The people hoping to adopt research dogs from the University of Minnesota know them only by code numbers: 14AC2, 12AC1, 14CC4 and so on.

They want to learn more, so they have filed public records requests to find out what experiments have been done on the dogs. It’s part of a campaign by a California-based animal rights group, the Beagle Freedom Project, that’s trying to end the practice by shedding more light on what happens in university laboratories.

“You’re an advocate for this animal,” said one of the “adopters,” Nicole Stundzia of Rochester. “You’re trying to get the animal released to you once testing is completed. That’s what we’re fighting for. That’s why we’re trying to get records.”

The possibility of adopting former laboratory animals is more than an abstraction in Minnesota, which last year became the first state to require universities to offer research dogs and cats for adoption, whenever possible.

The law was championed by the Beagle Freedom Project, which advocates for the dog breed that’s often used in research.

Since the law passed, nine former research dogs have been successfully adopted through the university’s partnership with the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, said Cynthia Gillett, institutional veterinarian at the U. Gillett said the dogs are not identified as former research animals when they are put up for adoption at the shelter.

“You should be adopting the animal because you want the animal, not because [of] its provenance,” Gillett said.

Yet the animal advocates see that as precisely the reason for their “identity campaign.” “We don’t want those animals to be invisible and forgotten about,” said Jeremy Beckham, a Salt Lake City man who runs the campaign full-time for the Beagle Freedom Project.

To get a glimpse into how research universities nationwide treat laboratory animals, the organization obtained statistical reports on each institution from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website.

Then the group submitted record requests to 15 universities. The University of Minnesota released a census from June 2014 that indicated it had 19 dogs at that time.

Those 19 are among the nearly 900 research animals that have been “adopted” through the Beagle Freedom Project’s website. In exchange for $50, the adopters receive a stainless steel tag with the animal’s ID number, a fill-in-the-blank record request and a stamped envelope addressed to the university. The Minnesota letter asks for “any and all intake records, transfer records, daily care logs, animal health records, treatment and progress reports, veterinary reports, necropsy reports, photographs, and videos related to this animal (January 1, 2013-present),” as well as research protocols involving the animal.

Gillett sees the campaign as misleading, because it appears to hold out the possibility that the animal in question could find its way to that person’s home. Kevin Chase, vice president of the Beagle Freedom Project, disagrees, saying it’s no different from the charities that offer people the chance to virtually “adopt” a child in Guatemala.

The university will comply with the requests and hand over public data, although it will redact information about where the animals are housed, for security reasons, as well as any info considered trade secrets or private, such as cellphone numbers, said Joseph Koktan, a U spokesman.

“I don’t know what’s going to transpire,” said Jade Fischer of St. Paul, who last month asked for the history of 14AC2. “I’m trying to be patient.”

Over the past 10 to 15 years, domestic pigs are increasingly taking the place of dogs in research, Gillett said. The most recent census provided by the university to the Beagle Freedom Project, from February, listed only 11 dogs: eight “hound cross,” two red bone hounds and one beagle.

 

Contact James Eli Shiffer at james.shiffer@startribune.com or 612-673-4116. Read his blog at startribune.com/fulldisclosure.