MONEY ISN’T the only thing Canada’s modest medical research programs are short of. They also need animals, particularly dogs, for unpleasant but essential experiments. The money is coming (Medical Research Council grants go up to $15,000,000 this year from 1965’s $9.000,000) but a struggle now going on between researchers and humane societies seriously threatens the supply of animals. The bone of contention: should unclaimed dogs in municipal pounds be destroyed or should they be turned over to medical schools and research laboratories?
It’s an argument both sides find difficult to approach unemotionally and agreement on a principle seems as far away as ever. But while they’ve been arguing, the demand for animals has been increasingly filled by dognappers — men who steal domestic pets. In Montreal dognapping has reached such proportions that the local SPCA is pushing a program of dog tattooing to foil the thieves.
In Toronto Tom Hughes, general manager of the Ontario Humane Society, says that animal wholesalers “employ dozens of agents who go like grey shadows, stealing pets and selling them for $5. Dogs are enticed by an agent using a bitch in heat or. sometimes, going into backyards and grabbing animals that have been tied up.”
Hughes says his group isn’t opposed to controlled vivisection. He agrees that dogs are a key to training and experimentation in heart surgery, anesthetic experience and drug and nutritional research. (Many dogs are used briefly under anesthetics from which they never recover; others are kept alive for months to study the effect of work done.) Bui Hughes believes more dogs are being used than is absolutely necessary.
Dr. Leslie Lord, McGill University's director of animal care, says humane societies could eliminate or minimize dognapping if they turned over to authorized institutions the animals now destroyed as “homeless.” He estimates there are thousands of such animals and terms this “a gross waste.”
Why don’t research institutions breed their own dogs? James St. Onge of the Montreal SPCA thinks they should. But the labs, he says, depend
on dealers “because it’s a matter of dollars and cents and it’s cheaper to buy animals.”
Dr. J. K. W. Ferguson, director of Toronto’s Connaught Medical Research Laboratories, agrees that one reason research institutions oppose breeding all the dogs they need is the cost: a minimum of $75-$ 100 for a mutt and more for purebred animals. Dr. John Hamilton, dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto, estimates that it w'ould have cost more than $500.000 to provide the 5.000 dogs used in Ontario last year and several millions more in capital costs to set up such a program.
Hughes believes that the arrangement between the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver city pound is “the best in Canada.” Animals are released by the pound to UBC for non-survival experiments and the university and university hospital facilities are inspected by the province's SPCA.
Dr. J. F. McCreary, dean of medicine at UBC, is less enthusiastic. He points out that it has not eliminated the necessity of buying from outside dealers. Under the arrangement the pound dogs must be destroyed after 24 hours; fewer than one third of the 600 dogs used at UBC last year were
obtained under the SPCA agreement, he says. "There are more animal fanciers on the west coast than anywhere else in Canada. If we disregarded them we'd quickly find our research work being interfered with.”
In Ontario, representatives of the various interests have been trying for several years to work out a solution. But members from both factions privately admit that they're still far trom agreement. (However Dr. John Hatcher of Kingston's Queen's University, member of an investigating committee, says that “negotiations at present are very sensitive” and may soon yield some recommendations which the committee can take to the province for action.)
Dr. Hamilton says there may be a serious shortage of animals right now and he warns that "it is becoming more and more difficult to obtain enough dogs because humane societies are operating more shelters and it is their policy not to let us have animals.”
Hughes says that societies are “opposed to unnecessary research on dogs when the same information can be obtained by using chick embryos or dead animals; we're also opposed to the unnecessary duplication and lack of correlation in university research today.”
Meanwhile dog owners, especially if they live just outside big cities, would be well advised to buy a watchdog to watch their dogs.
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