Researching Pound Animals – Being sold to research labs?

cat in labWe’ve all been to “the pound” before. It’s a heart-wrenching place for any animal lover. Rows of homeless, stray, and unwanted, but otherwise perfectly adoptable pets behind glass or cold metal bars. Sad and anxious eyes of dogs, cats, and pocket pets desperate for a warm, safe, and loving home where they can live out the rest of their years. While many find those forever homes, we know that many others never make it out alive, euthanized due to lack of space, illness, or just being unwanted.

But some suffer an even worse fate than dying via euthanasia at the shelter: being sold to university and pharmaceutical research labs for experimentation and teaching.

Is your jaw on the ground? Are you googling this right now, thinking, this woman must be crazy, this cannot POSSIBLY be true! Animals in shelters can be SOLD to RESEARCH labs to be tested on??!!!!

Yes, it is true.

While some states have laws against it, many do not. In many places, it is left up to local jurisdictions to decide. In many places where this is legal, animal rights activists have been successful in blocking the direct sale of animals from shelters to research labs. This means that middlemen, or “random source dealers” as they are known in the business, have to do the dirty work of picking out these animals and selling them to labs. As the American Physiological Society (a pro-animal testing organization) writes on their website:

“The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) permits scientists to obtain dogs and cats for research directly from pounds. Unfortunately, in many places, scientists cannot do so because animal activists have insisted on laws or policies forbidding this. In those cases, scientists must rely upon a second category of USDA-licensed dealers, who handle random-source animals. These dealers are allowed to purchase dogs and cats directly from their owners, from pounds, and from other USDA-licensed dealers. They must comply with special record-keeping and holding provisions to protect against pet theft and to give owners time to recover lost pets.”

That’s right…even YOU can sell your pet to a dealer if you wanted to. Are you angry yet?!

This issue was recently highlighted on Facebook 1 when Nathan Winograd, a lawyer and journalist, wrote about animals in one Alabama shelter being sent to Tuskegee University. While Tuskegee has a loooooong and checkered history of human research subject abuses 2, many were appalled to learn that this extends into the animal testing world too, with the veterinary school at Tuskegee engaging in sourcing live animals for laboratory experiments from local shelters. 3

2 See CDC’s webpage: The Tuskegee Timeline for more information:

Now, I’m sure there are some who are thinking: ‘ah, what’s the big deal if they die of euthanasia at a shelter or at a research lab…the end is still the same for those that couldn’t find homes’, or ‘in actuality this animal may save hundreds of other animal lives through the use of its body for testing’. But this thinking requires us to ignore the nagging itch inside of us that is begging to ask whether we are morally okay with shelters being suppliers of animals for research labs.

research labsMany animal shelters rely on donations from the public, grants from donors, and government funding to keep the lights on. People, perhaps even you, have given willingly of your hard-earned money and precious little free time as a volunteer in order to help animals without homes, to provide them love, shelter, and protection until they find a loving forever home…or are humanely euthanized. When shelters give or sell animals to research labs, where the animals will be experimented upon in often very painful ways 4 and later euthanized when they are no longer “usable”, they are engaging in deception, cruelty by proxy, and going against their own mission statements to serve and protect homeless animals.

Are you mad as hell yet??!! I hope you are!! So how do you channel that angry energy into positive action for these innocent animals?

First, find out what the laws are in the state in which you live. You can do that here:  

Then, take action on the local level. Meet with the heads of your local animal rescue organizations and see what their policies are regarding this issue. This may take some digging because many shelters and institutes may want to keep this on the down-low. But knowledge is power, and you’ll need this information to know what your next steps are. Most likely you’ll want to align yourself with a strong, like-minded group of activists to develop an action plan that includes talking to local shelter leaders and local political leaders.

I hope you’ll drop me a line and let me know what you’re finding and what actions you’re taking to change this where you live. Because it might be cliché, but you must remember:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed,
it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

4 See the above-mentioned post by Nathan Winograd for one veterinarian’s story on this.

Abandoned animals can end up in research labs