Many Canadians are not aware that thousands of dogs are used every year by laboratories. A 2016 YouGov poll found that 67 percent of Canadians don’t know that dogs are used in experiments in Canada. In 2016, 15,093 dogs and 8,526 cats were used for research (this number increased from 2015). How is it that so many animals are in labs when society is publicly against animal testing and research? Shelter animals should not be sold to research laboratories for experiments. A 2016 poll by Cruelty Free International showed that 73 per cent of Canadians were against having shelter dogs go into laboratories. There are increasingly more cats and dogs obtained from shelters as “random sources”. The truth is that these sources are not random, they are deliberate; and sadly some from Canadian animal shelters. Dogs and cats from “random source” laboratories are most likely sourced in two provinces, Quebec where “pound seizure” –the sale or release of dogs and cats from pounds or shelters for research and testing in laboratories –is not prohibited, and Ontario, where municipal pound seizure is permitted under the Animals for Research Act (“ARA”). Sadly, Ontario is the only province in Canada where pound seizure is mandated in the law!
Obtaining animals from random or unidentified sources is particularly disturbing especially when you discover that ‘random’ usually means a shelter. Dogs and cats from shelters are categorized by the animal research industry as ‘random source’ because the health histories and exact source of the animals might be unknown. Animals taken from shelters to labs defeat the very core and purpose of a shelter’s mandate. Homeless and abandoned animals should be granted protection to safely wait there until they are reunited with their families or get adopted into new loving homes. At least that is what shelters claim to do.
Nobody wants to imagine that animals dropped off at a shelter are going to be shipped off to a lab for testing and endure suffering and pain. What happens if your beloved pet is lost while you are on vacation and by the time you locate them at a shelter, they have been sold for research. Are families supposed to fear the worst if their pet goes missing? These dogs, cats, rabbits and other creatures were or are still pets and beloved companions. We would not happily ship off our grandparents from a nursing home to a lab for research, and the same needs to be true for pets. Treating dogs and cats as disposable commodities and viewing them as teaching tools with no regard for their lives is morally and ethically wrong.
On a positive note, despite the failure of the provincial law to grant legal protection for shelter animals from being subjected to laboratories, many municipalities and animal shelters across Ontario and Quebec have rejected pound seizure and animals are not sent to labs. Thankfully, governments and organizations are starting to agree and certain labs and research facilities now prohibit the use of animals acquired from shelters. In addition, the funding for research that takes part in this has been eliminated. For example, the University of Guelph and the Ontario Veterinary College no longer use shelter animals for experiments. In the U.S. the National Institutes of Health ended all funding for research involving random source dogs and cats in 2015. By not supporting this research financially, the message is aligned with mainstream views. It is clear that public opinion, scientific standards, and human ethics are all heavily against the use of shelter animals for research and the continued efforts to fight this practice will strengthen protection for the four-legged family members out there.
Yes, with the increase in the number of dogs and cats being utilized in research experiments last year, urgent change is needed. Speak up for these innocent animals and be the voice for change. Provinces such as Ontario and Quebec should pass legislation to prohibit “pound seizure”. You can start an online petition; there is power in numbers and governments are forced to listen when there are enough signatures. Share petitions on social media, a powerful tool for social awareness. Lastly, this practice should be legally prohibited and dogs and cats should not be subjected to cruel experimentation; rather they should be treated with dignity and respect and this needed change can strengthen protection for shelter animals.