At least 30 beagle puppies were recently rescued by animal rights activists from a notoriously inhumane breeding facility in Italy.

Green Hill 2001 farms the animals out to vivisection labs, where the dogs are subjected to live experimental research and then death. Members of the Animal Liberation Front of Italy climbed over barbed wire fences on the grounds of Green Hill, then managed to squirrel the animals out through a breach in the fencing. Twelve activists were arrested in the liberation.

Beagles are the most popular dog used in biomedical research. According to the book, The Beagle as an Experimental Dog, “The most desirable qualities of the Beagle…are its medium size, moderate length of hair coat…even temperament, adaptability to living in groups, (and) conformation.” In short, beagles are docile individuals and they are convenient because they are small, allowing for more animals to be housed and cared for using less space and money. And because they have been utilized for so long, beagles are considered to be the best characterized ‘canine models’ in scientific literature, thus perpetuating their use.

Ironically, discoveries of what was happening to beagles in laboratories in the late 1950s and early 1960s led to enactment of the first laws designed to protect animals in labs.

In 1959 a nationally syndicated newspaper report revealed that beagles in a laboratory in downtown Washington D.C. within eyesight of the Capitol, were being harshly abused in a study to test food dyes. The exposé landed like a bombshell on legislators’ desks: “Hundreds of dogs flung themselves against the bars of their cages, piled tier on tier. They were barking, screaming, whining, mute—and drooped their heads in the dark corners. Others circled ceaselessly in their cages.” Shamed, Congress quickly appropriated $100,000 for new animal quarters at the lab.

The incident prompted introduction of the first major bill in the U.S. Senate aimed at protecting laboratory animals. Predictably, it was shot down as the biomedical lobby pounded home the message that such “paralyzing legislation” would hinder the search for medical advances that could save untold lives.

About this same time, the Veterans Administration together with the American Cancer Society used over a hundred beagles to study the effects of cigarette smoking by cutting “breathing holes” in the dogs’ windpipes and inserting tubes into the holes with cigarettes at the other end. Some dogs were made to “smoke” for as long as a year and a half. The dogs were then killed and autopsied to determine the effects of the smoke.

When knowledge of the tests became public, a VA spokesman defended the study on the grounds that “it would take 20 years with a human being to determine if a filter cigarette is safe and only 18 months with a dog.” (A statement imbued with some irony considering tobacco companies would fight like Spartans for another twenty years to hinder release of information about the deadly effects of cigarette smoke on humans.) Advertising and letter-writing campaigns by animal welfare groups protested the experiment as “cruel and immoral,” but the study continued.