What Happened to the Beagles in the 5 Year Group in the Rabies Challenge Fund?

Primer, snipped from the Rabies Challenge Fund website:

The Rabies Challenge Fund Charitable Trust will determine the duration of immunity conveyed by rabies vaccines. The goal is to extend the required interval for rabies boosters to 5 and then to 7 years.
[…]
The research began in November 2007 under the direction of Dr. Ronald Schultz and The University of Wisconsin Foundation and is now in year seven.

And the most recent news on the site, dated July 2014:

The Rabies Challenge Fund has just received the commitment from a USDA-approved facility to perform the first of the challenge phases of our 5 and 7-year studies. […]

Fees for this first challenge, slated to begin later this year, will involve 15 of the study dogs and will cost $100,000. If successful, two subsequent challenges of 15 dogs each will be conducted in order to meet the USDA rabies vaccine licensing requirements. These results, which will have been obtained using the same federal standard upon which all currently licensed rabies vaccines and rabies laws and regulations are based, should establish the scientific foundation upon which the legally required rabies booster intervals for dogs can be extended to 5 or 7 years.

My question is: What has happened to the dogs in the 5 year group, whose 5 years would seem to have expired in 2012? The study uses approximately 70 beagles, researchers’ breed of choice for vivisection. And the USDA requires that the dogs be killed at the conclusion of the study.

In 2008, the study was targeted by PETA. I have no idea why PETA would take issue with the planned killing of dogs, unless it was that the dogs weren’t being killed fast enough to satiate PETA’s blood lust. At any rate Dr. Jean Dodds, one of the researchers, responded to PETA and her response was widely circulated online. Part of her response addressed the USDA requirement that the dogs be killed and the researchers’ intention to convince the USDA to change that requirement:

Dr. Ron Schultz has undertaken informal dialog with USDA senior officials , in his capacity as advisor to the vaccine industry and regulatory body. He has decades of experience in the field and attends meetings with these folks regularly. At this point, we have not made progress in changing their views, BUT, he and I together are planning to present a more formal proposal to them. We have 4 + years to accomplish what we view as an important need to change the regulations as currently written for endpoint challenge testing — before anything involving challenge of these healthy dogs (vaccinates and controls) with rabies virus has to take place according to the current regulatory protocol.
[…]
We have the interim years to dialog with the federal authorities, based upon Dr. Schultz’s expertise, and hope to amend the CFR regulatory requirements for the end phase of their protocol.

Dr. Dodds also explained that dogs will be killed promptly and not allowed to suffer through the entire disease process once infected with rabies:

Even if we’re forced by the USDA to follow the current challenge protocol at the end of the 5 and 7 year studies, there will be no excruciating deaths among the control dogs, because at the very first evidence of malaise and illness they will be sacrificed.

After searching the RCF website and trying to find updates via Google but coming up empty, I sent out a couple of inquiries.

Sent to the Rabies Challenge Fund:

I saw the website announcement last month that a USDA approved facility had been secured in which to expose the dogs to rabies. Have the dogs in the 5 year study been waiting all this time for you to secure a facility? If not, what was their fate?
I remember several years ago the doctors involved in the study were hopeful they’d be able to convince the USDA that titers were acceptable so that no dogs would be killed in order to satisfy USDA requirements at the end of the study. Were those efforts successful? I never heard any updates.

Response: none.

Sent to Maddie’s Fund, a no kill organization which is not funding the RCF but is widely affiliated with Dr. Ron Schultz, lead researcher on the study:

Do you know if Maddie’s has issued a position statement on [the RCF] study, specifically regarding the planned killing of the dogs involved in the research? Or if Maddie’s has been encouraging Dr. Schultz to seek alternatives to killing the dogs in the rabies study?

Response, from Lynne Fridley at Maddie’s Fund:

Maddie’s Fund would encourage all researchers to find alternatives to killing animals for their studies, but we were not aware of this study until you contacted us and thus have not discussed it nor taken a position on it.

Maddie’s Fund never heard of the RCF study. Although they know about it now so perhaps they will take some action. I can’t tell based upon the brief response.

RCF isn’t answering questions apparently.

So I’m throwing this out there: Does anyone know what has happened to the beagles in the 5 year study group? Have the researchers made any progress in convincing the USDA to accept results from the study which do not require the killing of the dogs?

Please note that this is not a forum to discuss the potential benefits of the RCF study or engage in “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” arguments in an attempt to justify killing dogs.  I am asking what has happened to the 5 year group of beagles involved in the RCF study.  I understand that possibly one or more of you might have a dog who will potentially benefit from a change in the law regarding the duration of immunity of rabies vaccines.  Your dog has you to advocate for him, as well you should, just not on this post.  The beagles forced to participate in the RCF study never got to be anyone’s dogs and have no owners advocating for them.

I don’t like secrecy and I like dog killing even less.  If you can’t own it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.  I want to find out the truth.

