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Tag: medical

Calling all “Freegles”: Beagles rescued from N.J. lab will celebrate one year free

It’s the one-year anniversary for 120 beagles who, around this time last year, learned the true meaning of independence.

Up until then, even here in the land of the free, they weren’t.

Instead, like thousands of other beagles bred and born for the sole purpose of laboratory use, they’d never experienced what most dogs take for granted — things like grass and dirt and running — and were destined, once their use in testing was complete, for something quite contrary to a loving home.

The beagles had been left locked in a research facility operated by Aniclin Preclinical Services in Warren County, N.J. after its parent pharmaceutical company went bankrupt. When their situation came to light, a judge order the dogs turned over to rescue groups.

One year ago, a group of them were welcomed to Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary in New York, where work began on socializing them so they could be adopted out as family pets.

This coming Sunday, some of them will gather for a reunion.

About 35 of the adopters stay in touch on Facebook, offering support and following each others progress through photos and stories.

They — and any of the others who adopted a “freegle,” as they are prone to calling the dogs rescued from the laboratory — are gathering July 10, from 12:30 to 4 p.m., at Kennedy Dells Park, 355 North Main Street in New City, New York.

Among those attending will be a beagle named Grace, who has her own Facebook page, called Saving Grace. Grace’s owner said that while word of the reunion has gotten out among those who stay in touch, other beagles adopted from the group are also invited, as well as everyone else who participated in rescuing them.

Shelters, sanctuaries, volunteers and staff are “most welcome to attend and meet the families and hear the stories of how the Freegles have been adjusting to the good life.”

(For questions or to RSVP, send an email to labfreegles@yahoo.com.)

Unlike some boisterous beagles you may know from the dog park, laboratory beagles are generally calm and passive, having never tasted of freedom.

I met several lab beagles while researching my book — including some flourescent beagle clones in South Korea. In Texas, I interviewed the woman who cared for the beagles used in attempting to clone a dog at Texas A&M University.

Jessica Harrison, a graduate student at the time, was in charge of socializing the beagles and finding adoptive homes for them — not usually the case or fate of laboratory beagles — after their services in the lab were no longer required.

“What they teach them is to be still,” she told me. “As puppies, they teach them to just freeze when a person messes with them. We had to kindo of undo that and say, ‘No,we want you to move around and be excited.’

“We slowly exposed them to all the things they’d be exposed to in a family home — like TVs, mirrors, grass, trees, flowers, birds and bees. These dogs had never seen any of that. You put them down on the grass, and they’re like, ‘What’s this?’ It was kind of overwheliming. You get used to it, but at first it’s like, these are dogs, how can they not know these things?”

The use of dogs in laboratory research was declining, but it has jumped up in recent years, with much of the increase due to advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.

(Photos: Top photo from the Facebook page of Freegles Justice and Skipper; bottom photo by John Woestendiek)

Utah labs cease use of shelter animals

The University of Utah has announced that it will no longer purchase dogs and cats from North Utah Valley Animal Shelter (NUVAS) — or any other animal shelter — for use in medical experiments.

The decision was praised by PETA, which has waged a lengthy campaign against the practice.

“PETA is thrilled for the dogs, cats and people of Utah now that the University of Utah has stopped using animal shelters as dirt-cheap sources of living lab equipment, marking the complete end of pound seizure in the state,’’ said Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s vice president for laboratory investigations.

Until last year, animal shelters in Utah were required to sell cats and dogs in their custody to the university under a practice known as pound seizure. A change in state law made it voluntary for shelters to participate. The North Utah Valley Animal Shelter, however, continued to supply animals for research in the belief that it was helping to ease human suffering and advance medical knowledge.

NUVAS sold the university about 100 dogs and cats a year, Director Tug Gettling told the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The practice, over the years, saw hundreds of former pets and strays sacrificed for purposes of medical experimentation — though not all that were used in experiments were killed.  Last year, a pet owner who turned her dog, Sheena (above) over to the shelter was shocked to learn — when she called to see if she had been adopted — that the dog had been sold to the university for experimentation. Later, with help from PETA, she launched a successful campaign to get the dog back from the university and into an adoptive home.

According to the Tribune, the decades-old practice of buying animals from shelters was halted by the university in mid-January.

