While Dr. Stacy Lopresti-Goodman doesn’t hear directly from the victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that she observed for a week in November, their friends often send her pictures of them snuggling, playing, or just lounging outside, enjoying the fresh air and California sunshine. The trip was part of Lopresti-Goodman’s investigation of PTSD symptoms in dogs used in biomedical research.
The dogs’ current circumstances are quite a change from the lives they led before being rescued by Beagle Freedom Project, a Los Angeles-based organization that finds adoptive homes for dogs rescued or retired from biomedical research laboratories. The group also promotes state legislation that would require labs to adopt out dogs instead of euthanizing them when experiments are complete.
“One of the most moving aspects of my research is speaking with the individuals who have opened up their hearts and homes to these dogs,” said Lopresti-Goodman, a Marymount University associate professor of psychology. “The families’ love for their dogs, and stories about physical and psychological scars they still harbor, have moved me to tears.”
She said it’s been personally rewarding to get to know a little bit about each dog, and their humans, through this project. According to Lopresti-Goodman, nearly 61,000 dogs are in U.S. labs. The majority of them are beagles.
“They are chosen specifically because of their small size and good nature, which is taken advantage of by experimenters,” she said.
The dogs undergo invasive brain experiments, medical device testing, and chemical toxicity testing, among other things. Lopresti-Goodman says using dogs in lab testing is no longer necessary: “In 2017, there are more humane and effective ways to do science that don’t involve harming animals.” She said one way the public can effect change is always to buy products that are not tested on animals and to urge their members of Congress to support efforts to reduce animal testing.
For her commitment to animal welfare advocacy, Lopresti-Goodman received the “Hero in Cognitive and Sentience Science and Education Award” from the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine and the Green Neuroscience Laboratory on Nov. 14. In addition to her work with the beagles, she has conducted observational research of primate behavior in sanctuary settings, which has helped advance understanding of cognition and sentience in nonhuman animals. She’s also done research on alternatives to the use of animals in psychology education.
“My research has demonstrated that the beagles who have been lucky enough to be rescued by BFP are generally more fearful than beagles who were not used in research – fearful of strangers, of new objects and situations, and of trips to the vet,” she said, which makes sense, given the traumatic experiences they likely endured in laboratories.
“Another thing I've found is that these dogs are significantly less aggressive than other beagles, however, so their fear doesn't translate to anger,” she said. “Instead, it has just increased their attachment to their caregivers.”
For more information on the rescue organization, go to bfp.org.
Dr. Stacy Lopresti-Goodman, an associate professor of psychology at Marymount University, is shown with Belle, a dog rescued by Beagle Freedom Project. Lopresti-Goodman has conducted a study of the psychological impact of laboratory experiments on dogs.