#AskScientists: Small US city bans research animal breeding, why?

January 9th 2020

Short read summary:

  • Local news reported yesterday that the council of a small Wisconsin city voted in favor of an ordinance that would “ban dog and cat experimental breeding in Richland Center and prohibits transporting dogs and cats outside of Richland Center for experimentation elsewhere.” The only source cited in the WKOW news report is a local group opposed to the use of dogs in research and testing, Dane 4 Dogs.
  • The agenda posted by the Richland Center Council had included two agenda items relevant to the report. The minutes of the meeting do not appear to be publicly-available yet. Speaking of Research reached out to the council and received this draft of the ordinance and confirmation that it was approved.
  • Draft ordinance received from Richland Center council. Full pdf here.

    The draft ordinance we received reads: “304.01 BREEDING OR POSSESSION OF CATS OR DOGS FOR RESEARCH FOR EXPERIMENTATION PROHIBITED. (1) No natural person, corporation, limited liability company or other legal entity shall maintain or operate any place or premises within the City of Richland Center where cats or dogs are used for the purpose of medical, surgical or chemical investigation, experimentation or demonstration. (2) No natural person, corporation, limited liability company or other legal entity shall maintain or operate any place or premises within the City of Richland Center where cats or dogs are bred or possessed for the purpose of sending the cats or dogs outside the City for the purpose of medical, surgical or chemical investigation, experimentation or demonstration.”

  • The ordinance is thought to be the first in the country to ban breeding of research animals. As such, it is likely to receive some attention beyond Richland Center.
  • It is unclear whether the ban will have any direct impact on businesses in Richland Center because there do not appear to be any research animal breeders in the area.
  • None of the media coverage includes any mention of why, when, and where dogs are used in research and testing in the US and other countries; how such research and testing contributes to medical advances for humans and other animals; the existing federal regulations that apply to such work; and what the likely consequences would be of a ban. The failure to include this information means that the reader, along with policymakers, are left with a far from complete story. Further, it increases the likelihood that decisions are made without considering the full range of consequences.
FASEB Canine Research Factsheet


Thus far, there appears to be no news release from the Richland Center board, nor any publicly-available minutes from the meeting. The limited news coverage contains only information from social media posts by groups opposed to animal research. For instance, Channel3000 reported on the basis of a Facebook post: 

“Richland Center passed an ordinance that bans the sale of dogs and cats for research Tuesday night. According to a Facebook post from The Humane Society of the United States – Wisconsin, the Richland Center City Council took up the ordinance.”

Also citing HSUS-Wisconsin, WMTV-NBC15 reported: 

“After the Richland Center City Council passed an ordinance banning the sale of dogs and cats for research, the Humane Society of Wisconsin posted to their Facebook page to applaud the ordinance in response. The organization thanked Dane4Dogs for “leading the way” and Spring Green residents.”

Dane4Dogs previously worked on measures in two other Wisconsin communities. In one, Mount Horeb, the work centered on a ballot measure opposing one of the large US research dog breeders (Ridglan Farms). More recently, Dane4Dogs has opposed a new research dog breeder in Spring Green. Spring Green (population ~1,500), Mount Horeb (population ~7,000), and Richland Center (population ~5,000) are all relatively small communities. What they also have in common in proximity to the state’s capitol, Madison.

In contrast to Richland Center, Spring Green, and Mount Horeb, Madison is home to multiple institutions and companies registered with the USDA for the use of animals in research, teaching, and testing. Those include a large private company that engages in animal research and testing, Covance; a large public research university, the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and a technical college, Madison Area Technical College, that offers a veterinarian technician associates degree.

Broader context

We’ve written previously about why research animal breeders could be a strategic target for groups with a long game to end animal research and testing. For context on dog research and testing in the US and Wisconsin, some data below are from an analysis of 2017 USDA reports. They provide an illustration of why banning research animal breeding in Wisconsin communities could have effects beyond the state.

