Animal Welfare: Unscrupulous dealers usher ‘random-source’ dogs and cats into labs

 Every year, thousands of cats and dogs are purchased by unscrupulous animal dealers — many acquired illegally, brutally treated, and eventually sold to laboratories for research experiments. The 2006 HBO documentary “Dealing Dogs” illuminated this shadowy market in illegally acquired animals, along with the neglect and outright cruelty with which Class B dealers treat the dogs and cats they collect. This film contains disturbing video footage obtained by an undercover investigator who worked in a Class B dealer’s facilities. Among the abuses documented in this film are overcrowded cages, rotten food, food contaminated with feces, frozen drinking water, dogs with serious untreated injuries and diseases, and live dogs caged with the carcasses of dead dogs. This investigation also documented the beating, strangulation, and shooting of dogs by a Class B dealer.

The irony is that most scientists now agree that dogs and cats acquired from random sources are not needed for research. Consequently, I feel strongly that it’s time to put an end to this outdated, unnecessary, and inhumane trade.

Currently, there are two types of animal dealers licensed by the USDA — Class A (known as “purpose-bred” dealers), and Class B (known as “random-source” dealers). Most of these dealers supply animals for the pet trade, but my focus has been on those dealers who are supplying dogs and cats for research purposes.

Class A dealers breed and raise their own animals. Typically, they supply robust animals whose health histories and genetic status are known. Class A dealers are regulated by the USDA, but they generally do a good job and do not require the same intense scrutiny by USDA that Class B dealers do. It should be understood that I in no way want to impugn their reputation or change the way these dealers do business.

Class B dealers, in contrast, routinely buy dogs and cats from a vast network of suppliers with murky backgrounds. These suppliers have been known to obtain dogs and cats they sell to Class B dealers by stealing them — or by responding to “free to good home” advertisements and posing as concerned pet owners willing to provide a good home to a family pet. Hounds, retrievers and beagles are acquired at trade days and gun shows after they failed to serve as good hunting dogs. Class B dealers pay suppliers for each animal, creating enough of a financial incentive for individuals to illegally acquire animals, and then falsify records to keep their true origins unknown.

Seven of the 10 licensed Class B dealers currently supplying dogs and cats to laboratories for experimentation are being investigated for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act. An additional dealer has had his license suspended for five years. Further, there are at least 20 separate investigations related to the illegal supply of animals.

Class B dealers across this country routinely flout the Animal Welfare Act and cause needless suffering for thousands of dogs and cats — a number of whom were once beloved family pets. This distressing trade should be shut down. That’s why a number of years ago, I introduced the Pet Safety and Protection Act.

The Pet Safety and Protection Act would prohibit the sale of dogs and cats by Class B dealers for experimentation. Its goal is to stop the illegal supply of dogs and cats to laboratories — as was intended when the Animal Welfare Act was first adopted by Congress in 1966. Class A dealers have nothing to worry about in this bill. The legislation would make no changes in the laws and regulations governing Class A dealers, nor does it in any way seek to target Class A dealers.

A few of our nation’s researchers opposed this legislation, arguing that some research requires the use of dogs and cats obtained from these dealers. Consequently, Senate Labor HHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) included language in the FY08 Senate Labor HHS Appropriations bill asking NIH to fund an in-depth study of this issue. Soon thereafter, both the House and Senate approved bans on Class B dealers in their respective versions of the 2007 Farm Bill, but the language was dropped in conference and replaced with language reiterating the need for such a study. NIH charged the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) with this task, and the results of that study were released in May ( The National Academy of Sciences concluded that there is “no scientific need for Class B dealers to supply dogs and cats for NIH funded research.” I hope that this report will finally clear the way for an end to these disreputable dealers.

Congress is contemplating addressing this issue within the Labor HHS Appropriations bill. It is my sincere hope that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both bodies of Congress will take this opportunity to ensure that NIH research is no longer conducted on dogs and cats obtained from Class B dealers. NIH is already halfway there, as it’s been decades since they’ve used random-source dogs and cats from Class B dealers in their own, intramural research.

I am deeply committed to ending the use of this illicit trade to support NIH-funded research as well as research, testing, and teaching conducted outside of NIH’s jurisdiction. So are many, many scientists across the country. I’m confident that every American pet owner who finds out about this disturbing situation will support this goal as well, and I urge my colleagues to anticipate their constituents’ desires and stop the sale of dogs and cats for research by random-source dealers.

Doyle is a member of the HouseEnergy and Commerce Committee.