Spanky the beagle learned to play with squeaky toys and recognize his own name a little later than most other dogs, according to his owner, Ella Warner, 9.
That’s because until Beagle Freedom Project rescued him, Spanky, now 3, spent his entire life inside a medical lab, said Ella, president and children’s ambassador of Beagle Freedom Project Kids, the children’s chapter.
BFP Kids started last April to help spread the word about lab animals. So far, about 30 children around the U.S. have signed up, said Lorna Campbell, BFP spokesperson.
Kat Mrozek, 11, learned about Beagle Freedom Project Kids when her parents said she could have a new dog for Christmas. Her mother did some research and ran across Beagle Freedom Project.
“I decided I wanted to do something to help,” Kat said. She started Kids against Lab Beagles, an online store selling her watercolors and acrylic beagle paintings. So far, she has raised more than $5,000, according to her parents, Lisa and Thom Mrozek.
The most important action children can take, Kat believes, is telling their parents and friends not to buy household products or cosmetics tested on animals.
The youngsters also like a new smart phone app, Cruelty Cutter, which scans bar codes at the supermarket and helps parents buy cruelty-free.
“Kids get it from other kids,” Ella agreed.
Ella also has testified before lawmakers in Sacramento, Calif., in support of the Beagle Freedom Bill.
According to Campbell, the bill would require labs that accept government funding to surrender animals to a rescue at the end of the experiments. So far, Minnesota is the only state that has enacted a law, but other states are considering it.
“A child can be a loud voice,” said Campbell.
The other side of the issue is exploring a similar strategy.
Kids 4 Research, funded by pharmaceutical giant Charles River and the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science Foundation, is spreading the opposite message about lab animals. That group is working with schools to tell children animal research is necessary and lab animals are well treated.
BFP Kids raise money by pouring lemonade, selling cookies and running car washes. Funds go to help move the dogs from the labs into foster homes. The kids also pass out coloring books at the circus to publicize the plight of animals and go to community events to raise awareness.
More than 150 beagles have found new homes, since BFP started in 2010, Campbell said.
“We get them legally following negotiations with lab management. We use the system that exists to try to change the law,” she said.
Meanwhile, Beagle Freedom Project is gaining followers, drawn by their videos of dogs stumbling out of their crates for a first taste of freedom.
These dogs “have never stepped on the ground, felt the rain or the sunshine or the grass beneath their paws,” Campbell said. They’re scared at first. But they spend three weeks in foster homes where the other pets show them the ropes, including the basics about eating from a bowl, sleeping in a bed and going outside to do business.
Spanky is one of those lucky survivors.
Ella’s family took him on as a foster care assignment.
The Warner family has fostered 10 lab dogs, and introducing the animals to a normal life can be challenging, Ella said.
Ella investigated and realized Spanky was scared of the bed. He’d never seen one before.
“If the other dogs started playing, he wouldn’t know what to do because they were making so much noise,” she said.
Spanky doesn’t bark because his vocal cords were cut — a routine lab procedure, performed so the technicians won’t be bothered when the dogs cry.
Eventually, he learned from the other dogs. Then the time came for Spanky to go to a permanent home.
“We always foster,” Ella said. “I always have my favorites, and it is really hard to give them up,” she said, but the families stay in touch and visit. Plus, she has the satisfaction of knowing she’s helped another dog.
This time, though, Ella’s mother could not give Spanky up. He’s the Warner’s only foster failure.
Campbell estimates between 60,000 and 70,000 beagles are in U.S. labs today, and most will be destroyed, not rescued, when their experiments are finished.
How to Help
Margo Ann Sullivan is a pet columnist who has written for ZooToo, and numerous publications in New York and in New England. She’s had pets all her life, starting with a rescue collie named Lollypop. The Gabby Dog column chases the news that helps pets and people. It also chronicles the adventures of Gabby, the peke-a-poo, and Asia, the tabby cat, and their many pals, hitting the high spots between Providence, RI, and Manchester, NH.