Thomas Parks, the university’s vice president for research, said the decision was aimed at bringing an end to the campaign against the shelter by animal welfare advocates. Parks said the university will instead obtain dogs bred for laboratory use by certified breeders — a costlier but less controversial method.

PETA’s Guillermo said she hoped the added cost of specially bred animals would lead the university to seek alternatives to using live animals in its experiments.

Parks said employees at the non-profit municipal shelter “have been suffering a lot of harassment” and that the shelter has received thousands of hostile emails and phone calls, several bomb threats and at least three public protests.

A Salt Lake Tribune investigation a year ago found that about 60 percent of all shelter animals the shelter provided to the university between 2007 and 2009 were killed after being experimented on, while the rest entered an adoption program.

Hachiko had cancer, Japanese scientists find

Seventy-five years after his death, scientists say they have determined what killed Hachiko, the legendary Akita whose story has been immortalized in his native Japan and the rest of the world.

Japan’s most famous dog — though rumors have persisted for decades that worms did him in, or that he swallowed a chicken skewer that ruptured his stomach — had heart and lung cancer, scientists now say.

Hachiko became legendary for the loyalty he showed by waiting for his owner every day at a train station — for 10 years after his master died.

Hachiko died in 1935 at the age of 13. After his death, researchers at what is now the University of Tokyo performed an autopsy on Hachiko’s body and discovered roundworms in his heart and liquid collected in his abdomen.

Using more sophisticated tests like MRI’s,  the Mainichi Daily News reports, a team of scientists at the University of Tokyo team analyzed Hachiko’s preserved organs and discovered large cancers in the heart and lungs. They speculated that the cancer may have spread from the lungs to the heart. Hachiko also had filariasis (a worm-caused diseased), and it’s possible that could have caused his death as well, said professor Hiroyuki Nakayama, part of the research team.

Hachiko’s preserved organs are displayed at a University of Tokyo resource center in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, along with a bust of his owner. A “stuffed” Hachiko is also on display at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. A statue of Hachiko was erected in his honor at Shibuya Station.

Hachiko accompanied his owner, a university professor named Eisaburo Uyeno, to the train station every day and watched him leave for work. Every evening the dog would be waiting for him when he returned. When Uyeno died, Hachiko continued going to the train station every day to wait for his master for about ten years.

The legend has been told in numerous forms in the 75 years since, most recently as a childrens’ book and a 2009 movie remake, re-set in Rhode Island, starring Richard Gere.

Beaten cat recovering at BARCS

Two boys beating a cat with a stick in Fell’s Point were interrupted and chased Friday by a concerned citizen, who later brought the cat to Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS).

BARCS said the cat, who they’ve named Marilyn, has a broken back leg and is still being evaluated.

BARCS officials say they have filed a police report about the incident.

The witness to the abuse chased the two boys. Unable to catch them, he returned to the cat and transported her to the shelter, according to a BARCS press release.

“The cat’s leg was very limp, completely broken,” Darlene Harris of BARCS told WBAL-TV.

BARCS said the beating of Marilyn is the second animal abuse case to come to their attention so far this year.

In January, Mittens, who had recently given birth to a litter of kittens, was reportedly doused with lighter fluid while trapped in a milk crate and set on fire by teenagers. Both Mittens and her kittens were taken to BARCS, and the two juveniles were charged with animal cruelty.

Marilyn’s medical bills, like those of Mittens, are being paid for through BARCS’ Franky Fund, a fund that relies on donations from the public to pay the veterinary bills of injured animals that come to the shelter for care. 

Donations to the Franky Fund are accepted through the BARCS website at, or in person at the shelter, located at 301 Stockholm Street in South Baltimore (near M&T Bank Stadium).

Don’t tell me not to sleep with my dog

A researcher who I’m guessing doesn’t have a dog says pets don’t belong in the bed, and that allowing them to sleep with us can lead to infections, parasites and diseases.

He further advises that anyone who is licked by a dog wash the area immediately.

To me, a guy who has spent the last eight months with my dog nearly constantly at my side during our travels across America — including in whatever bed we happen to be sleeping in at night — that seems a massive over-reaction.

Bruno Chomel, a professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, says that, while such cases aren’t common, people have contracted infections from sleeping with, kissing and being licked by their pets. Chomel and fellow researcher Ben Sun, of the California Department of Public Health, express their views in the latest issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

I don’t subscribe to that publication, because my theory is the surest way to get a disease is not from sleeping with your dog, but from reading about that disease.

