle Freedom Project will negotiate for exactly that. This usually means paying for all costs and providing all support needed, including vet care and transportation, to find him a home. The group offers to sign non-disclosure agreements so that no one beyond the rescue group knows where the animal came from; liability agreements also release the lab of anything that may happen post-rescue.
There may be a two-week or even as little as 24-hour notice for rescue opportunities. The Beagle Freedom Project has to rely heavily on its volunteers. Without a loving, stable, and far-reaching group of volunteers, the rescues cannot happen. Once a lab has agreed to a release, the Beagle Freedom Project will call all volunteers who have agreed to foster in that nearby area. On release day, fosters and animals all meet in one location.
That first meeting can be very emotional. The Beagles are brought to the location in cages from the lab and, when the doors are open, they take their first step on grass. Chase explains, “Sometimes they come barreling out of those crates. Sometimes it takes 15 to 20 minutes before they put that first paw out and begin to explore.” Once the dogs have taken that first hesitant step toward freedom, they start to socialize and meet the foster families.
Once the dog is home, a foster’s job has just begun. Everything is new for these pups. According to Chase they are “like puppies in full-grown dog bodies.” These dogs have lived their entire lives, often many years, in a laboratory. They spent 23 1/2 hours out of every day in a metal cage. This cage sat inside a room with cinderblock walls, concrete floors, and florescent lights. Walking on grass, on-leash, playing with toys, sleeping on a comfortable bed, all of these are new experiences.
Some dogs respond very quickly to their new environments, but others take more time, remaining timid due to the trauma they experienced. Chase has adopted two Beagles who were once lab animals. One, Junior, spent five years in labs and yet, as Chase explains, “His first night jumped up on bed and wanted to cuddle, and that is where he has slept every night since.” Junior still has some obstacles. Chase says he still doesn’t play with toys. Since he was never socialized as a puppy he just never learned how.
Raymond is Chase’s other dog. Raymond spent three years in a lab, and the first week at home with Chase was kept on a leash. “That was the only way to get a hold of him. He was so afraid of the human hand reaching out to him.” After six to seven months of anti-anxiety medication and daily trips to the dog park or daycare for socialization, Raymond was able to acclimate and be willing to cuddle with Chase.
Beagles rescued from labs also can have other obstacles. Stairs are unknown and can take coaxing and time to use. Beagles, in general, are good with feline siblings, but these rescues are often hesitant of the new creature. Many, like Junior, just don’t know what to do with toys, and others have a fascination with mirrors and their own reflection. “When I first got Raymond home,” Chase explains, “I had to put a blanket over the mirror in the hall because my neighbors were complaining; he would just stare at it howling.”
After a few weeks with a foster family, which allows for a better understanding of an animal’s personality to ensure a good match, and a clean bill of health, the group will begin looking for a suitable adopting family. That is, if the dog hasn’t already convinced his foster family to keep him. Even with all their emotional hurtles, Chase guesses that 70 percent of the foster families become “foster fails” and end up adopting.
As a nonprofit, the project relies on a variety of people to support its mission. Potential fosters and adopters can sign up on the Beagle Freedom Project website. Anyone interested in the work it does can get updates on its Facebook and Twitter. Finally, Chase suggests that cruelty-free shopping is the best way to help put the Beagle Freedom Project out of business — the group has a smartphone app called Cruelty-Cutter, which allows for quick and easy access, by barcode scanner, to the animal-testing status of a company.
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About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.