NIH Ends the Use of Dogs from Class B Dealers
Research on dogs now obtained solely from Class A dealers
UPDATE: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has ended the use of random source (Class B) dogs for research. According to the NIH, as of October 1, 2014, researchers are prohibited from using NIH funds to procure or support the use of dogs from Class B dealers. Dogs used in NIH-supported research may only be from USDA Class A dealers or other approved legal sources. This means that while random source dogs will no longer be used for NIH-supported research, the use of dogs will continue unabated, whether or not they are an effective model for human disease. And of course this decision does not affect the use of random source dogs by researchers who are not receiving NIH funding.
The Animal Welfare Act was enacted in part in response to reports of stolen companion animals being sold for use in research. Class B dealers, licensed under the Act, continued to be a problem as reports of stolen companion animals have continued through the years. While the NIH’s rejection of the use of random source animals addresses this particular criticism of using Class B animals, it may ultimately have little impact on the number and type of dogs used in federally-funded research. The agency has been aggressively building an alternative pipeline for Class A dogs which replicate the characteristics of the Class B dogs.
Rather than simply replace one source of animals with another, we urge the NIH to look at whether its use of all dogs and cats is warranted in light of non-animal developments in research.
Class B Dealers
Who are they and why should they be eliminated?
Dogs and cats used in research are obtained from two sources, Class A and Class B animal dealers. Class A animal dealers, general large breeding facilities, only sell animals that they raise themselves. Class B dealers, also called random source dealers, can sell animals that they obtain from other sources, including, shelters, pounds, and small breeders. The U.S. Department of Agriculture licenses both types of dealers but Class B dealers have been charged with selling stolen or fraudulently obtained dogs and cats.
Random source dealers sometimes sell animals that are obtained from owners who no longer want them, but these owners are often misled that the animals are going to a “good home,” not to be sold into research. Ads in newspapers that read “free to a good home,” may attract the agent of such a dealer, who represents that they are taking the puppies or kittens for their family pets. Unprotected animals left out in an easily accessible yard may also be targets for theft, with the animals being turned over to the Class B dealer for resale.
A recurring problem with Class B dealers is that record keeping for each animal sold by these dealers has never been adequately addressed. Under federal law, the source of all animals must be accounted for at the time of sale. However, records are frequently missing, or cannot be substantiated when inspected. At the same time, there are enough verified reports of stolen animals turning up in research facilities that were traced back to such dealers. In a 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office, the problem of enforcement was again raised, especially with a large number of investigations that remained open because inspectors were unable to trace back all animals to the source provided.
One positive development since the Animal Welfare Act started licensing animal dealers is that the number of Class B dealers has declined from about 200 in the 1970s to only four or five licensees in 2014. This is in part because researchers often prefer to use dogs and cats with a known history and with uniform traits, such as those obtained from Class A dealers.
On October 1, 2012, the National Institutes of Health implemented a plan to limit funding to researchers for the use of cats from Class B (random source) animal dealers, as recommended in a 2009 report issued by the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random-Source Dogs and Cats in Research. That report found that random source dogs and cats are not necessary for use in biomedical research as there are adequate numbers of animals available from other sources. In 2011, the NIH implemented a 48-month pilot project to reduce the number of dogs obtained from Class B dealers and to give researchers time to find alternative sources for their dogs.
In 2013, the NIH announced that it is fully implementing a plan to prohibit the expenditure of funds for the acquisition of dogs for NIH-supported research from USDA Class B vendors, effective October 1, 2014.
While the NIH decision may help to eliminate the use of animals from Class B animal dealers, it is not likely to have an effect on animals taken directly from shelters or the use of euthanized shelter animals for dissection. It also only impacts federal facilities and federal funding, not state or privately-owed entities. The decision would also not accomplish what federal legislation would do, which is to eliminate random source dealers altogether.
Even more disappointing is that the NIH has not committed in any way to reduce the number of dogs used in research. Instead, its long-term plan is to ensure that adequate dogs of suitable size and temperament could be obtained from Class A animal dealers. Class A animal dealers breed their own animals. This strategy eliminates the uncertainty of where the dogs are coming from and the need to traceback the source of the dog to ensure that it is not lost or stolen, but it does not in any way reduce the number of animals being used for NIH-funded researcher.
A series of federal bills have been introduced over the past decade to prohibit research facilities from using animals obtained from random source, or “Class B” animal dealers. These bills would eliminate animal dealers that obtain their animals from “random sources,” including through small breeders, owner sales, and other sources. The Pet Safety and Protection Act, as these bills have been called, would amend the Animal Welfare Act to ensure that all dogs and cats used by research facilities are obtained legally.
Under this bill, research facilities would be required to get their animals from only specified sources:
- A licensed dealer who has bred and raised the dog or cat;
- A publicly owned and operated pound or shelter that obtained the dog or cat from its legal owner, other than another pound or shelter;
- is registered with the Secretary and is in compliance with applicable regulations for dealer;
- A person that is donating the dog or cat who bred and raised the dog or cat, or owned the dog or cat for not less than 1 year before making the donation;
- A research facility licensed by the Secretary;
- and A Federal research facility licensed by the Secretary These bills specifically state that no animal shelter or pound would be required to provide animals to a research facility upon demand (pound seizure).
The Pet Safety and Protection Act is a measure that has been introduced in three successive sessions of Congress, yet has failed to pass each year. Send a letter to your Congressman through the NAVS Take Action page on the current bill under consideration.