The fate of hundreds of beagles in laboratories, where the docile dogs are used for pharmaceutical and other scientific testing, has caught the attention of a nonprofit group in Southern California.
With global pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca closing a facility in Sweden, the Beagle Freedom Project wants to bring the dogs to the Los Angeles area, where they might find loving new owners.
"We have re-homed beagles who have been tested on, who had devices planted into their bodies. Some have wires throughout their bodies. I mean horrible things have been done to them and they’re doing great," said Beagle Freedom Project founder Shannon Keith.
But London-based AstraZeneca plans to move the canines to other facilities so they can be used for research. AstraZeneca told the Beagle Freedom Project the dogs are needed elsewhere. The company would not say exactly how many dogs were in question.
"Because these dogs have been purpose-bred for research, the best solution is to continue to utilize them for research," Keith said the company told her.
In a statement to NBC4, the full text of which can be read below, company spokeswoman Esra Erkal-Paler said, "There is a continued need for these animals to be used in research; therefore they will be moved from Sweden to two other sites (UK and elsewhere in Sweden). I would like to emphasise that the welfare of the dogs has been and remains our utmost priority -- no animal is being euthanised as a result of the kennels closing down."
Founded in 2010, the Beagle Freedom Project has taken in 96 beagles from laboratories around the world, including two facilities in the United States since last month. The project, a service of the Valley Village-based nonprofit advocacy group Animal Rescue, Media & Education, states that its practices are done in cooperation with the labs and under applicable laws.
Caged their whole lives, the beagles that are obtained by the project find even a walk on grass completely foreign. When the organization brought several dogs to California last year, some volunteers found it heartbreaking to watch the animals take their first tentative steps out of their cages.
Research beagles are often obtained directly from commercial breeders who raise the dogs specifically for lab testing, according to Beagle Freedom Project.
Beagles are used in laboratories because of their 25-to-35-pound size, sweet and trusting temperament and the ease of training them, according to a university researcher who works on the dogs but could not be named because of the school's confidentiality policies.
Keith said the same traits that make the dogs useful for research also make them "ideal family additions."
When Keith learned that AstraZeneca was closing one of its Swedish facilities, she said the Beagle Freedom Project offered to pay for relocating the dogs and finding them homes.
Esra Erkal-Paler, AstraZeneca's head of global media relations, emphasized that the company – which employs more than 57,000 people in more than 100 countries and has produced the heartburn medicines Prilosec and Nexium, the statin Crestor and the asthma drug Symbicort, among others – uses non-animal testing whenever possible.
Keith said, based on the group’s experience taking in dogs from other labs, she believes the dogs can be adjusted to living the life of a regular family pet.
"We have re-homed beagles who have been tested on, who had devices planted into their bodies. Some have wires throughout their bodies. I mean horrible things have been done to them and they’re doing great," she said.
Shannon Warner, who began fostering rescued beagles after seeing an NBC4 report, concurred.
"They’re smart dogs and they’re happy to be free," Warner said. "Anybody who tells you they can’t have a normal life is wrong."
Statement from Esra Erkal-Paler, Head of Global Media Relations, AstraZeneca:
In February 2012, we announced changes to our operating model. These changes included the closure of our two kennels (UK and Sweden) and cessation of internal dog breeding. Due to rapid changes in our research portfolio, we had already ceased breeding efforts; however, we were left with the existing dogs in the UK and Sweden. We were able to utilise the UK animals to support our research efforts in the UK, but still have some remaining animals in Sweden. I can’t comment on the exact number as I’m sure you’d appreciate this is not the level of detail that we’d normally divulge other than to the appropriate authorities (we have done this in UK and Sweden).
There is a continued need for these animals to be used in research; therefore they will be moved from Sweden to two other sites (UK and elsewhere in Sweden). I would like to emphasise that the welfare of the dogs has been and remains our utmost priority -- no animal is being euthanised as a result of the kennels closing down.
Animal transportation is very common occurrence in the EU with millions of animals being relocated each year. Though there has been much speculation and misinformation circulated recently, the relocation of our animals is no different. The movement of these animals is fully compliant with all applicable laws and will be done with the utmost care and professionalism.
Animal studies are a vital part of the research process and are also required by regulators before they will approve a new medicine to be tested in humans. They are in some cases necessary to enable us to see how a substance affects the body as a whole and to study the complex interplay between cells and organs in a living organism. Wherever possible, we use non-animal methods such as cell culture, computer modelling and high-throughput screening that eliminate the need to use animals early in drug development, or reduce the number needed. Unfortunately the reality is that no fully satisfactory alternative to the use of animals exists and in many cases regulatory agencies require a non rodent species to be used before testing in humans. To put it into the appropriate context, far fewer than 2% of the animals used in our research are dogs.
I’d again like to emphasise that AstraZeneca is committed to the responsible use of animals and their welfare is a top priority at all times.