At first glance, Del. Ben Kramer’s multiyear effort to protect companion animals was successful on two fronts during the just-finished 2018 session of the Maryland General Assembly.
Legislation offered by Kramer to end the sale of dogs in retail pet stores—where critics say many of the animals are products of so-called “puppy mills”—sailed through the House and Senate. It is awaiting Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature, as is another Kramer proposal—which he had been pushing for four years—to mandate efforts by research institutions and private laboratories to adopt out dogs and cats that had been used in testing.
But Kramer was not happy with the final form in which the latter legislation—popularly dubbed the “Beagle Bill”—emerged. And he is poised to push additional restrictions in the 2019 legislative session if, as widely expected, he is elected to an open state Senate seat in November.
“[When] it came out of the Senate, the amendments completely neutered the bill,” charged Kramer, a Derwood Democrat who has served in the House of Delegates since 2007. “Once those amendments passed, we were left with a bill with a beautiful title—and nothing more.” He pointed the blame at one of the state’s most prominent research institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
Formally entitled the “Humane Adoption of Companion Animals Used In Research Act,” Kramer’s original bill (and companion legislation sponsored in the Senate by Frederick County Republican Michael Hough) would have required annual reporting by individual laboratories of the number of dogs and cats used, and how many of them had been adopted out. It also would have required these facilities to work with outside animal rescue organizations to maximize adoption of companion animals after they were no longer needed as test subjects.
Hopkins, which had opposed Kramer’s bill in previous years, swung behind it during this session after the legislation emerged from a Senate committee stripped of the reporting requirements. Another amendment pushed by Hopkins allows research institutions and laboratories to run their own private adoption programs, although the bill retains a provision that dogs and cats be offered to outside rescue groups if they are suitable for adoption and cannot be placed through such private programs.
Kramer said he offered a compromise to lobbyists for Hopkins, under which the university would only need to report how many companion animals it had adopted out in a given year, rather than the total number used for testing. “And they refused to even give that consideration,” he complained. “So Hopkins and all the private research facilities in the state will now be able to say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re adopting in-house, have a happy day.’ And there will be nothing [to enable] us to have any knowledge whatsoever if they are doing anything at all. And that was their game.”
Officials of Johns Hopkins Medicine, which has jurisdiction over the university’s research facilities, did not respond to a request for comment from Bethesda Beat. In recent comments to the Baltimore Sun, a spokeswoman said the university has “well-established processes in place to ensure the safe re-homing of our animals,” contending that such efforts had been “incredibly successful” and resulted in hundreds of dogs being adopted.
She said 49 dogs were used in research at Hopkins last year—up from 31 in 2016, but down from nearly 500 in 2005, due to in part to a shift to increasing utilization of animals such as mice and rabbits for research.
According to the latest available U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics—covering the 2016 fiscal year—nearly 61,000 dogs and 19,000 cats were used in research nationwide, with just under 650 dogs and 65 cats used in Maryland facilities. Prior to the action by this year’s legislative session, six other states had previously enacted similar laws.
“What we see across the country is that animals that could potentially be adoptable are getting euthanized,” said Matt Rossell, campaign and policy director for the Rescue + Freedom Project, a California-based group that says it has rescued more than 1,000 companion animals from research facilities.
The “Beagle Bill” got is name because, according to Rossell, “about 96 percent” of the dogs used in research labs are beagles.
“They’re the fifth most popular family pet [among dog breeds]—they’re very docile, forgiving, loving animals,” said Rossell. “For the same reasons—unfortunately for them—they’re the No. 1 research canine. They also fit well in a cage.”
While Kramer complained about his bill lacking teeth after the reporting requirements were stripped from it, Rossell said laws in other states—while also lacking provisions for reporting by labs—have had an impact.
“We have spoken with shelters and rescue groups who, as a result of this law, have been able to rescue dogs and cats from rescue labs in those states,” said Rossell, while acknowledging: “Reporting language would clearly be a big improvement. A lot of this is publicly funded research, and the public paying for it really does have a right to know … how many animals you have adopted out—and to whom.”
While there has been “a movement away from using dogs and cats” in research in recent years, Rossell said, “Unfortunately, we have some evidence that animal research is increasing at a time when the technologies are constantly evolving—and the use of animals as a model for human disease is becoming more and more antiquated.”
Kramer is contemplating a legislative effort next year to ban research using companion animals in Maryland.
“By virtue of their refusal to even have a conversation about this [year’s] bill, I guarantee you it’s not going to be in the rear view mirror,” Kramer said, alluding to Hopkins. “And now maybe … we’ll start to have some conversations about the fact that they’re still experimenting on companion animals. If you start doing the research, you’ll find that there’s very, very little that has ever come from experimentation on companion animals.
“If we can’t get any reporting on what they’re doing, then maybe we just need to prohibit the practice.”
Kramer, himself owner of a number of dogs from rescue groups in recent years—most recently a Doberman pinscher adopted just before this year’s session—first got into the issue of companion animals used for research about four years ago. He had spotted a Washington Post story about seven beagles rescued from a Virginia laboratory being released for the first time outdoors in a park in Montgomery County.
“The article was just heart-wrenching,” he said. “I had assumed, and I think a lot of people do, that dogs were no longer used for research. I was surprised to find that they still experiment on companion animals.”
Kramer said that when he first introduced the legislation, “a number of different organizations discovered me—and were thrilled that I put this bill in. With each passing year, there are more groups and more folks who have joined in." This year’s amended bill cleared both houses without a dissenting vote.
At the same time, Kramer also began taking aim at retail pet stores that he said “still have the barbaric business model of selling puppies and kittens that are coming from the grotesque puppy mills.”
In discussions with representatives of these stores, “I was trying to get them to provide us reporting as to ‘Which puppy mills and what … kind of violations have they had?’,” Kramer recalled. “The pet stores kept agreeing ‘OK, we’ll accept this and we’ll accept that.' We got bills passed—and then they were totally ignoring it. They were flouting the law.”
It resulted in Kramer’s bill this year—passed 129-8 in the House of Delegates and unanimously in the state Senate—to bar the sale of puppies and kittens in retail stores. Maryland joins California, which enacted similar legislation several months ago, as the two states prohibiting this practice. “Passage of this bill, which I did not expect at the start of session, is huge for animal welfare organizations,” Kramer said.
In Maryland, the “No More Puppy- And Kitten-Mills Act of 2018” would bar the sale of companion animals in retail stores as of the end of 2020; the bill passed out of the House with an end of 2019 deadline, which was extended a year in the Senate. The affected stores “would have to adopt the business model that all of the major pet retail stores have, and that is that they make their money off supplies—the food and the goods—and the grooming,” Kramer noted.
As is the case now, when animal rescue organizations periodically showcase dogs and cats available for adoption at some of the major chain stores selling pet supplies, smaller stores affected by Kramer’s bill would also be allowed to work with rescue groups on an occasional basis. But they are barred from profiting from such adoptions.
Kramer’s next target: sales of companion animals via the Internet. He plans to meet with the state attorney general’s office in advance of next year’s session to identify a way to craft legislation barring such sales.
“The ban on retail sales will take a big chunk out of puppy mill sales—particularly impulse buying—but the Internet is increasingly becoming a means for the puppy mills to sell,” he said.