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Science's need for experimental animals is very real but is often filled by unscrupulous and cruel professional dognappers

It is fence-mending time on Capitol Hill now, and the halls of Congress are deserted—except perhaps for the ghost of a dog named Pepper. Late last June, Pepper, who was a 5-year-old Dalmatian bitch of affectionate disposition, disappeared from the 80-acre farm of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Lakavage in Slatington, Pa. Nine days later she turned up at New York City's Montefiore Hospital, where her body was used in a scientific experiment and then cremated. Because of her untimely end, her ghost soon after appeared to haunt the U.S. House of Representatives in the form of a bill (H.R. No. 9743) that would require anyone dealing in dogs to be licensed by the Federal Government and to keep records of all his transactions.

Whether or not the martyred Pepper will succeed in making a federal case out of dognapping is up to the men who make our nation's laws, but there are two things that the legislative investigation of her death and disappearance have made quite clear: 1) many pet dogs are being stolen from the front lawns and sidewalks of this country, and 2) the thefts in large part are motivated by science's constant and growing need for laboratory animals.

How did Pepper, the prime mover of the pending legislation, get from a Pennsylvania farm to a New York hospital? No one knows exactly, but this is certain: Pepper was last seen by her owner late on the evening of June 22. Like most family dogs, she had too much faith in people. She wagged her tail at strangers, and she liked to ride in automobiles. Probably in the early hours of the 23rd a dog thief simply stopped his car on the road in front of the Lakavage house, opened the door, invited Pepper to hop in, and then drove away with her.

All during the following week a heartbroken Mrs. Lakavage advertised and hunted for her dog. At the same time, by coincidence, a dog dealer named William Miller of McConnellsburg, Pa. was arrested in Northampton County, Pa. for improperly loading a shipment of dogs and goats in his truck. Reading a newspaper account of Miller's arrest, the Lakavages noticed that the shipment included two Dalmatians. While Miller tried to get a better truck—a truck that would satisfy the local requirements—his dogs and goats were retained overnight in the Northampton animal shelter, where they were photographed by the local SPCA. Subsequently, when shown the photographs, Mrs. Lakavage said she had no doubt that one of the Dalmatians was Pepper. Unfortunately, before she could get to the Northampton shelter for a firsthand look, Miller had taken off with his shipment, bound—he claimed—for a dog farm in High Falls, N.Y.

When she learned where he had gone, Mrs. Lakavage traveled 120 miles to High Falls in pursuit of Miller, but when she got to the dog farm they wouldn't let her in because she had no search warrant. As it turned out later, this proved immaterial, because Miller had never gone to the farm. Instead he had taken an indirect route to New York City and had sold the two Dalmatians to Montefiore Hospital. Before Mrs. Lakavage discovered this and could stay the hand of the Montefiore experimenters, her dog Pepper had already been used and cremated.

During the post mortem investigation by Pennsylvania officers Miller claimed he got the Dalmatian from a man named R. B. Hutton in St. Thomas, Pa. Hutton supposedly got it from an Everett, Pa. dog dealer named Jack Clark, who was said to have gotten it from a man in Altoona. Since reliable records were not kept by all parties, no one can be sure if this chain of dog vendors actually handled Pepper. In any case, the chain—if such it was—is not the kind a dog likes to be connected with. Last November, Miller was fined $20 for cruelty and for keeping dogs in unsanitary conditions. Last February, Jack Clark's son was fined $300 for transporting 136 of his father's dogs jampacked in a truck designed to carry only 60. The dogs ranged in size from Pomeranians to Collies, and one was near death when the law caught Clark.

Before the hunt for Pepper reached its sad conclusion, the bad smell of the affair had reached the noses of Senator Joseph Clark of Pennsylvania and Congressman Joseph Resnick of New York. The current bill to thwart dognappers was initiated by Congressman Resnick, and it will get Senator Clark's support if it ever makes the perilous journey from the House to the Senate without losing all its teeth.

At a preliminary hearing on the bill some weeks ago a great many charges were made, but not much was proved one way or the other. The truth of the matter is that the whole business of dog procurement for laboratory use, illicit or otherwise, wallows in a sea of insufficient fact. How many dogs do U.S. laboratories use in a year? Nobody knows. How many laboratories use dogs in experiments? Again nobody knows. Where do most of the dogs come from? No one can say for sure.

