By PRIYA ANAND | INNLIVE
When Chinthana Gopinath adopted Sasha, her identity was a mere number 8699640. Used as a subject for drug toxicity tests in a Bengaluru-based laboratory for four years, the beagle was emotionally and physically scarred.
"She had no muscle mass, her spine was bent, and her body emanated a chemical odour that didn't go for a few months," says Gopinath, who runs Pupcake, a Bengaluru bakery specializing in healthy canine treats. "She'd also cower at the sight of a man, and flinch and shiver if her paws were touched."
At the lab she was probably handled by male assistants who'd draw blood several times a day from her body.
Today, with loads of love and patience, Sasha, one of 102 beagles released from a lab in 2013, is a happy dog who loves curd, cheese and long walks. "She now goes running to the door to greet guests, men and women alike," says Gopinath, who volunteers with the NGO, Compassion Unlimited Plus Action.
Beagles are used in labs because of their temperament and size. "They are easy to handle and can be shipped because they are small," says Dr Shiranee Pereira, former member of the Committee for the Purpose of Control and Supervision of Experiments on Animals (CPCSEA). Till a few years ago, these animals lived in silent hells. Pereira has seen dogs being used "more than 100 times over in pharmacokinetic studies to study the dynamics of what a drug or pesticide would do to the system of an animal." They would be used with just seven-day washout periods in between till they collapsed. "In 2012, I suggested that there should be a national policy limiting the use of dogs and also a time frame when they need to be rehabilitated," says Pereira.
Finally, in 2015, the CPCSEA Guidelines for the Reuse and Rehabilitation of Dogs were issued, laying down that dogs could be used in toxicity studies only for a maximum three years, had to be kept healthy, and couldn't be used for both testing and breeding.
With labs releasing the freagles (as freed beagles are sometimes called), NGOs are seeking loving homes for the traumatized animals. Applicants are thoroughly screened as people need to know what they will have to deal with. For instance, care has to be taken to enclose balconies."These dogs do not have the concept of height and are known to jump off in panic at sudden sounds or run away to explore," says Gopinath.
Pune-based Ajay Palekar adopted a beagle in 2013.When he got Oscar home, he was malnourished and weighed about 6kg. Today , he weighs almost 13kg, has taken a shine to Palekar's boxer, Elvis, and become outgoing. "Earlier, he'd run and hide under the table," says Palekar.
Kolkata-based Anup Hela chose a dog no one wanted. "Duke was the oldest of the lot at 11, had testicular cancer, was bow-legged and had missing teeth," says Hela, who adopted him in 2012. "The first time he saw sunlight, he squinted and howled."
Hela and his brother, who were then in Bengaluru, juggled their schedules so Duke was never left alone; they even moved to a new house as their landlord had a problem with dogs. "Even now, strangers cannot suddenly approach him and he gets freaked out by people wearing white clothing," says Hela."But he is the Benjamin Button of the dog world. Though almost 14, he doesn't look or behave like it."
Chennai-based architect Saranya Sundarraj, 29, has chosen to work mainly out of home so she can be there for her beagle, Oliver, whom she adopted in February this year. "He was not tested upon, but when I got him, he was very restless, and everything scared him so he would hide under the bed and eat only after I switched off the lights and went to bed," she says. "The first day he peed in the food bowl, probably a habit he acquired in the cage as a way of keeping his environment clean."
To help people with parenting lab beagles, Hela and Gopinath started a Facebook page, Beagle Brigade . "It is meant as a platform to share stories and milestones. For example, if a lab beagle climbs stairs for the first time, barks or plays with a toy for the first time, it is a very big deal," says Gopinath.
It also serves as a support system and a guide for those who want to adopt one. "Rules that apply to other dogs don't apply to lab beagles when it comes to teaching them toilet manners and leash walking. This is a forum where we share our knowledge," says Gopinath.