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.
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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.
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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.

How will animals fare during the government shutdown?

As many of you know, there is no federal oversight of animal shelters.  They will continue to operate as usual during the government shutdown which, in too many cases, is a tragedy in itself.  But with the failure of Congress to do its job and keep the government running, I wanted to mention a few animal related services that are being impacted by the federal government shutdown.

  • USDA food inspectors will remain on the job so the food you eat and feed to your pets – or for those who feed kibble/canned pet food, the ingredients used to make that food – will be as safe as it was before the shutdown, which is up for debate.
  • Although the animals are still receiving care, the National Zoo is closed and the panda cam is dark.  The loss of the panda cam seems to be the only thing that might motivate citizens to take to the streets.

Have more? Add them in the comments.

Treats on the Internets: Other Edition

Because I know many of you are like me in that you are interested in other animals besides dogs and cats, I have a few links to share in that department:

Midwestern Harry Potter fans will be happy to hear there is a glut of snowy owls in Kansas this year.  But it’s important to keep a good distance if you sight one on the ground so as to allow them to regain their strength after flying in from the arctic and to use their reserves for hunting, not for fleeing from curious bird watchers.

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The housing of lab rodents is a complex issue (which I did not realize before reading this article) and the subject has become confusing to researchers after reading the government’s new guidelines.

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A new study finds that manta and mobula rays – the majestic ballet swimmers – are in danger of extinction due to a Chinese market for their gill rakers (the mechanism by which the animal filters food from the water).  Perhaps even sadder is the reason for the demand:

The researchers note that the gills had not previously been prescribed in traditional Chinese medicine, and many of its practitioners conceded in interviews for the study that gill rakers were not effective in treating illness and that many alternatives were available. The rising popularity of the ingredient seems to be the result of traders’ efforts to create a market, the report’s authors concluded.