There’s no shortage of news coverage of the midterm elections. However, with all the drama in D.C., America’s research community may be unaware of a ballot initiative in one small Wisconsin community which may one day have national implications.
The residents of Mount Horeb, a community outside of Madison, will soon vote on a referendum seeking to amend a current village ordinance which applies to “Public Nuisances Offending Morals and Decency.” Under current law, gambling machines, the sale of unlicensed alcohol products and illegal drinking are all forbidden. A Wisconsin-based animal rights group named Dane4Dogs is seeking to expand the ordinance further. Here’s their proposed language:
The following acts, omissions, places, conditions and things are specifically declared to be public nuisances offending public morals and decency: (5) RESEARCH DOGS/CATS. (a) Any place or premises where cats or dogs are possessed for the purpose of taking or sending the cat or dog outside the village to be used for any medical, surgical, or chemical investigation, experiment, research or demonstration OR (b) any place or premises where cats or dogs are used for medical, surgical or chemical investigation, experiment, research or experimentation involving pain or distress to the animal.
Dane4Dogs claims, without evidence, that animal studies are no longer needed. They say thanks to technological advancements, alternatives are currently available to replace all animal-based research. The claim is patently false. Furthermore, animal studies are a required step in the FDA’s approval process for new medications and medical devices.
Activists had a specific organization in mind when they crafted their proposed legislation for Mount Horeb. Ridglan Farms, one of a handful of U.S. facilities which breeds dogs for biomedical research, sits nearby. And while most Americans – including the research community – are rightly conflicted when it comes to studies in dogs, their important role in advancing both human and veterinary medicine is undeniable. Insulin, a Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough, was first discovered in dogs. Rabies vaccine was developed via canine research. Dogs have also helped combat heart disease and they are providing key findings to aid understanding and treat muscular dystrophy. In the midst of all these advancements, our universal appreciation for dogs has only grown. It’s one of the leading reasons why we only study them when necessary. Less than .05 percent of animal research takes place in canines.
When activists initially proposed Mount Horeb’s anti-animal research legislation, it’s believed they mistakenly assumed the ordinance would impact Ridglan Farms. It does not. The facility is not within village city limits. However, the referendum still raises significant concerns. It could serve as the template for similar local laws across the United States – regulations meant to impede biomedical progress by appealing to our universal love of animals while at the same time, misleading well-meaning voters.
This localized approach for disrupting health research may seem like a new strategy. It’s not. Animal rights groups recognize it is much easier to push legislation at the local level. Those attending the 2018 National Animal Rights Meeting report there was a heavy emphasis on crafting regional legislation. In fact, a template for this strategy already exists. The first “Beagle Freedom Bill” was passed in Minnesota in 2014. The legislation requires science organizations to offer healthy dogs and cats for adoption once their involvement in research ends. While these laws sound like a good idea, many duplicate adoption programs already in place and at times, they can create unnecessary red tape. The legislation was initially proposed by the Rescue + Freedom Project (formerly the Beagle Freedom Project) a group of animal rights activists, many with extreme views.
RFP portrays itself as an adoption agency which finds new homes for a variety of animals, including dogs and cats that previously lived in labs. Many, including those in the science community, support the rehoming of research animals whenever possible. However, unlike other adoption groups, RFP uses its platform to promote an anti-research agenda, falsely portraying animals in labs as being universally mistreated.
Speaking of Research predicts that if efforts in Mount Horeb are successful, similar initiatives will soon arise in communities across the United States. Therefore, we urge research organizations to closely monitor this local ordinance. We also advocate for science institutions to communicate regularly with local lawmakers and their communities about the role of animal studies in continued medical progress, including those that take place in dogs.
Update 11/7/18: The referendum failed, with a vote of 59% (2,273 votes) against expanding the ordinance to effect a ban and 41% (1,591 votes) in favor of the ordinance change Dane4dogs supported.