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Unintended consequences for Md. research animals

As the loving owner of a wonderful former shelter dog and as a veterinarian, I must stand in opposition to legislation that is now working its way through the Maryland General Assembly. House Bill 594 — Humane Adoption of Companion Animals Used in Research Act of 2016 — would impose on Maryland's research and teaching institutions onerous mandates that would do little to support animals and could have an unintended consequence: Increasing number of animals in Maryland's shelters that might be euthanized rather than adopted.

The proposed bill would have the state regulate the way in which institutions handle the adoption of dogs and cats following completion of the research studies in which they are needed, and imposes state reporting requirements that are duplicative of information already reported under the U.S. Animal Welfare Act.

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The adoption of post-study animals is already widely embraced by the research community. A large number of institutions already have customized, responsible and detailed adoption policies managed by veterinary specialists familiar with the special considerations and needs of retired research animals.

Having worked as a veterinarian in several research institutions in Maryland, I know first-hand of the loving attention that each animal gets by animal care technicians and veterinary teams. Wherever possible upon completion of a study, dedicated staff who have given the best of care to these animals also work hard to find them great homes, often networking with potential families and adoption groups. I personally have placed mice, rats, ferrets, a pig and two goats, and I am currently working with a research institution to develop a policy so that it might arrange for the post-study adoption of fish.

The bill now under consideration in Maryland is simply "feel good" legislation proposed by animal rights activists who seek the immediate end of all animal-based research.

Similar legislation has been introduced in other states by the animal rights group Beagle Freedom Project, which targets research institutions to further its own agenda of ending all animal-based research. The dogs and cats obtained by Beagle Freedom Project have been used as props in inflammatory ads, videos and social media posts to falsely accuse scientists and to vilify biomedical research. One of the leaders of the group is a convicted felon, having served several years in a federal prison for his role in a campaign of harassment and threats against scientists, research staff and their families, as well as those who have business relationships with research institutions.

Therefore, several research institutions, concerned by the negative impact of the activists' emotive campaign and for the safety of their staff, actually have been forced to shut down their own adoption programs, and thus animals that could otherwise have found homes have been euthanized.

Research dogs, depending on their age, can be more challenging to crate train and housebreak than other dogs. Extreme patience and consistency are required to ensure that these dogs, after their placement in private homes, do not later end up abandoned or in shelters.

Animal shelters are already overburdened. Animal adoption organizations in Maryland and throughout America struggle to find homes for the dogs and cats in their care. According to Save Maryland Pets, a coalition that includes the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), 45,000 cats and dogs die in Maryland shelters every year at a taxpayer cost of $8 million to $9 million, and the "96,000 pets entering Maryland animal shelters annually stand barely a 50 percent chance of survival." Adding research animals to this population would surely increase the number of shelter animals that must be euthanized.

Dogs and cats together make up less than 0.6 percent of the animals needed for research in the United States. Without these animals, life-saving cures and treatments for our loved ones, both human and animal, would not be available today or in the future. We owe these cats and dogs the best of care during and after their research studies.

For the sake of the animals, I urge Maryland's legislators to reject this unnecessary legislation.

Dr. Shannon Stutler, a veterinarian, is a diplomate of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine and of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine. She is also a Certified Professional IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) administrator. Having served as a veterinarian in the U.S. Army, she is now an independent veterinary consultant. Her email is stutlersa@peoplepc.com.

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