In an on-the-spot survey five years ago a committee of the National Research Council found that 57 of the medical schools and research centers around the country were using more than 60,000 dogs annually. Since no one knows how many more institutions use dogs, a projection of this figure is not honestly possible. Furthermore, judging from the five-year-old survey and random accounting since, it is obvious that the consumption of dogs varies greatly from institution to institution. The University of Minnesota, for example, uses 5,000 to 9.000 dogs a year, and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. use around 4,500. In contrast, Montefiore Hospital, where Pepper died, uses only a few hundred.

From such fragmentary evidence as this it is safe to presume that at least 100,000 dogs are used for experiments each year in the laboratories of the nation. The consumption may very well be five times as great. Some dare to say it is more than a million.

One certain fact is that only a small percentage of the dogs used by laboratories—no more than 20,000—come from breeders who raise them explicitly for that purpose. These breeders are mainly beagle breeders, and their going price is about $100 for a one-year-old specimen. A far greater number of the dogs used in experiments come from municipal and county pounds. A considerable number—and here again no one can be very precise—come from dealers who pick up strays and buy dogs that are no longer wanted or that have been stolen. Such a dealer can get $10 to $25 for a "stray" Dalmatian like Pepper. The price per dog is low but, all told, it is not a petty business. Dierolf Farms, which is reputedly the biggest seller of unwanted dogs in Pennsylvania, grosses more than $150,000 annually.

At the September hearing on the Resnick bill the representatives of research laboratories opposed the measure on the following grounds: 1) it would hamper research, 2) it was playing into the hands of antivivisectionists and 3) it was unworkable, unconstitutional and discriminatory, since in its original form it legislated only against dealers who sold to laboratories. Most of these opinions, though considerable, lacked the support of solid fact. In opening the hearing Congressman Resnick himself made one point very clear: "I am not an antivivisectionist," he said, "and the issue of vivisection is nowhere involved in this legislation. Neither is the issue of animal care in the laboratory. This bill is concerned entirely with the theft of dogs and cats and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the indescribably filthy conditions in which they are kept by the dealer."

One of the few facts adduced to oppose the Resnick bill was cited by Dr. Roger Estep, president of the National Capital Area Branch of an organization known as the Animal Care Panel. Dr. Estep, in addition to pleading the usual case, maintained that dog stealing is not a national problem. To support this thesis he produced some data from Prince Georges County, Md., where, he pointed out, in 1964 there were 873 reported cases of theft but only two involving dogs. This is a neat bit of reasoning that tries to measure the gravity of a crime by the frequency of its commission. According to such logic the Lindbergh kidnapping law should be repealed, for there are really very few children stolen annually. In Prince Georges County, to use Dr. Estep's particular microcosm, there is no record of kidnapping in the past 10 years.

What Dr. Estep seems to overlook is the further fact that, almost as much as a child, the domestic dog is part of the human heart and the human home and has been since lost time, for reasons no one can or need explain. Although the love men have for dogs is a socially accepted fact, it is one that at present does not have much legal recognition. In some states there is no law specifically covering dog theft. In states that do recognize it as a specific crime the penalties vary greatly, rarely taking into consideration anything except the dollar value of the animal. In New York state, for example, the maximum penalty prescribed for dog stealing is $10 and 10 days in jail. In Georgia, on the other hand, the minimum is a year in jail; the maximum, three years.

The question whether the Federal Government or the separate states should do more to protect the dog is one that can be argued on and on until all argument becomes senseless. It cannot obscure the fact that there is now an unwholesome and illicit traffic in dogs being carried on by soulless men. The most striking testimony to this truth at the Resnick hearing came from Sheriff Mark Bodine of Monroe County, Mo., who used only 3½ minutes of his allotted five minutes to present the sordidness that he had witnessed.

