Research Animal Rescue Bill is Progressing through Oregon Legislature

Layla, a beagle who spent her first 1 1/2 years of life in a research laboratory, appears before a legislative committee.

Layla, a beagle who spent her first 1 1/2 years of life in a research laboratory, appears before a legislative committee.

Oregon’s Senate Bill 638-A would require public and private research facilities to offer dogs and cats to shelters and rescue agencies at the end of their research time, rather than euthanizing them, which currently standard practice.

With strong bipartisan support, no anticipated fiscal impact, and no organized opposition, the bill appears destined to find itself on the governor’s desk. Meanwhile, its committee hearings have been an unusually sweet break from the sometimes-contentious and always high-stress atmosphere in Salem’s capitol building.

When Portland-area elementary school students were assigned to research and form an educated position on a social issue, students gravitated to an issue involving pets. When they learned that laboratories commonly euthanize one- or two-year-old animals — most often beagles — when they’re no longer useful in research, they said they wanted to help change the fate of these animals. Learning that other states have bills requiring retired research animals to be placed for adoption, the students approached their state senator.

Appearing in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on May 2, Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-NW Portland/Beaverton) waved across the hearing room to Layla the beagle. “I’m all about the beagles,” she beamed. Asked whether the state’s shelter and rescue organizations have the capacity to receive and place these retired research animals, the senator said, “Yes. The Humane Society is here and they’ll tell you that the capacity exists.”

The senator described the meeting where the young students initially approached her about introducing the bill. They were so well informed and persuasive that she didn’t hesitate to introduce the legislation.

The bill’s cosponsor, Representative Mitch Greenlick, (D-Portland) spoke of the beagle who once “owned” his family. “If you haven’t had a beagle, you don’t know the pleasure of having a dog who’s smarter than you,” he joked to the committee. “This is a bill we can all feel good about.”

Also in the hearing, Layla’s adopter described her dog’s first year of life. “She was in a cage. She never knew what would happen to her next.” When the dog was released at just 1 1/2 years old and came to live in Linn County with her adopters, “she walked on grass for the first time. She learned to take treats from someone’s hand. She rode in a car for the first time.” Now, at five years old, her life generally resembles that of any other family pet.

Sharon Harmon, CEO of Oregon Humane Society, wrote in testimony to the committee, “These cats and dogs still have the capacity to be companions and we have the skills to match the right people with these special animals. This bill would open the door to partnerships that could save thousands of lives and enrich the lives of those who take them in.”

The bill, which passed the Senate by unanimous vote in March, likely had its final public hearing on March 2 before the House Judiciary Committee. Committee members swooned at 2nd-grade students presenting handwritten testimony and raised their smart phones to snap photos of Layla the beagle.

Representative Mike McLane (R-Powell Butte) asked Layla’s adopter whether the 5-year-old dog is always so quiet. The beagle sat silently on her adopter’s lap, exchanging glances with grinning committee members and posing patiently for swarms of smart phones and cameras. “No,” her adopter smiled.

“Well, she’s a very well-behaved dog,” Rep. McLane commented, adding that he intends to vote yes on the bill.

Speaking on behalf of Spot Magazine, managing editor Michelle Blake told the committee, “Senate Bill 638 fits the character of our region. Until we eliminate the use of animals in laboratories, Oregonians do -- and will continue to -- embrace the opportunity to give those animals a second chance at a happy life. Even if they present with emotional or physical challenges, even if they require a special kind of home.”

Elle, a 2nd grade student from Portland, greets Layla in the lobby after testifying in favor of SB 638-A.

Elle, a 2nd grade student from Portland, greets Layla in the lobby after testifying in favor of SB 638-A.

Students testify about why they asked the senator to introduce the bill. Committee members capture the moment on their smart phones.

Students testify about why they asked the senator to introduce the bill. Committee members capture the moment on their smart phones.