The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) recently released the 2016 statistics on the use of animals in laboratories and the numbers are shocking. A total of 4,308,921 animals were used in Canadian laboratories in 2016, compared to 3,570,352 used in 2015.
At a time when development and use of modern non-animal methods is a burgeoning field in all areas of research, it is vexing that Canada had such a marked increase in the use of animals in experiments. What's more, the overall increase included a major jump in the use of dogs and cats along with high numbers of "random source" dogs and cats i.e. animals that may be collected from various sources including public shelters.
In 2016, 15,093 dogs were used compared to 9,573 in 2015 (58 per cent increase), and in 2016, 8,526 cats were used compared to 5,035 in 2015 (69 per cent increase). Of the 15,093 dogs used, 7,518 were recorded as "random source" and 345 from "unspecified" sources and of the 8,526 cats a full 7,659 were "random source" and an additional 273 from "unspecified" sources.
Canada's high use of "random source" dogs and cats is particularly troubling. Sourcing dogs and cats for laboratories from municipal shelters erodes the very core of a shelter's purpose — to care for animals in need, find new homes for homeless animals and to reunite families with lost companions. Nobody wants to imagine adoptable shelter dogs and cats suffering in laboratories, or worry that a lost family companion may end up in laboratory before they are able to find them.
Not surprisingly the practice is deeply unpopular with the public. A 2016 opinion poll carried out by YouGov on behalf of Cruelty Free International revealed that 73 per cent of Canadian adults agree that dogs found or given to animal shelters should not be sold to laboratories for experiments.
It is out of step with modern science.
"Random source" and "unspecified source" dogs and cats used in Canadian laboratories may have come from shelters in Quebec where pound seizure is not prohibited, or Ontario where pound seizure is explicitly allowed under the Animals for Research Act.
The use of random source dogs and the practice of pound seizure is not only glaringly out of step with public opinion, it is out of step with modern science. The acquisition of dogs from shelters for research and training is increasingly viewed by the research and educational institutions as unnecessary and problematic.
The University of Guelph and the Ontario Veterinary College no longer use animals acquired from animal shelters for teaching or experimentation and in the United States, the U.S. National Institutes of Health eliminated all funding for research using random source cats in 2012 and ended funding for research using random source dogs in 2015.
In June of 2016, Cruelty Free International called on the Canada and other governments to end the use of stray and shelter dogs in experiments. Canadian actor Eric McCormack who played Will in popular '90s sitcom Will & Grace supported our efforts stating: "Shelter dogs should be adopted into loving homes not used in cruel experiments. That's why I support the Cruelty Free International global dog campaign."
With 2016 CCAC figures now revealing such a massive increase in the use of dogs and cats, including those from "random sources," change is urgently needed in Canada.
To start, the provinces of Ontario and Quebec should pass legislation to firmly prohibit pound seizure. Canadian citizens living in those provinces can reach out to their provincial representatives,Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.
It would strengthen protection for four-legged family members and shelter animals in Canada.
Further, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research should follow the example of the U.S. NIH and eliminate funding for experiments involving "random source" animals. Canadians can also reach out to their senators and members of Parliament on the issue.
Prohibiting the use of random source dogs and cats in experiments and eliminating and the transfer of animals from municipal animal shelters to laboratories would reflect modern education and scientific standards, as well as public opinion and expectation. Last, but not least, it would strengthen protection for four-legged family members and shelter animals in Canada.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,000 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12 - 21 February 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Canadian adults (aged 18+).
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