A bipartisan piece of legislation dubbed the “Beagle Bill” was signed into law on Thursday by Governor Charlie Baker — a law that will require animal research and testing facilities in Massachusetts which use dogs and cats to offer healthy animals for adoption once their time in research you have ended.
Bill H. 901, an Act Protecting Research Animals previously was enacted by both chambers at the State House in July before being given to the governor for his approval.
Now, Massachusetts joins a dozen other states, including Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York, with similar laws that go beyond federal regulations for the treatment of laboratory animals post-research, according to the MSPCA-Angell — whose advocacy department lobbied extensively for the bill’s passage, with a spokesperson saying the group could “not be more pleased” with the outcome.
The bill’s signing marks a “live-saving moment” for the nearly 9,000 dogs used in research in Massachusetts, most of which are beagles, according to Rob Halpin, the executive director of communications for the MSPCA-Angell.
I have added that “more often than not” these dogs face euthanasia once their time in research concludes — a practice that this law will change.
Under current federal law the care and use of research animals in laboratories is regulated, but protections are not extended beyond the end of research with the exception of providing humane euthanasia — leaving the possibility that otherwise healthy dogs and cats, animals that can be given a second chapter in life as pets, would instead be killed.
That’s where the “Beagle Bill” comes in to facilitate a relationship between laboratories and non-profit animal adoption organizations, according to the MSPCA-Angell, which noted there is also flexibility written into the law.
The bill is written in a way that research facilities are not forced to give animals to any specific group, nor is a shelter of rescue organization required to accept animals offered to them by such facilities, the group said.
Private adoptive placement is also permitted within the parameters of the law, meaning shelters do not have to act as an intermediary — such as in the case of a veterinary technician who has worked with an animal and wishes to adopt it post-research.
The bill would “simply require that once an institution makes the determination that a dog or cat is no longer needed for research, is healthy, and doesn’t pose a risk to the health or safety of the public, the research facility must then reach out to an animal shelter or rescue organization to ascertain whether it can assist with placement in an adoptive home, or opt for private placement,” the MSPCA-Angell said.
Halpin said the successful collaboration between research and testing facilities with animal shelters and rescue groups, such as the MSPCA, will give many cats and dogs “the chance to live out their post-research lives in loving homes.”
The MSPCA director of advocacy, Kara Holmquist, said in seeing and hearing stories from those who have adopted or fostered dogs used in research that it is “remarkable” how well these “resilient” animals can do in homes after coming from these research environments.
“We know that these dogs can be great family pets, that they can still learn to be a dog,” Holmquist said.
Beagles are the primary breed used in research according to Holmquist largely due to their docile natures and easy ability to handle, hence the informal name given to the bill.
The breed comprises close to 96% of the more than 60,000 dogs used in animal experimentation nationwide according to the Beagle Freedom Project, a non-profit animal rescue and advocacy organization dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating animals used in research and subject to “other forms of unique cruelty, abuse and neglect.”
The bill’s signing into law is timely as it coincides with — while not being directly related to — a massive rescue effort led by the Humane Society of the United States involving a troubled breeding facility in Cumberland, Virginia that was run by the company Envigo which housed about 4,000 beagles that would have been used in animal research, but are now finding new adoptive homes.
The Envigo facility faced numerous violations of federal regulations, leaving many dogs “underfed, ill, injured, and, in some cases, dead,” according to a report by The New York Times.
The MSPCA-Angell, the Northeast Animal Shelter and the Dakin Humane Society have all assisted HSUS as partners in its undertaking, helping it to find over 150 beagles new adoptive homes in the Bay State, with more transfer trips bringing dogs up north being planned for this month.
The “Beagle Bill” was initially introduced on Beacon Hill four year ago where it was presented by former State Representative Carolyn Dykema, a sponsor of the bill, and was co-sponsored by fellow Democratic Rep. Michelle DuBois and Republican State Senator Bruce Tarr — the Senate Minority Leader at the State House.
“We’re grateful to every advocate who worked hard to advance this legislation,” said Elizabeth Magner, the MSPCA’s animal advocacy specialist, in a statement through the MSPCA-Angell.
“By formalizing the practice of adoption for research animals, the new law benefits dogs and cats used for research in the Commonwealth, enhancing Massachusetts’ reputation as a responsible and humane hub for biomedical research,” she added.
The bill had also received support from the Massachusetts Society of Medical Research, a group representing research facilities in the state, which helped to work on some of the bill’s language.
The legislation also does not impact the research conducted itself, as the discretion for when to withdraw and offer animals for adoption remains with the research facilities, according to the MSPCA-Angell.
The MSPCA-Angell noted outside of the legislation, there are also a number of research facilities that have already instituted successful adoption programs for dogs and cats.