As the “Beagle Bill” sees its second year of battle in Maryland’s General Assembly, the fact that dogs and cats are being used in research facilities in the state is becoming known to a wider audience; and the public is not happy.
The Humane Adoption of Companion Animals Used in Research Act of 2017 (HB528), sponsored by Delegate Benjamin Kramer (D, Montgomery County), had a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee last month and has yet to come up for a committee vote. With “crossover day” fast approaching (the date each Chamber must send to the other Chamber those bills it intends to pass favorably), the fate of this bill and these animals looks very dim.
The bill would require the state’s research facilities to make dogs and cats available for adoption once testing is over, providing these animals an opportunity to experience life as pets. The legislation has become known as the “Beagle Bill” because the Beagle is the most commonly used breed of dog in research due to its calm and trusting nature.
The research, itself, would not be restricted by the bill. Research facilities would simply be required to work with willing animal rescue organizations to find suitable homes for the animals once they are no longer needed. The bill was introduced in 2016 and passed out of the House by 128-7 vote but died in the Senate. Delegates Cassilly, Mautz, Metzgar, B. Wilson, Grammer, and McKay voted in opposition of the bill (HB 594) last year.
Prior to testifying, Kramer showed the committee a two-minute video which began with a photo of a Beagle and these words: “This dog was purpose bred to spend her entire life in a cage to test medical devices, pharmaceuticals, some cosmetics, psychological stress and illicit drugs. Beagles are the breed of choice for lab researchers since they are gentle and do not fight back….She will be killed.”
“The proposed legislation simply requires that when companion animals, and that would be dogs and cats,” stated Kramer during his testimony, “have completed their use as test subjects by research facilities in the state, that if they are deemed to be healthy enough, they’d be offered for adoption to animal welfare rescue groups as opposed to simply killed.”
Kramer went on to say “I don’t know how anyone could take issue with the idea that these loving, intelligent, sweet dogs, after experiencing years of fear, loneliness, and often times pain, be given a chance to experience in whatever time they have left post-research, the opportunity to feel a little tenderness, a warm home and the kindness of a loving family.”
John Hopkins and the University of Maryland opposed the bill last year and are opposing it again this year. During the Senate hearing on the crossfiled bill (SB420), sponsored by Senator Michael Hough (R, Frederick and Carroll Counties), they referenced several concerns. Among these concerns were that the reporting procedures required under the bill are overly burdensome and that the reporting of specified information will require them to provide the names of individuals who adopt these animals.
Kramer addressed these concerns by stating the only requirements for reporting were how many dogs and cats are owned by the facility and how many are being used for research. “Those numbers they are already required to supply to federal regulators,” he said. “They would simply copy that information and send it to the Secretary of Agriculture. They only other reporting under this bill is the number of dogs and cats released to an animal rescue organization and the name of the organization.” Kramer added an amendment ensuring such names of individuals would not be released to reassure the opposition.
Another point of concern for the universities was that they would be forced to turn over the animals to rescue groups that don’t have the high standards of accountability that they have and that the animal welfare groups will euthanize them. To that concern, Kramer added another amendment that specifies that the animal welfare group will be of the choosing and approval of the research facility, even though the bill already stated as such.
Delegate Wendell Beitzel (R, Garrett and Allegany Counties) shared his concern of whether or not the bill would be “putting families at risk” due to the type of research that might be taking place, such as chemicals given to the animals that would put the families at risk and would be a liability issue for the universities. Kramer noted an additional amendment that specifies that the attending veterinarian would determine if these animals are suitable for adoption. He reiterated that the bill already makes it clear that only animals that the universities deemed healthy enough for adoption would be placed with animal welfare groups.
Delegate Mike McKay (R, Allegany and Washington Counties) quoted a Bible verse prior to raising his concern, asking “How do we know that the welfare animal organizations that you want these animals to go to fit the criteria as acceptable?” Again, Kramer assured the committee that each facility will be able to pick “organizations of their choosing” that they have vetted. “They are not going to shelters,” he remarked.
“Do you feel that you have crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s to make sure that this type of animal testing is not in jeopardy?” asked McKay. “I’m a firm believer that the Lord gave animals to mankind for their use, by no stretch of the imagination does that mean abuse, and the amount of good that has come from this animal testing cannot be in jeopardy.”
In response, Kramer stated that with the changes put in place with this year’s version of the bill and the several new amendments added to address the concerns of the opposition, he had done everything possible to address the opposition’s concerns. He reminded the delegate that all the bill is seeking to do is to give these animals suitable for adoption an opportunity to be adopted.