Laurie Bishop tells the heartbreaking story of her dog Royal who was sold by local animal control to the University of Guelph for research after he had wandered off his property. Animal control did not hold Royal for the minimum 72 hours required by Ontario legislation, and they did not try to contact Laurie, even though Royal was well groomed and wearing tags. Click here to read the chronology of events.
In Ontario the acquisition of pet dogs and cats for research is governed by the Ontario Animals for Research Act (ARA or the Act). The interpretation of the Act is set out in Appendix D of an Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMFRA) document titled, INSTRUCTIONS FOR REPORTING THE NUMBERS OF ANIMALS USED FOR RESEARCH IN 2017. According to OMFRA, researchers can acquire pet dogs and cats from municipal pounds, humane societies that have pound contracts and rescue groups that take animals from municipal pounds. They can acquire pet dogs and cats that are “donated by owners” which OMFRA interprets to include owned animals seeking test procedures at research facilities, animals surrendered to humane societies and unknown entities picking up pets in communities without municipal bylaws governing stray dogs and cats. They can also acquire pets from pet stores or breeders with special permission from OMFRA.
The research facility acquisition process is complex and murky and leaves Ontario residents with few options to find their pets should they go missing. How would residents in communities that have no dog or cat bylaws and where cats are allowed to roam, know whether someone simply scooped up the friendly outdoor animals and sold them to research? As we know from Laurie’s story, her diligence in trying to find Royal did not save him from death at a research facility. She simply could not navigate all the barriers that protected the pound keepers and the researchers and not Royal.
There are municipalities in Ontario that choose to disregard the Act that requires them to surrender animals because they are aware of the serious problems caused by selling or donating pets to research. Many municipalities, like Toronto, Brampton, Oshawa, Clarington, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Calgary do not release animals to researchers.
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. Certainly the same would be true of humane society workers and rescue groups.
When animals are sold to research facilities, they are abandoned with no advocate to speak on their behalf. They are destined to an undeserved and cruel fate. Shelter workers and those who advocate for pets know there is no guarantee that the animals will not suffer in cruel experiments.
The sale also undermines municipal efforts to provide effective animal service programmes to their communities and when the practice is stopped the improvement in animal services is evident.
Despite community concerns and municipal resistance, Canadian research facilities still want pets from shelters for use in experimentation. According to the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) in 2016, 16,847 “random sourced” dogs and cats were used in labs across Canada. The CCAC defines random sourced dogs and cats as “animals [that] are generally obtained from pounds or humane societies, or are the animals of students or clients.” The statistics show that of the 9,686 cats used in experiments, 8,640 came from pounds, a staggering 89%. For the same year, 8207 or 50% of the 16,713 dogs came from pounds. (www.ccac.ca)
Many researchers, prestigious research facilities, and medical schools in North America and Europe do not experiment on random sourced animals. For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stopped funding research using random cats in 2012 and random dogs in 2014. The decision was based on a 103 page 2009 National Academy of Science (NAS) expert report commissioned by U.S. Congress entitled, “Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats in Research“. The report concluded that random sourced cats and dogs were not critical for biomedical research and that using them could damage the reputation of the research enterprise with the public.
The World Health Organization, the Council of Europe and the International Council of Organizations for Medical Sciences all advise against using pets in experimentation.
Countries such as Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands have banned the use of lost and homeless pets in research. The European Union passed a Directive 2010/63 that states that “stray and feral animals of domestic species shall not be used in procedures”. Eighteen U.S. States and Washington, D.C. have banned the use of lost and homeless pets in research.
Political silence on the sale of pets to research is an abrogation of the responsibilities that provincial and municipal politicians have to the 56% of their voters who share their homes with animal companions. Because researchers can exploit the availability of animals in pounds, humane societies, rescue groups, non-bylawed communities and even breeders and pet stores, the only way to protect pet dogs and cats in Ontario is for the Ontario government to ban the sale of pets to research.
Animal Alliance has worked with animal protection organizations across the country to stop the use of pets in research. According to data from OMFRA and CCAC, Ontario remains one of the largest users of pet dogs and cats, accounting for 32% of the total number of pet dogs and cats used in research in Canada.
How You Can Help
- 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.
- Support Animal Alliance’s Project Jessie programme. Each year we rescue or assist with the rescue of over 200 dogs and cats many of whom could be at risk of being sold to research.
- We need to keep the pressure on the Honourable Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario, to bring in legislation banning the use of pet dogs and cats in research. So please, mail and call your own MPP and Premier Ford. Hand-written letters are best but you can also call or email the Premier’s office.
Honourable Doug Ford
Premier of Ontario
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1A1