DENVER (CBS4) – Begley the beagle is 3. He’s timid and shy — but not when it’s dinnertime. If food’s afoot, he hops on his hind legs and wags his tail intensely in Kristy and Greg Rhodes’ kitchen.

He shares a couch with two other dogs and prefers to curl up alongside Kristy in bed.

This is his home.

But for the first two and a half years of his life, Begley lived in a cage.

“He was not a dog. He was a laboratory subject,” Kristy Rhodes, who would later adopt him, says.

Begley never saw sunlight or felt grass under his feet, she says.

Greg and Kristy Rhodes found Begley through the Beagle Freedom Project, a group that rescues the breed from laboratories that raise and keep them for a variety of testing, mostly medical but also for cosmetics and household cleaners.

Begley waits for food. (credit: CBS)

Begley waits for food. (credit: CBS)

The Rhodes adopted Begley, who lived in a medical testing facility in the Front Range, in September 2013. One of six beagles released together, Begley greeted the Rhodes when he took his first steps from his crate.

“That was pretty emotional,” Kristy says.

Begley was unsure. He needed coaxing from the security of the crate, while other more rambunctious beagles eagerly scampered onto the grass.

“He was really shy,” Kristy says. “He was timid.”

And he looked the worst of all of them, Greg says. He eyes were red and “gunky,” and five scars graced his shaved backside.

The Rhodes says YouTube videos they’d watched of beagle rescues drew them to the idea of adopting one. They added their name to a list but had to wait because the interest in adopting the animals is significant, they says.

Beagles are commonly used in laboratory testing when dogs are needed because their demeanor is docile, and they’re easily socialized among animals. It’s helpful, too, that a dog’s physiology is similar to a human’s. Kevin Chase, the executive director for the Beagle Freedom Project in Los Angeles, says there are more than 65,000 dogs in medical testing facilities in the United States. His group has helped rescue roughly 300.

LINK: Beagle Freedom Project

“Our mission is to negotiate for the release of the dogs and give them a second chance at life,” Chase says.

Pre-Clinical Research Services in Fort Collins currently houses 75 beagles, most of them for pharmacokinetic testing, which measures how drugs interact with humans’ or animals’ bodies.

The beagles are kept in groups of two to five in dog runs, which feature doors that open for the dogs to interact with each other.

They have names, and the staff caring for them bestows genuine affection.

“Bo, he’s got a lot of energy,” says one employee, holding one beagle, dubbed Little Bo, while petting another named Pete. “He likes to give love and hugs.”

Two beagles, Little Bo and Pete, play in a hallway at Pre-Clinical Research Services. (credit: CBS)

Two beagles, Little Bo and Pete, play in a hallway at Pre-Clinical Research Services. (credit: CBS)

The beagles at Pre-Clinical Research Services are well-cared-for, says its president and owner, Don Maul.

“The staff that you see here and the professionals that are involved in operating facilities like this really care about the animals,” Maul says. “And they do their utmost to make sure the animals are cared for properly and are socialized and have good interaction.”

Maul, who is also a veterinarian, says the beagles in his care are healthy and well-socialized. They receive regular health checkups, dentistry exams, vaccinations, toys and healthy food.

Dogs seek attention in their run at Pre-Clinical Research Services. (credit: CBS)

Dogs seek attention in their run at Pre-Clinical Research Services. (credit: CBS)

He says he understands critics’ often vocal arguments against animal testing, especially when better technology is replacing animals in labs.

“There certainly are ways to use non-living animals, and the biomedical industry is keen on developing those,” Maul says. He cites the antibody produced in tobacco plants that recently treated Ebola patients in the United States. “There are countless other examples where biomedical research is looking at alternatives, and looking at alternative species.” Fruit flies, zebra fish and worms are commonly used, Maul says.

But dogs, especially beagles, are still necessary, he argues because there is not a better replacement for them in research. Studies on beagles, he says, have led to the development of cancer treatments for dogs at Colorado State University and the creation of oral insulin treatments in diabetics.

The fight against diseases in humans became personal for Maul’s family when his daughter was stricken with ovarian cancer two years ago at age 21. She is doing better, Maul says, thanks to treatments developed through testing: “That’s the best testament I can see of positive results for biomedical research.”

But Chase of the beagle rescue group says the medical community is split over the efficacy of animal studies.

The tattoo on the Begley's right ear (credit: CBS)

The tattoo on the Begley’s right ear (credit: CBS)

“Animal testing is a very controversial topic,” Chase says. He claims that 92 percent of all drugs that pass animal studies fail in the first phase of human clinical trials and that one in seven hospital beds are filled with patients who have adverse reactions from a drug used in animal testing.

Beyond that, however, Chase says laboratories should be required to put animals up for adoption as long as they’re healthy when their trials are over.

“After all they’ve suffered through and endured for human drugs or cosmetics or academic curiosities, if at the end of the testing, they’re still healthy, we think they deserve they have a right to a home and a comfy spot on a couch,” he says.

The Beagle Freedom Project is lobbying for legislators to pass the Beagle Freedom Bill, which would require laboratories that receive taxpayer assistance — like a publicly-funded university — to reach out to adoption groups once testing is completed.

The Rhodes with their dogs,  including Begley on the left (credit: CBS)

The Rhodes with their dogs, including Begley on the left (credit: CBS)

Maul says he doesn’t oppose adoption for animals that can be released, but many dogs are euthanized because their tissues need to be inspected as part of studies. When that’s not the case, he says they’re willing to consider adoption for the dogs. But the significant number of beagles in labs can overwhelm rescue groups. Maul says Pre-Clinical Research Services has done studies with cats in which they were eventually adopted.

“The reality is we’ve contacted an adoption group, and they can only take a small number of animals,” he says.

Chase’s group has rescued dogs in 28 states. He says he feels they’re becoming more successful in convincing some labs to consider adoption, but others don’t want to because it will expose them to public scrutiny.

“Our hope is making it a real topic,” he says, “so the public doesn’t see these animals as abstract furry little test tubes.”

Begley at home (credit: CBS)

Begley at home (credit: CBS)

– Written by Tim Skillern for CBSDenver.com

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