Roughly 4% of the dogs and 1% of the cats used in biomedical research in the United States come from ‘Class-B’ dealers — enterprises that buy and acquire animals — for instance, strays — instead of breeding them.
In 2009, after the US Congress requested it, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report that said it was “not necessary” for grantees of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to obtain dogs and cats from such dealers — as long as sources like animal shelters and pounds, as well as Class-A dealers, who breed the animals specifically for research, remain available.
Nearly three years on, the NIH last week announced that, beginning in October, its grantees will no longer be able to acquire cats from Class-B dealers.
The agency announced a similar policy on dogs in March 2011, but said then that, to ease the transition for its grantees, the new rules for dogs would not be implemented until 2015. In the meantime, the NIH has launched a pilot breeding project to ensure an adequate supply for researchers.
Animal-welfare activists have long complained about abuses at the hands of the less scrupulous of Class-B dealers, and indeed, the US Government Accountability Office has documented sub-par government oversight and repeated dealer violations involving, for example, inadequate housing and veterinary care.
But the ‘random-source’ animals available from Class-B dealers have different characteristics than animals bred for research, and the NIH wants to make sure that animals with these characteristics — in particular, older, larger, socialized animals – continue to be available to its grantees.
Frankie Trull, the president of the Washington DC-based Foundation for Biomedical Research, which supports the research use of animals, said that the new policy is largely cementing practices that are already in place, because the number of Class-B dealers in the US has declined from more than 100 in the early 1990s to a handful today. Still, she says, the decision is good “if this reinforces public confidence in research.”
Kathleen Conlee, the senior director for animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States, cheered the new policy. “We were particularly delighted to see that the prohibition on cats will begin this year.” She urged the agency to implement the dog prohibition sooner than 2015.
For a more detailed, and pro-research take, on the issues involved, see this post at the blog Speaking of Research by Bill Yates and Alice Ra’anan of the American Physiological Society.
Image credit: Liz Highleyman