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Class B Dealers

Dogs and cats used in research are obtained from two sources: Class A and Class B animal dealers. Class A animal dealers, generally large breeding facilities, only sell animals that they raise themselves. Class B dealers, also called random source dealers, can sell abandoned or unwanted animals that they obtain from other sources, including, shelters, pounds and small breeders. This practice is referred to as “pound seizure” when shelters and pounds are required to provide these animals to research institutions on demand. The U.S. Department of Agriculture licenses both types of animal dealers, but Class B dealers have been charged with numerous instances of selling stolen or fraudulently obtained dogs and cats.

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 have been numerous verified reports of stolen animals turning up in research facilities who were traced back to such dealers. In a 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the problem of enforcement was again raised in light of a large number of investigations that remained open because inspectors were unable to trace back all animals to the source provided.

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. The failure of Class B dealers to reliably account for the origin of each animal has been incurable under current regulatory oversight.

Not all Class B dealers sell animals for use in research. A vast majority of these dealers supply pet shops or deal in exotic or wild animals. And there are also Class C animal licensees, who are not dealers but exhibitors. For the purpose of this article, only Class B dealers that sell animals to research facilities or directly to researchers are being considered.

One positive development since the Animal Welfare Act started licensing animal dealers is that the number of Class B dealers has declined dramatically 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. Currently, Class B dealers are operating in only Michigan and Ohio.

On October 1, 2012, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) implemented a plan to limit funding to researchers for the use of dogs and 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. This 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 was 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 a positive effect on animals who would have been taken directly from shelters or the use of euthanized shelter animals for dissection. This NIH directive also only impacts federal facilities and federal funding, not state- or privately-owned entities.

But most important, the decision has not committed NIH in any way to reducing the number of dogs used in research. Instead, its long-term plan is to ensure that adequate dogs of suitable size and temperament can be obtained from Class A animal dealers who breed their own animals, often to the specifications of the researchers. This strategy eliminates the uncertainty of where the dogs are coming from and the need to trace back 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 research.

A series of federal bills have been introduced over the past few decades to prohibit research facilities from using animals obtained from random source, or Class B animal dealers, 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(s) or cat(s);
  • A publicly owned and operated pound or shelter that obtained the dog or cat from its legal owner, other than another pound or shelter;
  • A source that is registered with the Secretary and is in compliance with applicable regulations for dealer;
  • A person who 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 (a practice known as 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. You can send a letter to your Congressman through the NAVS Advocacy Center page on the current bill under consideration, asking him/her to help protect companion animals from becoming unwitting victims of vivisection.