Owners who have a beagle at home should bring it immediately to a laboratory testing centre to help combat a shortage of test animals, according to a new advertising campaign by the animal rights group Gaia.
The appeal is of course a strikingly sarcastic call for an end to animal experiments on sentient creatures like the beagle, but also other animals.
Next Saturday is World Day for Laboratory Animals, and Gaia has chosen to highlight that day with a call for an end to experiments on dogs in particular.
The advertisement reads, “Anyone who has recently brought a pure-bred dog into their home should bring it to a test centre as soon as possible. Due to too many experiments that went wrong, there is a risk of a shortage in our test centres.”
“Of course it is not a real appeal,” said Ann Degreef, director of Gaia. “We chose that approach because dogs are close to people, they are part of a family. But things are different for dogs in labs.”
According to the organisation, there are currently some 500 dogs being used in labs in Belgium, mainly for tests on medical products. One example saw a dog having an implant installed in its brain to suppress the feeling of hunger, in a test designed to find out if that was a way to tackle obesity in humans.
“There are alternatives for many of these tests. So we not only ask ourselves questions about the ethical reasoning, but also about its scientific need,” she said.
The choice of the beagle was not accidental, she said. The breed appears to attract experimental scientists. Gaia estimates in 2019 some 1,302 tests were carried out in Belgium on the beagle, among others by the university of Ghent and Janssen Pharmaceutica.
Ghent university admits the use of dogs in experiments, but the response is nuanced.
“The dogs that are used at the faculty are here for the animals themselves. We do not test medicines for humans, but we do test for diseases in animals,” said Professor Katleen Hermans, who teaches laboratory animal science.
“We are doing tests on nutrition or anaesthesia, which is not possible to do with alternatives. We must be able to measure blood pressure and heart rate.”
Gaia is calling on the Flemish government to stop all testing on animals.
“We understand that it cannot be done from one day to the next. We want to give science time. A target, such as the year 2023, would be a good start,” Degreef said.
Flemish minister for animal welfare Ben Weyts (N-VA) said Flanders is taking a pioneering role in using alternatives as much as possible.
“At the moment, however, it remains the case that animal testing is sometimes a necessary evil in the fight against diseases such as cancer and in the development of medicines and treatments.”