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21 Comments

  1. mikken

     /  August 8, 2014

    I am all for revising the rabies vaccination requirements in the US. Our current requirements are sadly outdated. So while I was completely behind the idea of the RCF, I could not in good conscience donate money to the project knowing what was to become of those dogs…

    France has already done the study. It’s already been proven that we over vaccinate for rabies. But the US powers that be won’t accept France’s data because of their rules. I think changing the rules, rather than duplicating the research would have been a better approach.

    But the idea that these dogs were living with families (and that was the plan, last I heard – the dogs all were cared for in home environments) only to be killed some years later is … vile. Not just for the dogs, but for the people who cared for them. Just because they knew the score walking in doesn’t make it unaffecting for them.

    Reply
    • I thought that the dogs had to live in kennels that met the USDA requirements for research animals.

      Reply
      • Susan

         /  August 8, 2014

        I had contacted Dr. Dodd in 2008 about adopting one of the beagles after the study. This was her response: “The beagles in the RCF study cannot be adopted out at the completion, because this study is strictly regulated by the USDA
        The now being conducted by Dr. Ron Schultz at Univ of WI [www.rabieschallengefund.org] involves 20 rabies vaccinates and 20 control dogs being studied for duration of immunity — they are free housed at a veterinary owned breeding facility. The study protocol is controlled by the USDA Title 9 CFR for licensing of rabies vaccines; a requirement that has to be adopted for all rabies vaccines currently licensed or in the trial stage prior to licensing. This protocol requires the both groups be sacrificed at the end. While we may not agree with this outcome, if we want to prevent overvaccination by law for rabies this is the protocol that must be followed — to save countless others from severe and even fatal adverse reactions — as exemptions from rabies boosters are rarely granted by local or state officials –even in the face of a v ery ill animal needing a booster for license renewal, and, even if this animal is tested and shown to have a very high rabies antibody titer — above that stated by CDC to protect people against rabies. This is a bureaucratic nightmare that causes needless suffering to animals and their guardians. Best wishes. Jean”

      • mikken

         /  August 8, 2014

        Ah…perhaps “home environment” was a generous statement indicating “not in cages”.

        “Veterinary owned breeding facility” sounds like code for “noisy, smelly kennel”.

        More Beagles who never get to walk on grass or see the sky?

  2. donagracia

     /  August 8, 2014

    Send a FOIA request?

    Reply
  3. You can probably contact Jean Dodds through her website: http://www.hemopet.org. Also, the Rabies Challenge Fund has a facebook page, they post updated on California Federation of Dog Clubs Facebook page. I sincerely doubt that our government will ease the requirements for the study. Government is known for being stupid and uncaring, living by the letter of their voluminous rules.
    Rabies is preventable, but Ebola virus is NOT. Yet, our government brings in people infected with Ebola virus without a second thought. Go figure.

    Reply
    • The researchers that contracted Ebola were transported in medical isolation and are being treated in medical isolation. It has not been done “without a thought.”

      And frankly I’m appalled by all the people who seem to think the Ebola doctors who got sick deserve to be punished for it.

      Reply
  4. Paula Lee

     /  August 8, 2014

    Rabies is no more contagious than ebola and canine strain rabies has been eliminated from the United States since the early 70’s………..as with smallpox vaccinations with children, there really should not be any further legal requirement to rabies vaccinate dogs. It might be advisable in areas where a lot of terrestrial animals carry it. They are willing to risk ebola, which makes no sense…no cure, no vaccine, no nothing. We could vaccinate people for rabies – that seems to be over looked………..but I digress….sorry.

    Please, please, do stay on the case and find out what happens to these dogs.
    If there was a group of dogs in a 5 year study, what was the result?
    Did they retain immunity? Seems like we got nothin’ out of that 5 years.
    Some things just don’t smell right.

    Reply
    • People keep saying this nonsense.

      No, they are not “willing to risk Ebola.” Ebola is easy to contain with current medical resources and protocols. It is not easily contained in some parts of Africa because people don’t trust hospitals and medical authorities, and because funeral customs require bodies to be handled in ways that expose people to the highly infectious bodily fluids.

      The two American doctors who have been brought back to their own country for treatment at the best facility in the world to do that, traveled in medical isolation in specially-equipped planes and are being kept in medical isolation during their treatment. No, they are not “willing to risk Ebola.”

      Rabies is, unfortunately, all too common among wildlife in this country, and continuing to require vaccination of dogs and cats is entirely sensible. What doesn’t make sense is over-vaccination, and revaccination of previously vaccinated animals who had serious reactions or who have become I’ll in other ways that make revaccination medically contraindicated.

      Which is why what happened with those five-year dogs is important apart from the humane issues obviously involved.

      Reply
  5. Anne Thomas

     /  August 8, 2014

    But what about vaccines that are tested on humans? They are allowed to live after the study, and the USDA is content with the reliability and accuracy of these studies. So why do they feel they need different standards for vaccines tested on dogs?

    Reply
    • The reason they do animal tests is to eliminate as much uncertainty as possible before they test on humans.

      Also, I hope you mean “rabies vaccine for humans,” because rabies is unquestionably special. 100% fatality is, well, offhand I can’t think of another infectious disease that affects humans and has a 100% fatality rate.

