HAZARD — The crisp, prickliness of newly cut July grass, the satisfaction of getting to stretch as far as possible just before a nap, the thunderous bellow and howl of an excited dog. These experiences seem pretty common and it would probably seem weird to find a grown person who has not experienced at least one of these things — weirder still to find a grown dog that hasn’t experienced any of them.
Tommy, a 3-year-old beagle, had not experienced any of these things until around four weeks ago when he met his foster family, Josh and Candice Thies, who live in Stanton and have family in Perry County. This is because Tommy had spent his entire life as a test animal in a laboratory.
“There’s different labs across the country that do various experiments on beagles as well as other animals,” said Josh Thies as he explained how he and his wife got in contact with the organization that rescued Tommy. “Beagle Freedom Project tries to work with these labs to get them to release these dogs after they are done testing on them so that they can foster them out. That’s where we came in.”
Thies said he and his wife had been donating to the Beagle Freedom Project, a service of Animal Rescue, Media, and Education (ARME) aiming to help end the suffering of beagles used for animal experiments in research labs, for a number of years. The project is based in California, so the Thieses assumed there would never be a chance to foster any of the rescued dogs they were donating to. However, things changed in July when the first ever East Coast release was held in Washington, D.C.
“It was kind of a whirlwind when one day she (Candice) said I’m going to apply and just see, you never know. It was like four days later they called us and said we want to interview you,” he said.
After Skyping with the organization to prove their four-dog home was a healthy environment for a foster dog, the Thieses were on the road to D.C.
“When we went to D.C., they released the dogs, there were seven of them. They just brought them out into this fenced-in area, which was probably an acre or something, but it was grass and it was real nice … this was the first time that those dogs were ever able to walk on grass,” Thies said.
Thies said Beagle Freedom does not release any information about what companies or testing was done on the dogs they rescue, however, he knew Tommy had been to at least two different facilities in his life because of tattoos in his ear denoting what his identification numbers had been.
Tommy’s interactions with his new housemates have gone pretty smoothly, Thies said, though there are still some things being worked on.
“They just try to establish dominance and neither one wants to back down, so we’re working on training them to behave well together,” he said.
Thies explained that most of the dogs at the labs have never experienced barking before. This is because they are bought from puppy mills while they are very young and almost immediately have a debarking procedure done on the puppies in order to keep them from disturbing the researchers working with them.
“They basically go in and cut their barker out,” he said. “It’s really saddening because that’s kind of the signature for a beagle. So, they kind of strip them of their identity in that way.”
The reason beagles are specifically used in these labs, Thies said, is because of their personality.
“They are docile and they are goof with people, basically they take advantage of their well-nature to humans,” he said.
Thies said no one is exactly sure how long the average beagle is kept at facilities like this; he said he knew of one that was nearly 10 years old when it was released, but for the entirety of their lives until they are released all they know is the inside of a cage, which is something foster families take into consideration.
“We don’t crate him because we feel like he’s been crated enough. I think by law, or at least in some states, they’re (the labs) supposed to allow them an hour of playtime every day, but still, 23 hours in a cage is terrible,” he said.
Thies said anyone looking into becoming a foster to a rescued dog or trying to help stop animal cruelty in general needs to do their research before jumping into anything.
“I recommend starting to look into things on Beagle Freedom’s Web page and look into their Facebook page just to try to get a feel for what is being done,” he said.
He added that numerous websites offer lists of cruelty-free products and companies to buy from if someone is interested in trying to help animals but does not necessarily have the means to take in a rescue animal.
“People need to be informed of what they’re doing when they purchase products and just be aware of the situation,” Thies said. “Put your money where your mouth is; buy products that have not been, that do not use animal testing.”