I received an email one morning from James, a Grade 6 student who wanted to know more about beagles used in research and testing for a school project about his passion. He has a pet beagle named Bagel and had recently watched some videos from the Beagle Freedom Project (BFP written about here and here). James was very curious and quite concerned about the beagles that participated in studies in Canada. He requested some information and to visit the Central Animal Facility at the University Of Guelph. James was invited for a tour and the answers to his questions are as follows:
- What is your job and what do you teach at the University?
I am a research animal technician and my job is to advocate for the animals that are under my care. I instruct those who have not worked with animals how to do so in a compassionate, respectful and ethical manner.
- Why did you become a technician?
I became a technician because I love animals and people. I also love science and love being a part of making discoveries that improve the lives of millions of people and animals
- My project is on a passion and I am wondering what your passion is?
I’m passionate about a lot! I am passionate about animals that I have the privilege to care for with compassion and respect. I am passionate about the science that continually makes strides towards new therapeutic advancements. I am passionate about alleviating the suffering of our fellow animals and people who agonize with debilitating and painful diseases. I choose this profession in research because it is my passion.
- What research do you do in your Lab?
The majority of the work that is done in the facility where I work is basic or fundamental science in a wide variety of areas including oncology, neuroscience, animal behaviour and welfare, molecular biology, physiology, immunology, among others.
Michael Brunt and James during the laboratory visit
- Why is it important to use animals/ beagles?
Various non-animal research methods are used together with animal studies to reduce the number of animals needed. These methods include antibodies, stem cells, tissue cultures (all in-directly use animals) and computer models. Non-animal methods account for the majority of biomedical research. Nevertheless, there are important research questions that still require animals. For example, in drug development, a large initial group of chemical candidates may be screened using non-animal methods, and only the most promising ones are taken through animal testing and human clinical trials. Before animal studies can go forward, investigators must detail how they have considered non-animal methods, and why they are not appropriate for answering their research question.
- What kinds of tests are done?
The Canadian Council on Animal Care has 5 classifications for the purposes of animal use (PAU):
PAU1 – Studies of a fundamental nature in science relating to essential structure or function
PAU2 – Studies for medical purposes, including veterinary medicine, that relate to human or animal disease or disorders
PAU3- Studies for regulatory testing of products for the protection of humans, animals, or the environment
PAU4 – Studies for the development of products or appliances for human or veterinary medicine
PAU5 – Education and training of individuals in post-secondary institutions or facilities
- What happens with your research findings once you are finished a project?
The findings are published in scientific journals that are available on the internet for everybody to access. The knowledge gained could be used to answer other scientific questions or be applied in translational science to develop new therapies or cures for those that are suffering.
- What do you do with the animals after you have used them for research/testing?
Ultimately, most of the animals involved in animal research are euthanized. This is because the researchers will often need to further study the body – taking tissue samples and other such tests to make sure they get as much data from any animal they use. To euthanize the animals, researchers use a variety of methods such as an overdose of anesthesia (pain killers) or using CO2 so that the animal slowly drifts into a sleep it never awakes from.
- What is your opinion about beagle research?
Animal research plays a vital role in the development of modern medical and veterinary treatments. Much of our understanding about the biological processes in the body, and the diseases that affect them, comes from studies in animals. I believe that animal research should be conducted with the utmost care, responsibility and respect towards the animals. All personnel involved in animal research should strictly follow the pertinent guidelines, regulations and laws.
- When did beagle testing begin?
Hundreds of years ago to begin to understand blood movement and the interactions of organs.
- Why are beagles used for testing?
Health Canada requires that all new drugs, medical devices, and procedures first be evaluated in animals for safety before clinical trials involving human volunteers can begin. The most common “product” that is tested using animal models is new medications. Animals are used to determine that the drug shows a reasonable likelihood of working as conceived and to determine unforeseen side effects. For instance, a researcher may find that a new drug to control high blood pressure does so, but there is a possibility of a side effect such as liver damage. That information needs to be known before it is used in clinical trials with humans.
- How many beagles are used a year?
0.3% of the animals used in Canada in 2011 were dogs. Mice, rats and fish accounted for 78.5% of the animals.
- Where do you get your dogs?
Our beagles are provided by companies who breed dogs for research, teaching or testing purposes.
- How are the dogs treated?
With love, compassion and respect.
- Why don’t some companies let beagles see sunlight play or even touch grass during their testing time?
At our institution our animals go outside for walks every day with their dedicated paid dog walker and our volunteer dog walkers.
- How many beagles die each year from testing?
I don’t have an answer to that question. In Canada in 2011, 10,199 dogs were utilized in science. However, that isn’t how many were humanely euthanized at the end of the projects. Our institution has adopted 100s of beagles into our community.
James and Bagel (Photos reproduced with permissions from copyright owner)
James and his parents met a number of our animals, including our beagles, during their tour and I asked him to provide some feedback on his experience.
“At first I thought beagle research and testing was inhumane, unbeneficial and cruel. But when I went to the University of Guelph my perspective changed and I learned that research and testing is very important and it helps 1000s of humans and animals because of the research on animals. The people treat all the animals to a good life like every other animal in the world. They play with all the animals mice/rats/dogs and turkeys. One of the reasons that they euthanize the animals is to further discover the effects of a drug to make it safer for humans and other animals. All the animals there are well cared for, like the animals are their family. If we didn’t have research and testing we would never have a treatment to help the people suffering with cancer. 1000s of products have helped humans and other animals because of the work done with beagles. How many people would have died without animal research and testing on the drugs to know if they are safe. What I thought about beagle testing at first was nothing compared to what it is now. I now know that it very helpful. Most of the websites that say all the bad things are not aware of all the things the beagles and animals have done for advancing medicines. Another part of my visit included seeing Dr Woods and he told me about the research he did on mice for prostate cancer. They use mice cells because they react to the cancer like the humans cells do. Dogs are closer to humans than mice in DNA and they need to see how much of the drug they can give without it being toxic. All chemotherapy has been tested through rats, mice and beagles before humans. In my opinion all the beagles and animals who are involved in research are Heroes.”
My interview and tour with James demonstrates that everyone must seize opportunities to engage with members of the public. It is a chance to present accurate information about the ethical use of animals in science and allow people to make informed opinions. These instances foster a culture of understanding, acceptance, value and recognition for the contributions animal research plays in improving the lives of millions of animals and people every day. They are opportunities that should not be squandered.