A bipartisan bill dubbed the “Beagle Bill” was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday — a law that would require animal research and testing facilities in Massachusetts to use dogs and cats to put healthy animals up for adoption after their time in research completed.
Bill H. 901, a law protecting research animals, was previously enacted by both chambers in the State House in July before going to the governor for approval.
Now Massachusetts joins a dozen other states, including Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York, in having similar laws that go beyond federal regulations for post-research treatment of laboratory animals, according to the MSPCA-Angell — whose advocacy group has campaigned extensively for it Bill’s farewell, with a spokesman saying the group “couldn’t be happier” with the outcome.
According to MSPCA-Angell Executive Director of Communications Rob Halpin, the signing of the bill marks a “life-saving moment” for the nearly 9,000 dogs used in research in Massachusetts, most of which are beagles.
He added that these dogs “most often” face euthanasia once their time in research is complete – a practice this law will change.
Current federal law regulates the care and use of test animals in laboratories, but protections do not extend beyond the end of research, except for the provision of humane euthanasia — while retaining the ability to give otherwise healthy dogs and cats animals that a second chapter in life as pets, would be killed instead.
That’s where the Beagle Bill comes in, to facilitate a relationship between laboratories and non-profit animal adoption organizations, according to the MSPCA-Angell, which noted flexibility is also enshrined in the law.
The bill was written so that research facilities would not be required to donate animals to any particular group, nor would an animal shelter or rescue organization be required to accept animals offered to them by such facilities, the group said.
Private adoption placement is also allowed under the law, so animal shelters don’t have to act as an intermediary — as in the case of a veterinary tech who has worked with an animal and wants to adopt it after research.
The bill would “simply require that as soon as an institution determines that a dog or cat is no longer required for research, is healthy and poses no risk to the health or safety of the public, the research institution must then be contacted at a Contact an animal shelter or rescue organization to determine if they can help with placement in an adoptive home or opt for private placement,” the MSPCA-Angell said.
Halpin said successful collaborations between research and testing facilities with animal shelters and rescue groups like the MSPCA will give many cats and dogs “the chance to live out their post-research lives in loving homes.”
MSPCA director of advocacy, Kara Holmquist, said in seeing and hearing stories from those who have adopted or fostered dogs used in research, it was “remarkable” how well these “resilient” animals do in homes cope after coming out of these research environments.
“We know that these dogs can make great family pets that they can still learn to be a dog,” Holmquist said.
Beagles are the primary breed used in research, according to Holmquist, largely due to their docile nature and ease of handling, hence the informal name given to the bill.
The breed comprises nearly 96% of the more than 60,000 dogs used in animal research nationwide, according to the Beagle Freedom Project, a nonprofit animal rescue and advocacy organization dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of animals used in research and ” other forms of singular cruelty, abuse and neglect.”
The signing of the bill comes timely as it coincides with – although not directly related to – a massive bailout by the Humane Society of the United States involving a troubled breeding facility in Cumberland, Virginia, owned by the Envigo company which housed about 4,000 beagles that would have been used for animal testing but are now finding new adoptive homes.
Envigo’s facility has faced numerous violations of federal regulations, leaving many dogs “malnourished, sick, injured, and in some cases dead,” according to a New York Times report.
The MSPCA-Angell, Northeast Animal Shelter and Dakin Humane Society have all partnered with HSUS in their endeavor, helping to find new adoptive homes for over 150 beagles in the Bay State, with more dog transfer trips north planned for this month .
The “Beagle Act” was originally introduced four years ago on Beacon Hill, where it was introduced by former State Representative Carolyn Dykema, a sponsor of the bill, and co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Michelle DuBois and Republican State Senator Bruce Tarr — the minority leader of the Senate in the State House.
“We are grateful to every attorney who has worked hard to move this legislation forward,” said Elizabeth Magner, the MSPCA’s animal advocacy specialist, in a statement through the MSPCA-Angell.
“By formalizing the practice of adopting research animals, the new law will benefit dogs and cats used for research in the Commonwealth and enhance Massachusetts’ reputation as a responsible and humane center for biomedical research,” she added.
The bill had also received support from the Massachusetts Society of Medical Research, a group representing research institutions in the state, which helped work on some of the bill’s wording.
The legislation also does not affect the research conducted itself, as MSPCA-Angell says it is up to the research organizations when animals are withdrawn and put up for adoption.
The MSPCA-Angell noted that outside of legislation, there are a number of research organizations that have already established successful dog and cat adoption programs.