August 5, 2015

Searching for DKZ3: My Laboratory Research Dog.

gmeger at Flickr

This past spring I went searching for a dog—one particular dog.

I didn’t know what breed he was, what he looked like, if liked belly rubs or chasing tennis balls, or if he might be afraid of thunder. I knew only that he was a “he,” that he was very young and that he resided in a laboratory at Colorado State University.

He was called DKZ3, according to the tattoo inside his ear.

As an animal advocate, I had been following a group called Beagle Freedom Project (BFP), whose mission is to rescue and find homes for beagles and other animals used in laboratory research. They initiated a campaign to help followers like me to “adopt” a laboratory dog or cat and become his or her advocate.

The adoption was only a virtual one, but I jumped at the chance.

From the hundreds of listings, I randomly picked the dog DKZ3, and was surprised to feel an almost instant connection with him. I was his advocate; DKZ3 was now “my dog.” I would find out as much as I could about him.

Colorado State University is a public institution, and as such, most research documents are subject to the state’s Open Records Act. Armed with instructions from BFP, I sent in my request for all records, including health records, daily care logs and protocols (what the researchers were testing for) pertaining to DKZ3. While I waited for a response, I began to educate myself about the use of dogs in laboratory experiments.

Approximately 70,000 dogs are used in laboratory research each year. Although the majority of research animals—estimated to be in the tens of millions—are mice, rats, birds and rabbits, of the large mammals dogs are the favored species for testing the toxicity of drugs, household chemicals and pesticides.

Most of the dogs used are beagles; their trusting, docile personalities make them easy to handle. To make them even more convenient research subjects, some commercial breeders will surgically remove the dogs’ vocal chords so their barking doesn’t bother the researchers.

While I waited for the records, I thought often about DKZ3. Where did he come from? How was he surviving in a laboratory? What tests were they performing on him? Knowing that the majority of dogs used in research are euthanized when the experiments are done, I had to wonder if my dog was still alive.

In July, I received the documents. There were four scanned records with thick, black lines slashed through many of the entries, presumably to protect the identity of the technicians and researchers. Despite the redactions, with a little investigative work, I was able to piece together a portrait of DKZ3.

Sure enough, he is a beagle. He was just a year old when he was sold to the lab at Colorado State University along with 23 other beagles, all between the ages of 10 months and two years. They were sold by a company called Red Beast Enterprises, which is not a commercial breeder, but rather another research facility.

Had KDZ3 been subjected to prior tests and survived?

One of the documents was a daily log regarding DKZ3’s housing, described as an elevated  “run.” Sounds like a place where he could gallop about. But in fact, federal regulations require only that the “run” be six inches longer than the dog and wide enough to allow him to comfortably turn around.

The log showed that each day his cage was cleaned and the floor and troughs underneath flushed of waste. The temperature and humidity were kept at constant levels day in and day out. Periodically, the room was power washed, disinfected and sanitized. For an animal whose sense of smell is upward of 1,000 times more acute than our own, the olfactory chemical overload must have been excruciating.

Despite regulations that require the opportunity for exercise, sadly housing a dog in an enclosure merely twice the required floor space of his “run” can satisfy that requirement. Indeed, missing from the detailed “animal husbandry” logs was any entry for exercise. No entry for play time. No entry for walks. It looks like six months of DKZ3’s  life were spent in his cage—except for the days he was brought into the laboratory itself.

In the end, however, DKZ3 may have been one of the lucky dogs. He was not there to inhale pesticides or to see how long he could run on a treadmill without going into cardiac arrest. He was to be infected with Erlichiosis, a tick borne disease, then later treated with antibiotics and possibly adopted out.

My paper trail ended as of May 31, 2015, without saying any more about DKZ3. I plan to follow up and request further records to find out if he will, in fact, be adopted.

As I write this, my dog would now be 18 months old—just at the end of his puppyhood. Often when I look at our own rescued pup, so deeply loved in our family, I think of DKZ3. I hope he has been adopted by a family that will help him forget what he has been through. I hope he is getting belly rubs and learning to chase tennis balls. I hope that if he’s afraid of thunder, someone comforts him until the storm subsides.

I hope he has a name.


Author: Robin Lamont

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: gmeger/Flickr

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