Pound Seizure (Pets in Research)

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The Issue:

In 2010, 11,790 “non purpose-bred” dogs and cats were used in experiments.  Of the dogs used in research, 77% were non purpose-bred; that is, random sourced – lost, abandoned or stray pets.  Of the cats used, 85% were lost, abandoned or stray pets.

“Pound seizure” is a term commonly used to describe the practice of using lost, homeless and abandoned dogs and cats from animal control facilities or pounds for use in experimentation (research, teaching and testing).

AAC’s opposition to pound seizure is shared by all Canadian humane societies and animal protection organizations throughout Canada. Ontario is the only province left in Canada where pound seizure is the law. Quebec remains one of the few jurisdictions that remains silent on the issue of pound contractors supplying lost pet animals to research in the absence of any legal requirement to do so.

Indeed, there are municipalities in Ontario that choose to disregard provincial laws that require them to surrender animals to research facilities because they are aware of the serious problems caused by pound seizure. In other provinces where the law is silent on the issue of pound seizure but where researchers seek out lost pets, municipalities refuse to supply those pets for experimental purposes.

Because researchers exploit the availability of animals in pounds and shelters, there must be strong protection for these vulnerable animals.  Many municipalities, like Toronto, Brampton, Clarington, Winnipeg and Calgary do not release animals to researchers.  Some, like Toronto, Mississauga  and Richmond, BC have gone one step further and have banned the sale of cats and dogs in pet stores as a way to reduce the number of homeless animals.  Pet store purchases simply add to the number of animals dumped at municipal pounds and shelters.  These animals are at risk of being subjected to cruel experimentation if they end up in municipal pounds and shelters that sell to research laboratories.  Click here to read Toronto’s updated bylaw.

Despite this growing movement, Canadian research facilities still “seize” lost and homeless pets from shelters for use in experimentation. In 2010 (the latest available figures), 11,790 lost and abandoned dogs and cats were used in labs across Canada. According to the statistics from the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC), of the 4,438 cats used in experiments, 3,784 came from pounds, a staggering 85%. For the same year, 8,006 or 77% of the 10,381 dogs came from pounds. (www.ccac.ca)

For sound scientific, economic, and moral reasons, many researchers, prestigious research facilities, and medical schools in North America and Europe do not experiment on animals acquired from pounds – so-called “random source” animals. In some cases these respected institutions are acting voluntarily; others are simply obeying the law.

Based on its years of working closely with people staffing pounds and shelters, AAC can testify that shelter personnel are deeply troubled by sending animals to research. Most find it difficult even euthanizing animals, but they can morally justify it with the knowledge that they did their best to find the animal a new home, and that the animal’s end will be gentle and humane. When animals are sold to research facilities, however, they are utterly abandoned to an undeserved and uncertain fate. And, despite the calm assertions of researchers, shelter workers know there is no guarantee that the animals will not suffer in cruel, chronic experiments. No one should underestimate the insidious and debilitating effect that sending innocent animals to research can have on caring persons who work in shelters. Some cope with the cumulative emotional effects by resigning. Others become inured to the suffering, often to the detriment of their own emotional well-being, and to the compassion and dedication that their job demands. In the end, the animals suffer – animals whose only crime was being homeless or lost.

The evidence against pound seizure is compelling and unequivocal. The damage pound seizure causes to municipal efforts to provide effective animal services is well-documented, as is the improvement in animal services when pound seizure is banned. The evidence that some researchers use to defend pound seizure is dubious and misleading at best; self-serving and knowingly wrong at worst. There is no evidence that banning pound seizure has any negative impact on critical medical research or, in any way, puts human health at risk.

Politically, silence on pound seizure is an abrogation of the responsibilities that municipal politicians have to the more than 50% of their voters who share their homes with companion animals – particularly so because, in all cases, the decision to permit pound seizure is based either on a bias against compassion for animals and the organizations that protect them or faulty and incomplete analyses of the issue.

Animal Alliance has worked with animal protection organizations across the country to stop the use of lost pets in research teaching and testing. Quebec and Ontario remain problematic provinces using the largest number of dogs and cats for experimental purposes than any other provinces in the country.  Ontario used 4,331 dogs and cats, 29% of the total of dogs and cats used in experiments.  Quebec used 6,022 dogs and cats or 40%.  With Ontario and Quebec as the largest users of pet dogs and cats, we continue to work for province wide bans against the practice.


Because of your generosity, commitment and our collective hard work, the University of Guelph and the Ontario Veterinary College have made three significant decisions:

1) no more pound animals will be used at the University for teaching or experimentation;

2) all animals used in the Veterinary Skills Training and Enhancement Program (VSTEP) are to be recovered and adopted out; and

3) there will be no more animals killed for practice surgeries by veterinary students.

These three changes will save approximately 700 animals yearly!

In the summer of 2010, in spite of all our efforts, VSTEP management allowed the killing of 10 beagles used for practice surgeries. We were able to save the remaining 10 beagles used in VSTEP, a course for foreign vets which needs to be completed before they can practice in Ontario. All beagles are now in loving homes, adjusting to their new lives. As well, four cats used by VSTEP were recovered and adopted out.

From the University of Guelph website:

Starting this semester, OVC is changing the way student veterinarians are taught basic anesthesia and surgical skills.

Instead of performing procedures on anesthetized animals, which are then euthanized while they are still anesthetized, more surgical skills models and cadavers will be used. Additional experience will be gained with anesthetic recoveries and with ovariohysterectomies (spays) and castrations (neuters) for shelter animals that are then returned to shelters for adoption. Students will also participate in supervised anesthetic and surgical procedures in the new Primary Healthcare Centre, as well as in their surgery, anesthesia and other rotations during their 4th year of the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program as they have in the past.

What You Can Do:

Animal Alliance prepared a document entitled The Political, Animal Services, and Scientific Case Against Pound Seizure regarding the arguments against pound seizure and how such practices stop the implementation of progressive animal services programmes. To find out about animals in your area, you can mail your municipality a Freedom of Information request – a sample letter is available by clicking here.  Also available for download is a document regarding teaching alternatives for veterinary students.

In addition, Animal Alliance has a rescue programme called Project Jessie. Each year we rescue 400 dogs and cats from shelters that sell to research. While this is simply a bandaid measure, we provide sanctuary for many animals until we are able to provide legislative protection.

We need to keep the pressure on the Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario, and the Honourable Philippe Couillard, Premier of Quebec, to bring in legislation banning the use of lost pets in research. So please, mail and call them. Hand-written letters are best but you can also print our sign-on letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Honourable Kathleen Wynne
Premier of Ontario
Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1A1

Tel:  416-325-1941
Fax: 416-325-9895

Email: kwynne.mpp@liberal.ola.org


Honourable Philippe Couillard
Province de Québec
Conseil Exécutif,  Édifice Honoré Mercier
835, boul. René-Lévesque est, 3e étage,
Québec, QC  G1A 1B4

Tel:  418-643-5321
Fax: 418-643-3924

Email:  Philippe.Couillard@plq.org