The number of dogs used in the research in the US is generally no secret. The US government requires all research facilities using certain species of animals in research or testing to register with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These facilities must also submit an annual report to the USDA and it includes the number of dogs used in research or held for research. Each facility’s annual report is freely available via the searchable USDA website. (For additional details, species requirements, and explanation of the requirements see this post).

In addition, the USDA publishes an annual report to show the number of animals used in each state and the US overall. Speaking of Research regularly analyzes and posts these reports. The 2018 US annual report is not yet posted on the USDA site; however, the 2017 report shows that 64,707 dogs were used in research in the US.

Facilities within the state of Wisconsin account for ~8% of the dogs used in research in the US (5,336). Of those, two companies account for nearly 90% of the total. Covance accounts for 4,226 (79.2% of the Wisconsin total, 6.53% of US total). Ridglan Farms, the target of the Mount Horeb ballot initiative we wrote about previously, accounts for 419 (7.85% of the Wisconsin total, 0.65% of US total). Universities and technical colleges account for roughly 3.5% of the total number of dogs used in research in Wisconsin (1.33% UW-Madison; 1.24% Madison Area Technical College; 0.94% Milwaukee Career College). For the two technical colleges, it is likely that the animals are associated with veterinary technician training. Of the other large universities, colleges, and University of Wisconsin system schools in the state, there appear to be none reporting use of dogs in research.

On the other hand, in the 2017 USDA report, Wisconsin appears to account for ~74% of the dogs in USDA Column B, which is described by the USDA as: “animals held by a facility but not used in any research that year.” The report shows a total of 10,146 dogs in Column B in the US, with 7,483 in Wisconsin. Records available from the USDA site show that two private companies account for 484 and 3,498 of the dogs reported in Column B. (Of note, a search of the USDA database does not easily show where the remaining 3,501 animals are located, perhaps raising the question of whether the total number reported in 2017 is in error.  We welcome readers to let us know if they are aware of an error, either on our part or within the USDA report, and whether corrected information is available. Given this ambiguity we have not provided a graphic for the Column B data.)


Taken together, when the recent local legislative initiatives in Wisconsin communities are placed in the context of the overall number of dogs used in research in the US, a number of points emerge.

  • First, the Richland Center ordinance and Spring Green initiatives would appear to have very little direct or immediate impact on the use of dogs in testing, teaching, and research in either Wisconsin or the US more generally. Rather, the broader impact is likely to establish a precedent and template for campaigns aimed at communities with businesses and institutions that would be directly impacted by local ordinances aimed at ending the use of animals in research.
  • Second, as we (and others) have written many times before, situations like this highlight the need for all institutions and companies engaged in animal research to communicate publicly about why their work is vital for human and animal health. Many universities, particularly those that are public and those that conduct publicly-funded research, already participate in a wide range of outreach, education, and engagement with community audiences, media, policymakers, and others. In addition, their research findings appear in journals, news releases, and other publicly-available venues. Academic scientists and universities are only one part of the community that depends on the use of animals for research and teaching, however. As the numbers above show, private companies play an important and large role in the use of animals in research and testing. Their work, and how it would be affected by legislation that jeopardizes the availability and use of animals, is a critical piece of information to share with the public and leaders who are voting on local (and national) policy.

Finally, the media coverage of the ordinance on the agenda for the Richland Center Council Monday night brings us back to the #AskScientists #FactCheckNeeded campaign we launched in December. Rather than relying on Facebook posts by groups campaigning against the use of dogs in research, we hope that media covering this issue will provide a deeper and more balanced view, one that includes the voices of scientists and others who can provide facts about why, when, where, and how animals play a role in health research.

Speaking of Research 


One thought on “#AskScientists: Small US city bans research animal breeding, why?

  1. Not enough people seem to understand the value of animal research and the fact that these living models are crucial for finding treatment solutions for humans and are a also a crucial element of veterinary training. This goes beyond a person “feeling ill” as suggested by Doreen. This is not a lack of “benevolence” as Doreen suggests, and not for lack of love for pets. As any research scientist can attest, we simply cannot replicate physiology in vitro. In vivo models are central to the process of producing therapeutic options for the most serious conditions that threaten human health.

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