As a scientist who was deeply involved with animal research for over 35 years, I am ethically troubled to learn that tens of thousands of dogs and cats used in experiments are being unnecessarily euthanized instead of being offered to shelters for adoption.
I’ve seen this problem firsthand: Earlier in my career, a lab colleague asked me to keep an eye on a young black Labrador retriever that was recovering from experimental surgery. I don’t know what the purpose of the experiment was, but the dog was left permanently blind.
Weeks later, I asked my colleague what happened to the dog and was told that he was euthanized because of the blindness the experiment caused. Despite his blindness, this gentle and affectionate dog could have likely been adopted into a loving home prepared to deal with the disability. As could the thousands of dogs and cats that have few or no health issues and are euthanized simply out of habit.
Sadly, the majority of these dog and cat euthanasias take place for one simple reason: It’s slightly easier to put the animal down than to pick up the phone and offer the animal to a shelter. Giving these animals an opportunity at being adopted into loving homes after the research is complete isn’t yet a priority in the research community. No federal law or regulation even encourages researchers to take this responsible and humane step.
Fortunately, a movement is now building to change this at both the federal and state level. Since 2015, 11 U.S. states have passed laws directing researchers using cats and dogs to pick up the phone and call an animal rescue or shelter to offer them any healthy dogs or cats that would otherwise simply be euthanized.
While these 11 state laws are important, over 77 percent of those 85,000 dogs and cats used in 2018 weren’t located in the 11 states with these post-research adoption laws. As such, these animals were most likely euthanized because they lived in one of the 39 states without post-research adoption laws. There is no evidence I know of to suggest otherwise.
In the U.S., most federally funded biomedical and behavioral research using cats and dogs is funded by the National Institutes of Health, which uses our tax dollars for that purpose. Yet the problem of unnecessary euthanasia of these animals persists because the NIH has never encouraged grant recipients to make an effort to get the healthy dogs and cats adopted.
A federal statement on this is needed, which is why I’m hopeful that Congress will see fit to pass the Humane Retirement Act, House Resolution 2850. This bill was introduced by Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., and Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., and would require researchers to make an effort to get dogs and cats adopted out.
It’s a simple solution to an important problem, as all the researchers need to do is call an area rescue or shelter and offer them the animals if they want them.
Passing the Humane Retirement Act would move the post-research treatment of dogs and cats away from dependance on occasional luck and happenstance to an ethical obligation grounded in respect, gratitude and human decency.
Organizations such as the New England Anti-Vivisection Society regularly aid in getting dogs and cats from labs adopted into welcoming homes, and a federal law like the Humane Retirement Act will ensure more of this important work takes place. In passing this bill, we can say with confidence that more dogs and cats will live happy and healthy lives, including the ones used in the name of science.