- Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 10:46 AM
Chicago Tribune - May 23, 2016 | Original article
By Celeste Bott
What initially seemed like a feel-good animal rescue bill has sparked a fight between the University of Illinois and a lawmaker who says the state's largest public university is deliberately withholding information about its animal research programs.
Under a measure nicknamed "the beagle bill," Sen. Linda Holmes started out wanting to require universities to offer healthy cats and dogs to rescue organizations when they are no longer needed for testing. The Democrat from Aurora, who describes herself as a longtime animal lover and former Humane Society volunteer, argues that since research dogs and cats cost thousands of dollars, taxpayers should be given the chance to adopt the animals.
Beagles are the breed of dogs most commonly used for experiments, and the adoption effort is being pushed by the Beagle Freedom Project, a group that has successfully lobbied for similar legislation in Minnesota, Connecticut, Nevada and California. The idea is to prevent research animals from automatically being euthanized.
But the legislation has stalled after heated debate at a hearing where universities led by the U. of I. said they already have adoption polices in place. As such, several lawmakers questioned weather Holmes' bill was a solution in search of a problem.
Sarah Allison, a professor at the U. of I. College of Veterinary Medicine, contended the public is not held to the same federal regulations as universities.
"If we really care about welfare and what's best for the animals, why would you take an animal out of its familiar environment?" Allison said. "Why would you go then and rip the animal out of that and give it to the public, where maybe it's going to be a great person that wants to adopt the animal, maybe it's not.
"Maybe the animal is going to be used in propaganda, we wouldn't know," Allison added. That was a dig at the Beagle Freedom Project, which brought rescue beagles to the Capitol the day before the hearing in an effort to promote the bill.
Holmes alleges that the U. of I. is fighting the measure because of a vendetta against the animal rights group and doesn't want a spotlight shone on animal testing at its facilities.
The dispute surfaced publicly at a hearing last month on Holmes' proposal to require universities to publicly post animals available for adoption online.
University officials scoff at the notion that the school's research animals are mistreated, pointing to the federal Animal Welfare Act that sets rules on everything from the size of cages to how often animals must be fed. The law also requires that animals be given pain relief medication or anesthetic for more painful treatments, and it requires any research institution to create a committee to inspect the facilities and review how animals are used.
At the U. of I., members of that oversight committee process adoption requests on a case-by-case basis. Adoption is limited strictly to students, faculty and staff who are alerted of available animals through an internal email notice.
"What we don't want to do is have it open up to where it's unmanageable," said Lyndon Goodly, the school's director of animal resources. He argued that the current process is better because the animals would go to staff or students who already know and work with them.
To address concerns, Holmes watered down the bill so it would only require laboratories to develop an adoption policy and make it public. It would be up to supervising veterinarians at the research facilities to decide which animals are eligible for adoption and which shelter they're offered to.
"I don't want the U. of I. to stop doing what they do. But I do think that the burden of this bill isn't very burdensome," said Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, who voted for the watered-down version that didn't make it out of committee.
Universities and laboratories would have to submit annual reports that reveal which species of animals are used for research, what's done to keep them comfortable, how testing is funded and which methods of euthanasia are used. Facilities that don't submit on time would be fined $100 a day until they turn over the reports.
"They have this animosity to the point where they are not willing to bend at all," Holmes said. "They don't want any more media attention brought to the fact that they're doing testing.
"These are animals paid for with public dollars. Is there something hidden that is bigger than any of us are thinking?" Holmes said.
Read the full article at the Chicago Tribune.