      Certainly not Ebola, in spite of all the panic being fomented over it.

      Reply
  6. So am I correct in thinking that in essence, they started this study without a clear plan as to getting a space to do the exposure challenge? And that this may have resulted in an inability to expose the five year dogs,so those dogs may have either been waiting this entire time or have been ‘disposed’ of in other ways?

    Does this not strike anyone else else as a profoundly poor way to set up a research study?

    Reply
    • Where in the world do you get that impression from?? The dogs ARE (were if they are dead now) in a space to do the challange….that was the whole point of the facility they’re in.

      Reply
    • Ok, I’m seeing where you get that impression. But without knowing that the USDA requirements are to GET that space theres no way to know if its negligent or not. Having had some experience with dealing with out .GOV I can totally see how they might not even be able to get on a waiting list till the initial titer/serum testing was done! Cause yah, our .GOV is good like that.

      Reply
      • Since the entire point of the study is to determine if the immunity is sustained against a challenge with actual rabies, it would seem like securing a space would be step one, since that’s the only aspect of the study that could be a public health danger. I suppose I can’t assume if failing to do so is on the side of the study’s creators or the gov, but either way it seems like a huge problem. From the fact that they also felt 5 years was time enough to change regulations in order to keep the dogs alive, I rather suspect the study creator’s just assumed 5 years was also long enough to secure a space.

  7. On their Facebook page there’s a statement that the USDA refused to back down from the requirements of testing that will result in the deaths of the dogs. Its in the comments on another post, not sure if it has a seperate post-statement or not.

    Reply
  8. Anne Thomas

     /  August 9, 2014

    Hi, Lis, thank you for providing the facts about Ebola. Actually, I was thinking of the HIV vaccine study, because I volunteered for it, as did a number of people I know.

    This is not a situation where a vaccine for humans is being tested on other species first (which seems bogus to me because other species might respond differently, also it seems wrong to test a vaccines on species who can’t benefit for it); it’s a test of a vaccine that’s just for dogs. So if the USDA thinks that they will get an accurate result from testing the HIV vaccine on humans who will continue to live, I don’t see why they don’t think they can get accurate results on a test of a rabies vaccine for dogs or, for that matter, a parvovirus vaccine, on dogs who would continue to live afterward.

    Reply
    • First, we don’t definitively diagnose HIV by killing the patient and opening up the skull to look at the brain.

      Second, unlike the scary early years of the 80s and 90s, HIV is not a death sentence. Rabies still has a 100% fatality rate.

      So no, they are not going to play games or take chances with rabies. A study whose whole purpose is to make a major change in how we vaccinate what used to be the main vector by which humans were exposed to rabies is not likely to do something new and innovative with how the rabies-exposed dogs are handled.

      As for animal testing–they do it because it works. Some animals are really good models for how humans respond to drugs and diseases, and because they have much shorter lifespans, they can do multiple generations of testing in a very compressed time frame. They can totally control what the animals are and aren’t exposed to. They can eliminate any variable they can identify. As a result, by the time they start clinical trials, they have a dramatically increased probability of success, and a dramatically decreased risk of killing their human volunteers.

      Medical researchers don’t use animals gratuitously or indiscriminately. There are standards, there are animal care committees which include animal welfare people with no other connection to the pharma industry. And there has been real progress in developing computer models. This doesn’t eliminate animal use yet, but it HAS reduced it, so that animals enter the process later, and fewer animals are used. It’s many years away still, but eventually computer models will completely replace animal use in research.

      To return to the AIDS vaccine study you volunteered for (and thank you for that!), AIDS is special in a different way than rabies: no good animal models. They TRIED using animals in the early years of AIDS research, and even the best human analogues (with correspondingly highest costs and greatest humane care issues), chimpanzees, were useless.

      One thing you might want to consider: Very little of the medical research that has advanced the care of our dogs and cats was done for the benefits of dogs and cats. I don’t currently, my present crew having been blessedly healthym but for many years I had cats who would have been dead very early in our rekationship, if not for research done on animals for the benefit of humans.

      Yes, it is an ethically fraught area. That doesn’t make “only do research on humans” a course that is currently either possible, or less ethically fraught.

      Reply
  9. I should have made those first two sentences two separate paragraphs; it looks like there’s a connection between them where there isn’t.

    Reply
  10. Alyssa

     /  August 11, 2014

    Has anyone tried contacting the Beagle Freedom Project? They rescue beagles from testing or experimentation facilities.

    Reply
  11. Based on this summary of the study from their website it seems that these dogs to be challenged are the first group of three http://www.rabieschallengefund.org/latest/summary-of-the-rabies-challenge-fund-duration-of-immunity-study

    It seems possible and reasonable to assume that just because they started in 2007 doesn’t mean they vaccinated dogs immediately, I would imagine some preliminary research/set up/funding was necessary. I don’t know for sure of course, but based on what I read it appears this will be the first challenge with two more to follow.

    Reply

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