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June 01, 2007

B Dealers a Class of their Own

In 1976, more than 210,000 dogs were used in animal research according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (I blogged about the AWA yesterday). In 2005, the number reported by the USDA was under 67,000—about a two-thirds reduction in dog use for research in the last three decades. The same trends are evident with the use of cats.

Unfortunately, though, about 18,000 of these dogs and cats are procured through the work of about a dozen so-called Class B dealers (see a map of the 15 dealers' locations). B dealers, as they are classified by the USDA, obtain dogs through “random sources,” such as flea markets and shelters, and often purchase them from middlemen. Known as “bunchers,” these middlemen have been known to respond to free-to-good-home ads under false pretenses, or even steal pets out of people’s own backyards.

Group of dogs in crate at Class B dealer facility
© Last Chance for Animals
Caged dogs at a former Class B dealer facility.

Historically, there have been cases where animals who have grown up as pets and members of a human household suddenly find themselves being transported across state lines on their way to laboratories, where they will suffer and die in experiments. The AWA prohibits no types of experiments, so the animals can be subjected to any type of procedure allowed by the university or research facility.

Last year, HBO ran a documentary called “Dealing Dogs” about a notorious Class B dealer named C.C. Baird, who was operating out of Arkansas. My friend Chris DeRose and his group Last Chance for Animals exposed C.C. Baird and his dog-dealing schemes that sent people’s pets into laboratories.

Baird really crossed the line, and LCA’s undercover investigation resulted in Baird’s arrest and unprecedented penalties for violations of the AWA. But the USDA is still spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year chasing around these Class B dealers, attempting to keep tabs on their procurement of dogs and cats. It’s a gross diversion and resource drain (the USDA has 13,000 sites to regulate under the AWA, with about 100 inspectors), and they cannot afford to do it any longer if the agency is to responsibly enforce the AWA.

And the work that Class B dealers do is hardly necessary. The HSUS recently wrote to the top 50 research universities in the country. Of the many who responded, only three of the universities indicated that they use random source dogs or cats procured from Class B dealers. Most universities don’t want to use animals of uncertain background and genetic origin, since it compromises the science. And perhaps they just find the idea of their researchers experimenting on someone’s pet to be distasteful and harmful to the university’s reputation.

Gray tabby cat looking out window
© iStockphoto
The Pet Safety and Protection Act would
help to prevent pet theft for research.

Demagogy by the research community to defend Class B dealers—claiming that this supply line of animals is essential for medical progress—cannot protect these dealers for much longer. With almost every major research institution shunning the B dealers’ ill-gotten animals, it is clear no essential scientific inquiry hangs in the balance.

Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Representatives Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Phil English (R-Pa.) have introduced bills (S. 714/H.R. 1280) to ban the sale of "random source" dogs and cats by Class B dealers. We have already seen a few knee-jerk letters from research advocacy groups protesting the legislation, but their alarmist rhetoric rings hollow.

Call and write your legislators, and urge them to support The Pet Safety and Protection Act. Let’s make this the year that the government puts a stop to the dog and cat dealers and their nefarious efforts to channel pets into the research pipeline. And we invite the research community to join us, so it can claim some of the credit for stamping out this abuse.

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