It's a nice summer day and your dogs are playing out in the yard as they often do. You keep them fenced in so that they don't escape and wreak havoc on the neighbor's flower beds, but trust that they'll behave while you make a quick trip to the store to pick up something for dinner. When you come back fifteen minutes later, the dogs are gone and no one has seen them not even the neighbors.
Meanwhile, across the street, another member of your community has just let their cat outside to patrol its turf. It's a fat, amiable cat, who never spends any more than a few hours outdoors if he can help it. But as it grows dark, the familiar meows of "Let me in!" never come, and days pass without a sign of the fat, amiable cat.
It's a story which has haunted American pet-owners for years: Their animals disappear without a trace. Even with microchip technology, the frantic posting of "Lost pet" posters, and repeated Craigslist ads, they are never heard from again. It's as if they've been abducted. And in fact, this might well be the case
You see, in the United States, there is a high demand for domestic animals for use in laboratory and medical science testing. Universities, chemical companies, and veterinary hospitals often perform studies on domestic cats and dogs on account of their trusting nature, which makes them easier to handle in a lab environment. They are also chosen because they are easier and less expensive to take care of than non-human primates, and live longer than lab rats.
But where do these domestic animals come from?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, it is legal for licensed dealers to obtain domestic animals for study from shelters, breeders, and private owners. Many of these licensed dealers are also allowed to breed their own stock. But obtaining enough animals for large-scale testing institutes is often very difficult. As a result, some dealers have resorted to stealing domestic animals from various neighborhoods to feed the demand for a steady supply of test subjects.
In response to this, the United States Department of Agriculture passed the Animal Welfare Act, which states that licensed dealers must allow for a ten-day grace period when adopting from shelters so that decent pet owners have ample time to either adopt or re-claim a lost pet before it is taken to a laboratory. They are also not allowed to obtain pets from private homes unless an owner willingly hands the animal over, and must follow strict regulations when it comes to proper transport and confinement of captive pets.
Despite this, there are still numerous reports of licensed and non-licensed dealers stealing animals from homes and yards across the United States. They'll also 'adopt' pets from "Free to good home ads" on Craigslist and local newspapers. Many will also visit shelters or breeders and purchase unwanted animals by the kennel-load, then sell them to ether licensed dealers, or directly to the laboratories that want them.
These pets are often carted away in trucks or vans without food or water for the duration of the trip. When they arrive at the laboratories, they are kept in a kennel for days or weeks with little to no socialization until they are needed for testing, experimentation, or dissection. Ultimately, they are killed, either by the resting itself or via euthanization once their purpose has been served.
Medical universities claim that they use dogs and cats to train students without having to use a human subject, yet other alternatives exist, including computer simulation programs which are often less expensive and more in-depth than an actual dissection or medical testing procedure. Likewise, cats and dogs make poor analogues to a human subject on account of the biological differences between our organs and theirs.
Even so, higher learning establishments including the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Florida continue to purchase live and frozen domestic pet specimens for 'educational' use from licensed dealers. From 2005 to 2007, Purdue University even purchased 335 dogs for testing from a source which was known for multiple and repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
Nevertheless, there seems to be no end in sight to the horrific act of domestic animal trafficking. A shelter will sell a cadaver for as little as $2.00 or $3.00 to a dealer, who will then sell it to a university or lab for as much as $95.00. One dealer in Illinois sold an estimated 600 animals, resulting in $210,148 in gross sales. Obviously, there is much money to be made in the sale of companion animals as test subjects, and, as a result, an entire illegal underground trade has formed.
The best thing you can do to help is simply spread the word about domestic pet trafficking. Copy and paste this text, share it with friends and family, and let the world know that you're educated about where domestic animal test subjects really come from.
Also, if you're planning to offer your companion animal up for adoption, get to know the person adopting it. Make sure they are legitimately interested in the welfare of your pet, and are not just another non-licensed dealer trying to score a few extra bucks. It's also a good idea to consider putting up an adoption fee, which deters dealers from contacting you when they could find another, less-educated source to steal their animals from free of charge.
If you're considering adopting a pet, visit shelters instead of breeders, and rescue a cat or dog which would otherwise live a life of torment in a laboratory. There are enough homeless animals in the world as it is - why buy from a breeder when you could save a life instead?
For more information regarding the domestic pet trade and for sources used for this article, visit the following websites: [link]
(Includes a list of licensed dealers and the various establishments which buy from them).[link]
(General information on random-source dealers and pounds which supply animals for testing).[link]
(Further information on why domestic animals make poor test subjects).[link]
(PDF file from the USDA, illustrating the Animal Welfare Act in its entirety). [link]
(Humane society's informative article on the issue of domestic animal dealers).