Though I sleep with my dog nightly, I’m not so much concerned about Zoonoses, or diseases transmitted to humans by animals, as I am about Merckitis, a chronic case of which I’ve suffered from since childhood.

It stemmed from a big blue book called The Merck Manual, on my mother’s bookshelf, which allowed you to, based on your symptoms, diagnose your medical issue, read about the treatment and determine, in my case, if I was going to live to see 13.

I must have diagnosed myself with a dozen different diseases, many of them fatal, in the course of matching up my symptoms — usually those of a common cold — with the worst  possible maladies.

I remember one night that — congested, unable to breathe through my nose and worried that my throat breathing pipe (non-medical term) might close up – I gathered the necessary supplies to perform an emergency tracheotomy (bic pen, with the ink part removed, pocket knife, duck tape) and kept them under my bed, alongside the book.

The Internet has made it much easier to wrongly self diagnose — just a few clicks and you can jump to the conclusion that you have the most dreaded disease imaginable. The key word there being imaginable. In a way, those medical self-help websites, rather than lessen the need for doctors, only create more of one as we, fueled by our fears, rush to confirm our faulty self diagnoses.

Pulled muscle? I was sure it was a heart attack.

Of course, such concerns are not always entirely baseless, and many of them should be checked out by professionals. But often, they’re only in our heads — having been placed there by WebMD, yourdiagnosis.com, familydoctor.org and the like. Often they are really far-fetched, instilling a fear out of all proportion with reality, which is the case with Chomel’s study, or at least his remarks:

“I think pets can be very nice in the home environment, but certainly, they don’t belong on the bed,” Chomel told LiveScience.

Chomel says humans can contract bubonic plague from flea-infested pets, bacterial infections resistant to multiple strains of antibiotics, and various parasitic worms.

Since 1974, Chomel says, multiple cases of plague have been associated with people in the southwestern U.S. who allowed flea-infested cats to sleep with them. And in a  2008 outbreak, a study found that people infected with bubonic plague were “more likely to have shared a bed with a dog than uninfected counterparts.” (Despite that, I still don’t recommend sharing a bed with uninfected counterparts.)

The authors cite surveys conducted in the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands that show up to 45 percent of dogs sleep in their owners’ bed.

Several reports of bacterial infections have been attributed to sharing a bed with pets, and in “multiple” cases, they report, patients acquired various infections after allowing their dogs or cats to lick wounds or damaged skin.

That’s the total opposite of my philosophy. Whenever I get a boo-boo, the first thing I do is let Ace lick it. Then it feels better. If thousands of microscopic parasites enter my bloodstream by doing so, so be it … join the party, fellas.

Don’t tell me not to sleep with my dog, especially when it’s this cold. That’s like saying, because there may be some impurities in the air, I should stop breathing. I’m going to continue to engage in both risky behaviors.

And if worse comes to worst I can always, after consulting my Merck Manual, perform an emergency tracheotomy.

OUR FAVORITE READER COMMENT: “Pity poor Chomel. He has obviously not enjoyed the delight of a canine companion…I’ve spent the past 50 years sleeping with dogs – most of the canine persuasion – and if anything it must have strengthened my immune system … The plague? Only a plague of comfort and love. Poor Chomel.”

(For all the comments on this post, click the comment button below, and scroll to the bottom to leave one of your own.)

PETA seeks probe of Texas researchers

PETA has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture calling for an immediate investigation of how the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston is treating the dogs, monkeys, sheep, goats, ferrets and mice being used in experiments.

PETA says a whistleblower has informed them that the animals are being intentionally burned, mutilated, and cut open for experiments the organization describes as “cruel.” Also at issue, PETA says, are claims that the animals are receiving inadequate veterinary care, and are being neglected and handled carelessly by improperly trained staff.

The unidentified whistleblower told PETA that researcher Daniel Traber has subjected sheep, pigs, and mice to third-degree burns on up to 40 percent of their bodies and forced the animals to inhale smoke from burning cotton. UTMB experimenters also intentionally caused spinal cord and sciatic nerve injuries in sheep, PETA says.

“Our source also reports the following: UTMB faculty members cut open dogs and surgically implanted tubes into their colons for irritable bowel experiments. One dog reportedly died during surgery, and another died in pain following surgery when staff members did not provide anesthetics and were apparently unable to use the monitoring equipment correctly.”

