SI Vault
Coles Phinizy
November 29, 1965
Science's need for experimental animals is very real but is often filled by unscrupulous and cruel professional dognappers
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November 29, 1965

The Lost Pets That Stray To The Labs

Science's need for experimental animals is very real but is often filled by unscrupulous and cruel professional dognappers

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It is fence-mending time on Capitol Hill now, and the halls of Congress are deserted—except perhaps for the ghost of a dog named Pepper. Late last June, Pepper, who was a 5-year-old Dalmatian bitch of affectionate disposition, disappeared from the 80-acre farm of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Lakavage in Slatington, Pa. Nine days later she turned up at New York City's Montefiore Hospital, where her body was used in a scientific experiment and then cremated. Because of her untimely end, her ghost soon after appeared to haunt the U.S. House of Representatives in the form of a bill (H.R. No. 9743) that would require anyone dealing in dogs to be licensed by the Federal Government and to keep records of all his transactions.

Whether or not the martyred Pepper will succeed in making a federal case out of dognapping is up to the men who make our nation's laws, but there are two things that the legislative investigation of her death and disappearance have made quite clear: 1) many pet dogs are being stolen from the front lawns and sidewalks of this country, and 2) the thefts in large part are motivated by science's constant and growing need for laboratory animals.

How did Pepper, the prime mover of the pending legislation, get from a Pennsylvania farm to a New York hospital? No one knows exactly, but this is certain: Pepper was last seen by her owner late on the evening of June 22. Like most family dogs, she had too much faith in people. She wagged her tail at strangers, and she liked to ride in automobiles. Probably in the early hours of the 23rd a dog thief simply stopped his car on the road in front of the Lakavage house, opened the door, invited Pepper to hop in, and then drove away with her.

All during the following week a heartbroken Mrs. Lakavage advertised and hunted for her dog. At the same time, by coincidence, a dog dealer named William Miller of McConnellsburg, Pa. was arrested in Northampton County, Pa. for improperly loading a shipment of dogs and goats in his truck. Reading a newspaper account of Miller's arrest, the Lakavages noticed that the shipment included two Dalmatians. While Miller tried to get a better truck—a truck that would satisfy the local requirements—his dogs and goats were retained overnight in the Northampton animal shelter, where they were photographed by the local SPCA. Subsequently, when shown the photographs, Mrs. Lakavage said she had no doubt that one of the Dalmatians was Pepper. Unfortunately, before she could get to the Northampton shelter for a firsthand look, Miller had taken off with his shipment, bound—he claimed—for a dog farm in High Falls, N.Y.

When she learned where he had gone, Mrs. Lakavage traveled 120 miles to High Falls in pursuit of Miller, but when she got to the dog farm they wouldn't let her in because she had no search warrant. As it turned out later, this proved immaterial, because Miller had never gone to the farm. Instead he had taken an indirect route to New York City and had sold the two Dalmatians to Montefiore Hospital. Before Mrs. Lakavage discovered this and could stay the hand of the Montefiore experimenters, her dog Pepper had already been used and cremated.

During the post mortem investigation by Pennsylvania officers Miller claimed he got the Dalmatian from a man named R. B. Hutton in St. Thomas, Pa. Hutton supposedly got it from an Everett, Pa. dog dealer named Jack Clark, who was said to have gotten it from a man in Altoona. Since reliable records were not kept by all parties, no one can be sure if this chain of dog vendors actually handled Pepper. In any case, the chain—if such it was—is not the kind a dog likes to be connected with. Last November, Miller was fined $20 for cruelty and for keeping dogs in unsanitary conditions. Last February, Jack Clark's son was fined $300 for transporting 136 of his father's dogs jampacked in a truck designed to carry only 60. The dogs ranged in size from Pomeranians to Collies, and one was near death when the law caught Clark.

Before the hunt for Pepper reached its sad conclusion, the bad smell of the affair had reached the noses of Senator Joseph Clark of Pennsylvania and Congressman Joseph Resnick of New York. The current bill to thwart dognappers was initiated by Congressman Resnick, and it will get Senator Clark's support if it ever makes the perilous journey from the House to the Senate without losing all its teeth.

At a preliminary hearing on the bill some weeks ago a great many charges were made, but not much was proved one way or the other. The truth of the matter is that the whole business of dog procurement for laboratory use, illicit or otherwise, wallows in a sea of insufficient fact. How many dogs do U.S. laboratories use in a year? Nobody knows. How many laboratories use dogs in experiments? Again nobody knows. Where do most of the dogs come from? No one can say for sure.

In an on-the-spot survey five years ago a committee of the National Research Council found that 57 of the medical schools and research centers around the country were using more than 60,000 dogs annually. Since no one knows how many more institutions use dogs, a projection of this figure is not honestly possible. Furthermore, judging from the five-year-old survey and random accounting since, it is obvious that the consumption of dogs varies greatly from institution to institution. The University of Minnesota, for example, uses 5,000 to 9.000 dogs a year, and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. use around 4,500. In contrast, Montefiore Hospital, where Pepper died, uses only a few hundred.

From such fragmentary evidence as this it is safe to presume that at least 100,000 dogs are used for experiments each year in the laboratories of the nation. The consumption may very well be five times as great. Some dare to say it is more than a million.

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