What Do Dogs Rescued From Research Laboratories Really Need?

It takes a lot of hard work to successfully rehome dogs who have been abused.

Posted Mar 21, 2019

Marc Bekoff Ph.D.

When researchers say they're going to try to rehome dogs it has to be more than a "feel good" move because it takes a lot of hard work and resources 

Recently, many people learned about a horrific experiment in which beagles were force-fed a pesticide to see how they would react to it. It was being conducted in a laboratory in Michigan for a company in Brazil. These sorts of studies were deemed unnecessary by the EPA, but they're still required in Brazil. (See "Why Are Beagles Being Poisoned and Killed?") Many people worldwide were offended and on March 18 the Michigan company terminated them and released a statement indicating that the dogs would be rehomed. Part of it read, "We've been working to refine, reduce, & replace animal tests for years. Today we’re pleased to announce our efforts resulted in a waiver & we can stop the study. We’ll make every effort to rehome the animals."

Immediately after I posted this information, Vivian Zottola, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Certified Behavior Consultant, contacted me because she was deeply concerned that many people might not be aware of how much dedication and money it can take to rehome a former research dog. While we both are extremely glad that this experiment has ended and that the company "will make every effort to rehome the animals," these dogs and other nonhuman animals (animals) who are subjected to horrifically cruel treatment are most likely going to need a lot of care when they finally find what we hope will be a "forever home." Vivian runs a private practice as a canine behavior consultant and training professional. She collaborates with DVMs and DVM Behaviorists in the Boston area working with reactive dogs due to fear, anxiety, and stress. Vivian also is a research assistant for the Center for Canine Behavior Studies and enrolled in the Anthrozoology graduate program at Canisius College. I wanted to know more about the details of rehoming former research dogs, so I asked Vivian if she could answer a few questions about her concerns Gladly she said she could. Our interview went as follows.

In your first note to me you wrote, "While I am happy to learn this news, I’m hopeful they will pay for each dog to have a proper behavior evaluation and any behavior modification training including, if necessary,medication to help reduce the risk of future suffering." Can you please tell readers more about what these beagles are going to need based on your experience working with animals who have been previously abused? 

There is this preconceived notion the act of rehoming an abused nonhuman animal in and of itself equates to improved welfare when, in fact, it’s really only marginally improved, if at all, for t