In a University of Minnesota laboratory last year, a dog identified only as 14CC4 gave its life for science — specifically, research into grafting blood vessels in kidney and heart patients.

For Dianne Snater, an Albert Lea woman whose public-record request brought those facts to light, it means that she will never be able to adopt the dog she prefers to call “Bette.”

In May, I reported how a group called the Beagle Freedom Project was using records requests as part of its advocacy against the use of animals in laboratory testing. Snater and others paid the group $50 so they could symbolically “adopt” a research dog and obtain its treatment records from the university.

While the nationwide campaign is quixotic, it did put pressure on public research laboratories by revealing how they look after the animals used in experiments. Given their descriptions of multiple surgeries on an animal, the records provided to Snater make for difficult reading. But they also give an insight into what the university does, at least on paper, to minimize the harm to animals.

The University of Minnesota study involving dog 14CC4 was funded by LifeNet Health, a nonprofit organization based in Virginia that facilitates organ and tissue donation and transplantation. LifeNet wants to improve the lives of dialysis patients by grafting donated veins into their bodies, relieving the stress on their original veins, said Dan Shuman, a LifeNet spokesman.

The federal government requires testing on live animals before allowing the technology to be used in humans, Shuman said.

“Owing to this technology in combination with the heroic work of our animals these patients are spared the serious, debilitating and life-threatening effects of disease,” said Melanie Graham, an associate professor in the U’s Department of Surgery and vice chair of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

Before starting the project, researchers in the University’s surgery department completed a 49-page “Animal Care and Use Protocol.” Dated May 10, 2012, the protocol lays out the scale of the study. Up to 20 dogs would be subject to a “pain class” of B. That means the animals would sustain “potential pain/distress” but be treated with painkillers and anesthesia.

The researchers spelled out the surgical procedures, and what medications they will use to alleviate suffering.

An accompanying “animal morbidity report” provides the record of 14CC4, a female dog born Jan. 25, 2013. The dog underwent three surgeries in spring 2014, and after each one, the staff included daily observations: “Dog is alert this morning,” a staff member wrote on April 25, 2014. “Incisions are intact but area is swollen and bruised … Group to continue to treat. Will monitor neck swelling.”

After four more daily observation reports, a brief note: “Dog was euthanized for end of study 9/9/14.”

“Most of the animals involved in animal research are euthanized because the researchers will often need to study every aspect of the biology that may present risk to a patient,” Graham said.

Yet the case wasn’t “discharged by veterinarian” until April 3, 2015, and Snater thinks that’s what led the Beagle Freedom Project to consider the dog viable for adoption when she first requested the records that month.

Snater said that in reviewing the records she received in June, “I think the U came across as more of a caring facility than what I’ve read about in our southern states.” It did not persuade her that the dog had to suffer, however, for research and regulations that she considers unnecessary. “I personally can’t condone it.”

 

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