“Debbie actually chose me,” said Seemanthini Channamallikarjuna, who adopted one of the 23 beagles up for adoption at a recent camp in Bengaluru. Channamallikarjuna had never seen laboratory beagles before, and even though she had done her research, she was tentative about how to approach the dogs. While some beagles walked around freely, others seemed to huddle in a corner as if unsure of what was going on. Channamallikarjuna remembers seeing Debbie, who was getting her infected eyes cleaned. “I went and sat in a corner near these introverted beagles,” Channamallikarjuna said. "She just came and lay down on my lap."
For Channamallikarjuna and her husband, Debbie’s gesture meant that they had found a new member of their family. And despite all the challenges associated with getting a seven-year-old beagle acquainted with the real world, the couple took Debbie back to their home in Mysore.
Debbie was part of the third round of laboratory beagle adoptions conducted in recent years by animal rescue NGO Compassion Unlimited Plus Action. Animal testing is legal and beagles are among the most common test subjects along with mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, cats and monkeys. As one of the oldest known dog breeds – one that hasn’t been genetically moulded by breeders – beagles are not predisposed to genetic diseases that affect many pedigree breeds. They are also small, compact and easily transportable.
The beagles in the current batch being rehabilitated have not had tests performed on them. Some of them have been used for breeding purposes, while others were in captivity while research projects were pending approval and eventually scrapped. The dogs have been confined to laboratory environments and have spent most of their lives in small cages.
"Beagles are very docile,” said Chinthana Gopinath, a volunteer with CUPA and coordinator for the adoption camp. “Even when they are kept in a cage and hands are constantly going in and pulling them out for injections or dissections, even then they are not given to aggression.”
Gopinath has earlier seen dogs as young as a year old or as even old as 11 emerge from the laboratory having been tested with chemicals for drug toxicity.
“Usually, it is very common with laboratories that once they are done with testing, they euthanise the dogs,” said Gopinath. “The one thing animal NGOs ask is that once testing is done, release them into NGOs care to give them a shot at life with peace and love and all of those things."
In a few days, around 30 dogs are set for another round of adoptions. The adoption camps are a brief happy interlude in the dogs’ lives. Readjustment and recovery is a long process, as their new pet parents well know.
“These dogs have a hell of a time coping with pathogens once they are brought out,” said Srilakshmi Amirtheshwaran, a dog psychologist who has been working with canine adoptions for about 12 years. “The microbes in the atmosphere immediately latch on to their underdeveloped immunity and that is a challenge for vets.” Used to near-silent facilities, the beagles are often terrified by noise. The presence of other dogs might be stressful to them and human touch can be intimidating.
Yet, for families across Bengaluru, Mysore and Chennai the challenge is worth it. Channamallikarjuna has seen how quickly Debbie is learning to adapt to her house, from starting to eat normally to climbing up and down stairs. “When there is an unfamiliar sound or movement she just freezes, but if you leave her alone she comes back to normal. On the first day, if we spoke even in low voices she would tuck her tail between her legs,” she said. “These might be the last years of their lives and I just wanted to give one a chance to live in a happy home.”