Gov. Baker signs the ‘Beagle Bill,’ a “life-saving moment” for thousands of dogs and cats used in research in Massachusetts.

Three beagle puppies rescued from the Envigo facility in Cumberland, Virginia and now in Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of the MSPCA-Angell.
Three beagle puppies rescued from the Envigo facility in Cumberland, Virginia and now in Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of the MSPCA-Angell.

Governor Charlie Baker signed the “Beagle Bill,” a bipartisan piece of legislation, into law on Thursday. The law requires animal research and testing facilities in Massachusetts that use dogs and cats to offer healthy animals for adoption once their time in research is over.

Bill H. 901, an Act Protecting Research Animals, was previously passed by both chambers of the State House in July before being sent to the governor for his signature.

According to the MSPCA-Angell, whose advocacy department lobbied extensively for the bill’s passage, Massachusetts now joins a dozen other states, including Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York, with similar laws that go beyond federal regulations for the treatment of laboratory animals after research, with a spokesperson saying the group could “not be more pleased” with the outcome.

According to Rob Halpin, executive director of communications for the MSPCA-Angell, the bill’s signing is a “life-saving moment” for the nearly 9,000 dogs used in research in Massachusetts, the majority of which are beagles.

He went on to say that “more often than not,” these dogs are euthanized once their time in research is up, a practice that this law will end.

The care and use of research animals in laboratories is regulated under current federal law, but protections are not extended beyond the end of research with the exception of providing humane euthanasia, leaving the possibility that otherwise healthy dogs and cats, animals that can be given a second chapter in life as pets, would instead be killed.

According to the MSPCA-Angell, this is where the “Beagle Bill” comes in to facilitate a relationship between laboratories and non-profit animal adoption organizations. There is also flexibility written into the law.

According to the group, the bill is written in such a way that research facilities are not required to give animals to any specific group, nor are shelters or rescue organizations required to accept animals offered to them by such facilities.

Private adoptive placement is also permitted within the parameters of the law, which means that shelters are not required to act as an intermediary — for example, if a veterinary technician has worked with an animal and wishes to adopt it after the research is completed.

According to the MSPCA-Angell, the bill would “simply require that once an institution determines that a dog or cat is no longer needed for research, is healthy, and does not pose a risk to the health or safety of the public, the research facility must then reach out to an animal shelter or rescue organization to determine whether it can assist with placement in an adoptive home, or opt for private placement.”

According to Halpin, successful collaboration between research and testing facilities and animal shelters and rescue groups like the MSPCA will allow many cats and dogs to “live out their post-research lives in loving homes.”

Kara Holmquist, MSPCA director of advocacy, stated that it is “remarkable” how well these “resilient” animals can do in homes after coming from research environments after seeing and hearing stories from those who have adopted or fostered dogs used in research.

“We know that these dogs can still learn to be dogs and that they can be great family pets,” Holmquist said.

According to Holmquist, beagles are the primary breed used in research, owing to their docile natures and ease of handling, hence the bill’s informal name.

According to the Beagle Freedom Project, a non-profit animal rescue and advocacy organization dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating animals used in research and subjected to “other forms of unique cruelty, abuse, and neglect,” the breed accounts for nearly 96 percent of the more than 60,000 dogs used in animal experimentation nationwide.

The bill’s signing is timely because it coincides with a massive rescue effort led by the Humane Society of the United States involving a troubled breeding facility in Cumberland, Virginia run by the company Envigo that housed approximately 4,000 beagles that would have been used in animal research but are now finding new adoptive homes.

According to The New York Times, the Envigo facility violated numerous federal regulations, leaving many dogs “underfed, ill, injured, and, in some cases, dead.”

The MSPCA-Angell, the Northeast Animal Shelter, and the Dakin Humane Society have all partnered with the HSUS in this endeavor, assisting it in finding new adoptive homes for over 150 beagles in the Bay State, with more transfer trips bringing dogs up north planned for this month.

The “Beagle Bill” was first introduced on Beacon Hill four years ago by former State Representative Carolyn Dykema, a bill sponsor, and was co-sponsored by fellow Democratic Rep. Michelle DuBois and Republican State Senator Bruce Tarr — the Senate Minority Leader at the State House.

“We’re grateful to every advocate who worked tirelessly to advance this legislation,” said Elizabeth Magner, MSPCA’s animal advocacy specialist, in a statement released by the MSPCA-Angell.

“By formalizing the practice of research animal adoption, the new law benefits dogs and cats used in the Commonwealth, enhancing Massachusetts’ reputation as a responsible and humane hub for biomedical research,” she added.

The Massachusetts Society of Medical Research, a group representing research facilities in the state, also supported the bill and helped to draft some of its language.