As of today, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will no longer fund research on dogs procured from pounds, breeders, and other so-called random sources. The move is in response to a 2009 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, which concluded that cats and dogs acquired from such places were not critical for biomedical research, and that using them could damage the reputation of the research enterprise with the public. NIH ended funding for random source cats in 2012.
Dogs and cats enter U.S. research laboratories via two main sources: Class A and Class B dealers. Class A dealers—typically large, corporate entities—only sell animals they raise themselves, while Class B dealers—typically smaller, “mom-and-pop” operations—sell animals that they obtain from other sources, such as pounds and breeders. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has policed both types of dealers since the 1960s, but the Class B system has long been plagued with charges that some of its dealers sell stolen and abused pets. Tougher regulations have shrunk the number of Class B dealers from about 200 in the 1970s to just a handful today.
NIH’s new policy may reduce that number to zero. Responding to the NAS report, the agency launched a pilot program to see if Class A dealers could provide the same types of dogs that Class B dealers usually provide—that is, mature, large, and well-socialized animals. NIH found that Class A dealers could indeed provide these animals. As a result, the agency announced late last year that, as of 1 October, 2014, it would not fund the procurement of dogs from Class B dealers. (All such projects funded before this date may continue.)
“We’re very pleased that NIH has taken this action. It’s long overdue,” says Cathy Liss, president of the Washington, D.C.–based Animal Welfare Institute, which has pushed for the more humane treatment of laboratory animals. But she notes that random source cats and dogs can still be used by researchers and educators who don’t rely on government money. Since 1996, her organization has been pushing Congress to pass the Pet Safety and Protection Act, which would effectively outlaw the use of all random source dogs and cats in the United States. “Only then,” she says, “we will eliminate this blight on research.”