University of Illinois Harangued on Its Beagles

     CHICAGO (CN) — The University of Illinois is keeping the public in the dark about what happen to dogs in its research labs, an animal-welfare group claims in court.
     A California-based nonprofit called the Beagle Freedom Project brought the lawsuit Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
     An offshoot of Animal Rescue, Media & Education, BFP is dedicated to “rehoming animals from research laboratories.
     Beagles are the dogs used most often for experiments because their size makes them “easy to stack in crates,” and they have a “very docile and forgiving temperament,” BFP’s Jeremy Beckham said in an interview.
     Beckham works as coordinator for BFP’s Identity Project, which works to get details on specific dogs and cats in research labs for the group’s cause.
     “We wanted to give these animals an identity,” said Beckham, adding that profiling the animals “makes it more personal and real.”
     “It’s hard to build empathy with a statistic.”
     Filing suit with three supporters, BFP contends that the University of Illinois has stonewalled their attempts at accessing “public records of specific animals being held in taxpayer-funded labs.”
     When it comes to animal research at public universities, “it’s a pretty nasty, secretive world when you start to peel back the layers” Beckhaam said.
     BFP’s complaint says the University of Illinois “has been performing some very offensive publicly funded experiments on dogs and cats — experiments that it knows would enrage certain segments of the public.”
     Though the Chicago Tribune quoted the school as saying that its animals are used to test pet-food ingredients, the complaint says research protocols show that the school is inducing heart attacks and testing “cardiovascular toxicity.”
     Citing four chilling research titles, the complaint says “clearly UI is doing more than just feeding these animals Bentiful.”
     Various supporters of BFP’s Identity Campaign have gotten the lab-identification numbers of dogs at the University of Illinois, and requested intake records, transfer records, care logs, veterinary reports and protocols for projects the dogs were assigned.
     BFP says the school is required to maintain all such data under the Animal Welfare Act.
     The university responded to one request “with only 47 pages of protocol records with portions redacted and withheld the individual animal records in their entirety,” citing improper exemptions for information that “fall squarely within the definition of public records,” according to the complaint.
     BFP says the Office of the Attorney General weighed in on this production and found the redaction of the research-protocol materials improper.
     Nearly 50 other members submitted similar requests to the university and got the same response, according to the complaint.
     Beckham said universities are “desperately trying to protect their image” by keeping the public in the dark about what goes on in their labs.
     The complaint says the University of Illinois even admitted at a conference to “misclassifying its veterinary records as research records” so it doesn’t have to disclose them.
     University spokesperson Jan Dennis told Courthouse News had little to say about the allegations, citing a policy about not commenting on pending litigation.
     “But I can say that the university responds in good faith to all FOIA requests,” Dennis said in an email. “And a cornerstone of the University’s research mission is to promote animal health and alleviate animal suffering.”
     Beckham noted that the Beagle Freedom Project has helped pass legislation in four states — Minnesota, California, Connecticut and Nevada — that requires public labs to make an attempt at adopting their animals out after experiments conclude.
     BFP members have adopted more than 500 of these animals so far, he added.
     Animal records the group obtained from Ohio State University helped pass a law barring labs from getting animals from “Class B” dealers, people who get them from shelters and ‘free to a good home’ ads to sell for research.
     It was a “huge wakeup call,” Beckham said.
     U.S. Department of Agriculture records indicate that U of I had an average of at least 780 research dogs from 2011 to 2015, but the Chicago Tribune quoted the school last month as saying that it had only 30 dogs during the same time range.
     It’s difficult to know exactly how many dogs are being used for research, but Beckham pointed to the “enormous beagle mills” that supply the lab industry as a clue. One such mill allegedly churns out 20,000 dogs a year in upstate New York.
     BFP is represented by Steven Penn, an attorney based in Racine, Wisconsin.

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