PETA says it has has repeatedly reached out to UTMB through letters and phone calls to discuss the alleged violations, but has gotten no response. A PETA petition urges  UTMB to “immediately conduct a thorough investigation of the university’s laboratories and dismiss any employees whose incompetence, negligence, or outright cruelty are found to have contributed to increased pain and misery for animals.”

PETA highlighted Traber, of UTMB Department of Anesthesiology, two years ago in its “Vivisector of the Month” column, which reported that:

“Traber … has made a living for almost three decades by burning animals’ skin off. In a recent experiment, he either torched mice with a Bunsen burner until more than 40 percent of their bodies was charred or forced them to inhale smoke. A few select mice got the full treatment—they were both burned and forced to inhale smoke. Some died during the experiment, and survivors were subsequently killed.

“In another study, Traber heated an aluminum bar to nearly 400 degrees with a Bunsen burner and roasted the skin of live pigs on it for 30 seconds, creating a series of deep burns that covered 15 percent of their bodies. In order to repair the deliberately injured animals, Traber and colleagues then removed skin from the pigs’ legs to graft over the areas that had been burned off. After living through all this torture, the pigs were killed. Again, this is only his most recent work—Traber has been burning, mutilating, and killing sheep for years.”

Laboratory use of dogs on the upswing

Given the endlessly rising popularity of dogs, and our increasing emotional attachment to them, medical researchers who use them for experiments can expect stronger and growing opposition to the practice from the public, a leading expert in canine-human interaction told a conference at Johns Hopkins University this week.

James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, was the keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The 30-year-old, non–profit center promotes humane science by supporting the creation, development and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education. It seeks ways to replace animals with non-animal methods, reduce the numbers of animals necessary, or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animals involved

Serpell and other speakers both pointed out that after decades of declining, the use of dogs in medical research has increased in the last couple of years.

U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that the number of dogs used in medical research and testing dropped from 200,000 in 1973 to 66,000 in 2007, said Tanya Burkholder, chief of the Small Animal Section at the National Institutes of Health. Now, she said, the number has risen to about 75,000 a year.

Much of the increase is likely a result of advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.

Ivan Pavlov

Dogs have always been a valuable research model for scientists, going as far back as Aristotle’s day. Their size, physiology and cooperative behavior have made them convenient models for scientists, who, like Pavlov’s dog, grew conditioned to using them in experiments.

While public opposition to subjecting dogs to medical experiments resulted in the practice dwindling in recent decades, the use of dogs has crept up again in the last two years due to advances in molecular biology, genetics and the sequencing of the canine genome.

Because dogs get about 220 of the same inherited diseases and disorders that humans do — including Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and retinal degeneration – medical researchers are able to study the underlying genetic defects and, through dogs, seek cures.

This means dogs are being bred to be born with the diseases in colonies at U.S. universities and research institutes and, in the case of South Korea, cloned to be born with the diseases.

No one at the conference went so far as to suggest a halt to using dogs in research, but Serpell warned that the practice does come with risks, and a price.

Dogs evoke protective and nurturing instincts in people, and those have grown stronger as the dog-human relationship has evolved — to the point that dogs are viewed more as family members than family pets. Public opposition to the laboratory use of dogs has continually grown in the last few decades.

Researchers need to be cognizant not just of society’s strong feelings about dogs, but also about dog’s strong feelings for humans, Serpell said.  “Many dogs undergo severe distress when contact with a human is limited or thwarted. We don’t give that regard sufficient credence,” he said.

The stronger attachment to dogs is in part due to breeders focusing on creating animals for purposes of human companionship, unlike in the past when they were bred for the work they could do. Serpell noted that baby-like features, for one thing, appeal to humans.

Showing photos of dogs, Serpell pointed to one and said, “This animal looks like it was invented by Walt Disney.”

Our attraction to dogs stems too from the fact that they make eye contact with humans more than any other species, and studies have shown that petting, or even looking, at a dog increases our levels of oxytocin.

“These dogs are turning us on by looking at us,” he said.

Our evolving closeness to dogs has implications for the laboratory, he noted, and perhaps all of society.

Serpell pointed to commentator Tucker Carlson’s recent statement that dogs are the social equals of humans, and that therefore Micheal Vick should have been executed for killing them.

“Lots of people feel the same way,” he said.