Broadly speaking there are two kinds of federally regulated sources for dogs and cats used in medical research, training, an testing, in the US. They are labeled, unambiguously, A and B. A-class sources are breeders that produce animals for use in research. B-class sources, also called “Random source,” provide animals, usually adults, that are not bred, but just acquired somehow (more or less randomly?) and kept for a while, and sold to research facilities. Random source dogs and cats are not bred by these dealers. (These are USDA regulatory categories.)
According to a report produced by the National Academy of Sciences (National Research Council. Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats in Research, National Academies Press, 2009), there are not enough random-source dogs and cats to go around when it comes to medical research. In addition, some of the dealers of these cats and dogs were found to be wanting in the degree to which they follow the law in properly treating the animals.
The American Physiological Society (APA) has come out with a statement on this problem and a press release describing proposed new policies. To be honest, it’s a little vague. The APA affirms the importance or random dogs and cats, and calls for more sources.
The panel therefore recommended that researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health obtain random source dogs and cats from other suppliers, e.g., Class A breeders, animal control facilities, hobby breeders, and individuals willing to donate animals for research. However, the panel recognized that these alternate suppliers may be unable to provide the animals needed so it also recommended that Congress provide supplemental funds to assist the National Institutes of Health in identifying and/or developing new sources to replace Class B dealers.
I find this very interesting, because this is essentially a call for Congress to get directly involved with a very controversial and hot-button issue. Some taxpayers are not going to want their sacred taxpayer dollars to fund puppy mills for the medical establishment, big Pharm, etc. to purchase their research subjects from. The framing of animal research by those who do animal research and by those who want all animal research to stop and by those who have other opinions could be harshly tested if this develops into an actual debate in Congress (and elsewhere).
Also, this is essentially an admission by the NAS and the APA that in the current system, there is identifiable “animal cruelty” or something like that going on. Expect this to be exploited. If the credibility of the Random Cat/Dog industry is in question, then the credibility of the researchers who use these animals, and who claim that all that can be done is being done to ensure humane treatment, is also in question. Expect that to be exploited.
In the end, it is likely that the recommendations that are being made, if carried out, will lead to better conditions for animals used in research. Let’s hope that this is not a situation that requires two steps backwards to make one step forward.