What animals come to mind when you think of animal testing? Rabbits? Mice? Rats? Few tend to think of dogs as research subjects, at least in Western countries, but tens of thousands of dogs are used in laboratory medical research each year. Beagles are the most common breed used in this type of research due to their docile dispositions, which has led to thousands of “retired” research beagles in need of a loving home. The BeFreegle Foundation is a unique breed adoption organization that is working to ensure these research dogs find caring, permanent homes. LIVEKINDLY interviewed BeFreegle’s founder, Kate Aubry, to learn more about this issue and her organization’s work to rehabilitate and rehome retired research beagles.
Aubry explained that dogs are typically used for medical testing purposes. Drug and device testing, as well as cardiovascular studies, are the most common. The length of the study varies, though most retired research dogs are adults. However, there are a few outliers. “We have taken in dogs as young as a year old and as old as eight years old,” Aubry said. BeFreegle works with research labs across the U.S. and enters into a mutual partnership to take the retired dogs off the laboratories’ hands.
The idea for the BeFreegle Foundation formed in 2010 when Aubry adopted her first retired research beagle, Juno. Aubry explained, “Within a short period of time I realized how incredibly sweet she was. Within 10 months of retiring from research she became a certified therapy dog. After the tragic events in Sandy Hook I was invited to visit one of the schools in Newtown, Conn. with Juno, in our therapy team capacity. I watched, fighting tears, as Juno did what she does best, love unconditionally a child who lost a sibling in that senseless tragedy. I cried the entire ride home as Juno slept peacefully next to me. As she snored quietly I wondered what other dogs used in research had the capacity to give back. If one beagle could make a difference, even a small one, in the life of a child, what do other research dogs have the capacity to give. It was soon thereafter that I decided to found BeFreegle.” The organization officially began its work as a non-profit in 2014.
LIVEKINDLY asked about the personality of these retired research dogs. Aubry responded, “Our dogs lack real world experiences since they have never been outside before. Simple things like going up and down stairs or even being outside are new to them. Like any other dogs, they are all different and process their new circumstances differently.” However, she assured that these dogs just need a little patience to get used to their new surroundings. The organization informs all adopters of each dog’s specific needs, be it behavioral or medical. She also mentioned that beagles are extremely food-motivated, which makes them easy to train when treats are involved. Aubry continued, “They are also the funniest dogs I have ever had the pleasure to work with. If belly laughs are your thing, adopt a beagle.”
BeFreegle is based in Putnam Valley, N.Y., 30 miles from New York City. To cut down on transportation time, the organization mandates that potential adopters live within a four-hour driving radius of this location. However, Aubry strives to help beagles on a national scale and occasionally holds pop-up adoptions across the country with the help of dedicated fosters and volunteers. The next pop-up is scheduled for this Saturday, May 19, in Sherman Oaks, Calif. (a northern suburb of Los Angeles). The organization is currently accepting adoption applications for the 18 adult male beagles that will be available. Pre-approved applicants will be able to visit the dogs on the 18th and find the perfect new addition to their family.
To conclude, Aubry said, “I founded BeFreegle to honor my very first Freegle, Juno. All that I have ever learned about being brave I learned by watching her navigate her brand new world and placing her trust in me. In the beginning, she often looked to me for assurance, but she also looked to my other dogs to learn how to be a dog. Through her pack she found the courage to live her best life. All we can hope for is that each dog from research be given the same opportunities that Juno has had. And as each new retired research dog comes to us, bewildered, frightened, and a bit disoriented I pick each of them up, kiss them on the head and promise them that after a scary couple of weeks of new things to learn and see that life is going to be truly amazing.”
To learn more about the BeFreegle Foundation and its pop-up adoptions, or to fill out an adoption application, visit the organization’s website.
Image Credit: BeFreegle Foundation