Shannon Keith, founder of the Beagle Freedom Project, snuggles with a rescued laboratory beagle, who landed in Southern California on Feb. 27, 2013, to start a new life.
It’s freedom day for 10 laboratory beagles.
The land of the free is Valley Village where the dogs put their paws on the ground for the first time ever Wednesday. Remarkable, in and of itself, but their journey to the Southland is even more so.
A laboratory employee in the Midwest heard about the Beagle Freedom Project, a small group of people in Southern California with a very large reach. The 2-year-old project is dedicated to taking in beagles from labs around the world.
"In the United States alone, 75,000 beagles are test subjects for everything from household products to medicine every single year," founder Shannon Keith said.
The dogs' mortality rate is 100 percent, unless somehow, someway they're freed. With Wednesday’s rescue, the project has taken in 106 dogs so far, admittedly a tiny amount of the beagles tested upon.
But Keith considers every dog rescued a victory.
"Not only do we get to save these individual lives and give these dogs a chance at being a real dog, but we also get to educate the world through their rescue," she said.
These latest dogs are the project’s 11th rescue. They range between 5 and 9 years old. In the world of laboratory beagles, Keith said they’re amazing since most die at a much younger age. The 10 beagles that made it to Southern California Wednesday are apparently very good at beating the odds.
Not only did they survive for years in cages as test subjects, the lab doing those tests decided to release them – incredible news for the Beagle Freedom Project.
There was just one problem. How to get them here?
The lab is 1,500 miles away, the farthest rescue ever for the project in the United States. But when freedom calls, you don’t hesitate.
So Keith hired a professional transportation company (which ended up being one person in a large van). After loading the 10 beagles into crates, she drove head-on into the blizzard that has paralyzed the Midwest for days with heavy, wet snow. It was a treacherous journey made even more so when her defroster gave out. She actually had to use a handheld heater to defrost her windows.
Those dogs (pictured below) left the frozen Midwest on Monday. On Wednesday, they stepped out of their crates and into a sun-filled 72 degree afternoon in Southern California.
"We have a challenge ahead of us. These dogs have lived their whole lives in cages. They’ve never been on a leash. They’ve never had a toy, really no interaction," Keith said. "We’re looking for fosters who can help us bring these boys out of their shells."
So what happened to these dogs all those years in the laboratory?
"We’ve been told they’ve undergone years of oral gavage – tubes put down their throat and into their lower esophagus or stomach; but, otherwise we don’t know what sort of experiments they were used for," Keith said.
Don’t ask for the laboratory’s name. The only way the project is able to attain the few dogs it does get is by promising anonymity to the labs.
Next up for these now former laboratory beagles? The veterinarian, then the slow integration into the big, big world.
Foster families will have the job of transforming these laboratory test subjects into loving animals ready for adoption and their brand new life as man’s best friend.
For details on how to adopt or foster rescued beagles, click here.