Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many issues understandably taking precedence in society at the moment. At all levels of government, resources and attention are exclusively focused on getting us all through this crisis. However, when things return to normal, we will once again be able to advocate effectively on behalf of animals, and in the meantime we are continuing to plan for that day.

As a continuation of our previous blog posts on the use of the law to protect animals, this article will address protections for animals in research.

If you follow the news and Michigan Humane’s work, you probably remember the beagles we rehomed last year when they were released from a research lab. There was a tremendous public response to their plight that helped secure their release and ensured that they found loving homes. Many people expressed outrage and protested the use of animals in research. As with most issues involving animals and the law, the situation is complicated, and the solution is not as clear or as easily attained as we would like. However, there is a bill pending in the Michigan legislature that would provide hope for dogs and cats being used in research.

In order to understand the options available to state legislatures when it comes to enacting laws to benefit animals in research, it is necessary to understand the interaction and authority of federal and state government on this issue. Generally, deference is given to local authority to know how to best address their specific animal-related issues. For this reason, the majority of animal protection laws are enacted by state legislatures, and state government will sometimes defer to local government to regulate animal issues. There are only a handful of federal animal welfare laws.

One of these federal animal welfare laws is the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The AWA (7 USC 2131 et seq.) became law in 1966, and it has only been amended eight times throughout its history. The AWA sets the minimum acceptable treatment standards for animals in research, in exhibitions, in transport and by dealers. The AWA gives the USDA enforcement authority, which is carried out by the Animal Care division of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The AWA also allows USDA APHIS to enact regulations that fill in the details not provided in the AWA (9 CFR Parts 1, 2, and 3), and those regulations have the force of law (Michigan Humane has taken the opportunity to weigh in on proposed regulations).

Although the federal legislature has not passed a lot of statutes pertaining to animals, when there is a federal statute on an issue, that means state and local governments are typically prohibited from regulating on the same issue. The federal statute preempts any state or local legislative action. In the case of the AWA, the provisions regarding animals used in research preempt any state or local legislation on that subject. Further, research animals are the property of the laboratory that is using them for research.

For these reasons, state and local legislatures have few options for helping research animals collectively and no real options for helping individual research animals. While states are powerless to regulate the treatment of animals in research labs, one strategy some states have employed is to pass legislation requiring that dogs and cats used in research who are healthy be made available for adoption at the end of the research for which they were being used.

Four states, including Illinois, Tennessee, Rhode Island and Delaware, have enacted Research Dog and Cat Adoption Acts. Michigan has a similar statute currently pending. House Bill 4496 provides that “[b]efore euthanizing a laboratory animal that is no longer needed for research purposes, a research facility shall offer the animal to an animal protection shelter located in this state for adoption, unless  euthanizing the animal is required for health or safety reasons.” For purposes of this bill, a “laboratory  animal” is defined to be a cat or dog. The bill is currently awaiting a hearing in the House Agriculture Committee.

Michigan Humane is an animal protection shelter as defined by state law and stands willing to assist research facilities in the placement of former research cats and dogs whether this statute passes or not. But for the sake of the animals in research facilities in this state, we fully support this legislation.

We are going to keep working to improve animal welfare and serving as a voice for the animals through advocacy. We’ll let you know when you can help advocate with us! Together, we can continue to make a difference in animals’ lives. If you know someone who you think would be interested in these updates, please encourage them to sign up for our Legislative Action Network.

Photo Credit: Humane Society of the United States