Using language made the more dramatic by its matter-of-fact straightforwardness, Sheriff Bodine described the circumstances that prompted him to arrest one dog dealer for cruelty to his merchandise. "With one of my deputies," Sheriff Bodine reported, "we went out there, and we found what is currently known as a horse trailer that was made double deck, which contained dogs, about as many as they could cram in, which was parked about a mile beyond the road, back in the woods, which-had been found by a squirrel hunter. My deputy went out and made the investigation, and he found that this was a very hot day, and there were dogs on top of dogs that were dead, and there were pans of water, but, because of dogs being on top of other dogs, they could not get to them. And this equipment that they were in was all enclosed, all but the rear end, which was wire mesh at the rear end of it. One dog in particular was crammed up into one corner with his teeth hanging in the wire, so there was no room for him to get around. The dogs were crammed in this trailer, and they estimated that there were 120 dogs in the trailer. The dogs could not get anything to eat in the rear, in the rear end, that is. Approximately 20, 30 or 40 feet away there was a pile of dead dogs, four or five feet high. There were about 50 or 60 or so in this pile, and in another hollow not too far away from there we found where a number of dogs had been killed or had died, and they had been partially burned, and there were the remaining bones and skeletons and hides there."

To judge by the facts available from bereft owners, the theft of a dog is not always a simple, brazen act. Often it involves subterfuge and, in some instances, bungling or malfeasance on the part of local officials. Three years ago, for example, Mrs. Gladys Byers of Camden, N.J. lost a black cocker named Alvin. For two weeks Mrs. Byers went almost daily to the municipal pound and was informed that no such dog had been taken in. Three months later police investigated the pound and arrested the men employed there for selling dogs on the sly to a laboratory supplier. In the rubbish at the pound the police found the tag of Mrs. Byers' dog. Similarly, when her German shepherd, Prince of Garde du Corps, disappeared, Mrs. Benzil Grim of Marion, Ind. went first to the police, then to the pound to find him. Although she made her first inquiry within the 72-hour limit that impounded dogs are required to be held in Marion, she was told that no such dog had been picked up. When Mrs. Grim subsequently found her dog at the Oakdale Farm and Kennel 58 miles away in Decatur, Ind. and traced him back to the Marion pound, the police, who are in charge of the pound, admitted that they had picked him up the same day he had disappeared. Mrs. Grim was allowed to have her dog, provided she made no further fuss. She now concludes that even in the cheap business of dog hustling "you can't beat city hall."

In Falls Church, Va., Mrs. James L. Reavis, the wife of a District of Columbia policeman, returned home scant minutes after a man who claimed to represent a local animal shelter had taken her German shepherd, Peanuts, from her front yard. Neighbor children, who had been gamboling in the yard with the dog, told Mrs. Reavis that the man had put the dog in a truck and had gone down the road that away. Fortunately the road thataway led to a dead end. Hence Mrs. Reavis was able to spy the truck when it came back by her house. She took off after it in her car, trailing it more than three miles into an alley. The trucker was kind enough to return Mrs. Reavis' dog to her after she had forked over $5. With her love of a pet overriding all common sense, Mrs. Reavis failed to ask the man whom he represented, or to take his license number. At the moment it did not even strike her as odd that she had pursued the truck from Fairfax County into neighboring Arlington. "Being a policeman's wife," she now reflects, "I guess I was stupid. But I did get the dog back."

Another German shepherd, the property of a New Mexican boy named Joe Lozano, was being taken for a romp in Loose Memorial Park, Kansas City, Mo., where Joe was visiting his grandmother. A truck bearing the sign "Wayside Waifs" stopped, and its driver seized Joe's dog because, he said, it was not on a leash. On the surface this all seemed quite legitimate, since Wayside Waifs is a perfectly proper dog-supervising organization run by a humane society and authorized to pick up strays. However, when Joe's father telephoned Wayside Waifs to ask about the dog he was told that no German shepherd had been picked up in Loose Park. When Joe accompanied his father to the shelter he noticed a funny thing. The trucks there had the name Wayside Waifs painted directly on the paneling. On the truck that had picked up his dog the name was on a placard affixed to the paneling. On the same day that Lozano lost his dog, a genuine Wayside Waifs truckman on a routine collection mission learned along the way that a spurious Waifs truck had beaten him to it.

Neither the fake truck nor Joe Lozano's German shepherd was ever identified. In all likelihood, after leaving the phony dogcatcher's questionable care, Joe's pet passed—for a price—through progressively cleaner hands until, in what may well have seemed a perfectly legitimate deal to the man in charge, he ended up in a laboratory and there was used to fill some scientists' very real need for experimental animals.