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Friday, November 21, 2014

The Secret Life of Class B Dealers

In honor of the 60th anniversary of The Humane Society of the United States, LIFE Magazine has revisited the classic Stan Wayman photo-essay, “Concentration Camps for Dogs.” The eight-page article and series of shocking photos, originally published in February 1966, built on a five-year HSUS investigation of dog dealing that brought to light the mistreatment of pets stolen and sold to medical research.

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Stan Wayman—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The exposé generated more letters from LIFE readers than even the war in Vietnam, an attack on Civil Rights marchers by police, or the escalation of the Cold War. It spurred Congress to hold hearings on the issue, and just months later, after lobbying by The HSUS and others, to pass the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act, which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law in August 1966.

There has been much progress for animals over the past decades, but surprisingly, this shadowy and unsavory business of so-called Class B animal dealers rounding up pets and funneling them into research laboratories has not been completely rooted out—though it appears to be on its last legs.

Just a handful of these dealers still obtain dogs and cats from various “random sources,” including auctions, flea markets and animal shelters. Some Class B dealers have also been known to obtain animals from unregulated middlemen known as “bunchers,” who have been documented acquiring lost, stray and “free to a good home” pets, and even pets from neighborhood backyards.

As of September 2014, there are three active Class B dealers of live, “random source” dogs and cats licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to sell these animals to research facilities. During fiscal year 2007 (the most recent year for which data is available), 2,863 Class B dogs and 276 Class B cats were sold for research.

Violations of the Animal Welfare Act continue to occur, including lack of veterinary care, food or water, inhumane handling, fraudulent paperwork associated with the requirement to prove that an animal is not a stolen pet. These dealers are now providing fewer than 3 percent of the dogs and cats used in research, yet our federal government spends significant time and money regulating them and trying to chase down the problems associated with the trade.

A 2009 National Academies report, examining the issue, stated that “in the more than forty years since the inception of the AWA (Animal Welfare Act), the USDA/APHIS (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) has been unable to completely enforce the AWA in regard to activities of Class B dealers and that there are documented accounts of lost pets that have ended up in research institutions through Class B dealers.

For example, in June 2005, the University of Minnesota received a dog from a Class B dealer that through a microchip scan was identified as a missing pet named ‘Echo.’ Recent inspection reports for one Class B dealer revealed that two cats were purchased from a private individual that upon trace back investigation admitted that they were illegally acquired ‘strays.’" 

Fortunately policymakers are working to crack down on the problem. The National Institutes of Health instituted a phase out of funding for research involving acquisition of cats and dogs from random source dealers, with the cat policy taking effect in 2012 and the dog policy taking effect in 2014. Georgia Regents University announced it would stop buying dogs from Class B dealers after an HSUS undercover investigation in 2013, and the USDA revoked the license of the dealer involved in selling dogs for dental research.

Congressman Mike Doyle, D-Pa., has introduced the Pet Safety and Protection Act, H.R.2224, which has 74 co-sponsors and would end the use of random source dogs and cats in research.

As LIFE looks back on a story that drove public awareness and policy reform for animals on a national level, it’s time to celebrate the progress that’s been made but also look at the remaining gaps in the legal framework and make sure we finish the job on these cruelties.

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