By JENNIFER SHUTT
WASHINGTON — Now-famous beagles rescued from a breeding and research facility in Virginia were on Capitol Hill on Thursday as an animal welfare group and a California congressman pushed for legislation that would promote adoption of research animals.
“It’s unfortunate that animals are still allowed to be used in testing. That hopefully is going to go away very, very soon. But while it’s happening, we can do better,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas.
The beagles came from a controversial Envigo medical dog-breeding facility in Cumberland County that shut down under pressure from federal regulators because of a string of animal welfare violations, the Virginia Mercury has reported. Federal agents in May seized hundreds of dogs and puppies found to be “in acute distress.”
A judge in July approved a plan to move 4,000 beagles from the facility to shelters for adoption, making national headlines. One adopter turned out to be Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, who are now living in California.
On Thursday, several of the beagles were at the Capitol to get petted and shown off at a “meet and greet” and to help make a point about animal research.
Cárdenas, a California Democrat, introduced a bill last October that would require any facility receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health to make “reasonable efforts” to adopt any dog, cat, or rabbit deemed suitable for adoption once that animal is no longer needed for biomedical and behavioral research.
The legislation has just four other co-sponsors, Joe Neguse of Colorado, Jimmy Panetta of California, Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey and Dina Titus of Nevada.
When asked about the strategy for reaching the level of support the bill would need to clear the House and the Senate, Cárdenas told States Newsroom that he plans to push back on the medical research industry criticism that the measure is “too onerous.”
“I don’t buy that,” he said.
Cárdenas also hopes more of his colleagues will voice support for the legislation.
Monica Engebretson, North America campaign manager for Cruelty Free International, said 15 states require animal research facilities to offer dogs and cats they no longer want for adoption. But she believes a nationwide law is needed.
Engebretson said the group has had some success in the past getting policy changes enacted through the annual legislation that funds the NIH, which is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, and hopes to do so again with this current policy proposal.
The NIH’s website says that it’s “committed to continuing to develop non-animal model alternative methods,” though it notes “we are not at a point where alternative approaches can completely replace the use of animals at this time.”
“The alternatives simply cannot accurately replicate or model all the biologic and behavioral aspects of human disease,” NIH writes. “Until that time, animal models will remain integral for NIH-supported research.”
The NIH also has an Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare.
But neither its Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals or its Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals include any proposals or suggestions for whether cats, dogs and bunnies should be available for adoption after they are no longer needed.
The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare notes on its website that it “supports the safety and protection of animals and reminds institutions that their policies must clarify the disposition of animals acquired for research once the research has ended, which may include adoption.” It also says it “will not assume legal or financial responsibility for any adoption program” of research animals.