Animal Alliance Exposé: Life in a Lab
Today is World Day for Laboratory Animals. Yet few Canadians know what happens to the 4 million (averaged over 5 years – 2014 to 2018) animals used in Canadian laboratories each year.
Canadians can be excused for not knowing what is done to animals in laboratories because in most cases, we are not allowed to know. The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC), the national voluntary body responsible for collecting animal use data is exempt from Access to Information requests. Other than providing aggregate numbers of how animals are used and the invasiveness of the research, no other information can be obtained.
We are not allowed to know how many facilities are certified by the CCAC or their names, except upon agreement of that facility. We do not know the
total number of animals used in research in Canada because the CCAC does not certify all research institutions, only those that receive public dollars and private companies that seek certification voluntarily.
Ontario is the only province with an Animals for Research Act that governs how animals can be used in experimentation. The body that administers that legislation, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, (OMAFRA) is subject to Freedom of Information requests (FOIP). However the documents they provide when requested are routinely and extensively redacted and, in some cases, totally denied.
Denial of information extends to lost companion dogs and cats (pets) who have ended up in pounds and shelters across our country. We are not allowed to know which pounds and shelters sell or give these dogs and cats to laboratories. We are not allowed to know which laboratories are asking for our lost pets. Denial of such information presents significant challenges to those families who are desperately trying to find their beloved companions. Finding a lost pet, once he or she has been sold to a research facility, is almost impossible. One such story is that of Royal.
Companion dogs and cats are in demand by research laboratories because they are cheap research subjects. In Ontario, the going rate is $2 for a cat and $6 for a dog.
In its data collection, the CCAC requires research facilities to distinguish between dogs and cats who are purpose-bred for research and dogs and cats who are taken by laboratories from pounds and shelters. These pets are classified as “random sourced”. In Canada in 2018, 8,591 pet dogs and pet cats 7,822 were sold or given to research from shelters across the country.
According to the statistics collected by OMAFRA, 12,104 pet dogs and 11,575 pet cats were sent to research laboratories in Ontario between 2012 and 2016.
So what happens to our beloved dogs and cats who disappear into the world of animal research?
We were able to get a glimpse of what life might be like in a lab. Through FOIP requests in 2018, Animal Alliance received 323 research inspection reports conducted by OMAFRA covering the years 2012 to 2017. The names of the institutions are blacked out, along with the species of animals involved and specific descriptions of the types of experiments or procedures or studies for which these animals were used.
But by piecing together the remaining information, there are enough references to show that these inspection reports were of facilities where dogs and/or cats were among animals used for various kinds of research.
Even with the redactions, the reports offer sharp criticism of how these animals are housed and handled. They cite numerous violations of standard operating procedures.The reports noted that inspected facilities were taken to task for deficiencies in sanitation, inadequacy in design of housing, low standard of living conditions and lack of safety. And those are only the housekeeping issues.
The reports also referenced the use of expired drugs—including anaesthetics and pain-relievers—as well as injury to animals through faulty equipment and rundown facilities. And there were instances of failure to protect dogs and cats in their care, as well as failure to provide adequate veterinary care or proper oversight.
Below are specifics of some of the numerous examples of neglect, incompetence and outright abuseof dogs and cats cited by inspectors, over a four-year period in a number of Ontario research facilities. To read our full report on what life is like in a lab, click here.
Excerpts from four Research Facility Inspection Reports:
Of the eight facility inspection reports we highlighted , only two were in compliance with the requirements of the Animals for Research Act:
Report #146: Being a dog in research in Ontario could mean that you are subjected to painful procedures, with nobody managing your pain or even making notes about medication. A specific instance of this negligence turns up in Inspection Report #146, where the inspector writes that “intervention action to be taken for dogs that were experiencing severe pain was not included—e.g., types and dosages of analgesics to be given.”
#187: Being a dog in research also means you could be missing a 4×2 inch patch of fur from your chest, but no one seems to have noticed, much less wondered whether anxiety or loneliness or illness was the case of this hair loss. It was the inspector who wrote a critical comment about it in Inspection Report #187. A dog’s life in a research lab means you could be housed in a small, rusty cage where the lights are never turned off, but you can’t see the other dogs you hear barking nearby, and the humans don’t show up on weekends to feed you or clean your cage (as cited in various reports).
#138 and others: Also, as various OMAFRA inspection reports reveal, cats can end up living in a room that is too cold, or a room that makes them sneeze because the humidity is too high, or are confined in a dirty cage with the ceaseless din of dogs barking, which keeps them in a state of waking terror. And as for physical suffering along the way, an ominous note is struck in one inspector’s recommendation that “serious consideration should be given to providing experience in current anesthetic strategies for students, despite this being a terminal procedure.” (Inspection Report #138)
#107: Perhaps worst of all, the absence or ignorance of procedures and protocols means that cats can be housed with other felines who are sick–sometimes with fatal consequences for all. The inspector who wrote Inspection Report #107 noted: “I was informed that there was an outbreak of feline panleukopenia in the cat room. There was no opportunity to isolate the infected cats, as there wasn’t a quarantine room in the facility and some animals had to be euthanized.” This facility was not registered as a research facility as required under the Animals for Research Act and also failed to report the number of animals used.
What You Can Do
We, and the animals in laboratories, need help from people across Canada. Help us to find out what is happening in your community. We need to identify whether the pound in your area sells or gives pet dogs and cats to research.
Here is how we need your help:
- Let us know what type of facility takes in and houses lost pet dogs and cats in your community. Is the pound operated by your municipal government? Or is the pound contracted to a private business or individual?
- If you know of dogs and cats who are missing in your community, let us know. We will contact your local pound to see whether the animals were there and what happened to them.
You are the eyes and ears in your community. If you know that lost pets are being sold to research, let us know. We will work to get it stopped, with your help.
We cannot forget that right now, in facilities across Canada, there are animals suffering in abject misery; animals of many species, including dogs and cats who once were family friends. Very few will ever get a reprieve. Few will make it out alive. Their cries go unheard. And the people who have absolute control over their lives, in too many cases, see them as nothing more than biological objects for their use.
Animal Alliance of Canada has fought against the use of animals in research since its inception in 1990, and strongly opposes all use of animals for experimentation. And, while working toward that goal we also promote interim measures that would lessen the degree of suffering that animals are made to endure, a reduction of the numbers of animals being used, and the establishment of real accountability in research facilities. In keeping with this resolve, we have ramped up our efforts to keep former companions, pet dogs and cats, out of the hands of researchers through our ‘No Pets in Research’ campaign.
Please support ‘No Pets in Research’ as well as all of our efforts on behalf of the animals who so desperately need rescue in Canada’s labs. Together, we can resolve to never give up and to always fight to save these animals.