Do You Need Dogs for a DMD Cure?

If a treatment that would cure me or my child had to use dogs for testing, what would I do?

That’s the question I had to ask when I saw the headline “Scientists Breed Beagles With Muscular Dystrophy to Develop Drugs for Deadly Disease.”

After I read the first three words, I wanted to skip it altogether, but that’s taking the easy, intellectually cowardly way out. This was something I couldn’t just have a knee-jerk reaction to and then forget—I needed to live in the discomfort it caused before I could make an honest evaluation of the situation.

Why didn’t I have the same reaction to “murine studies,” which feature mice and rats? After all, I’ve known lots of people who have had rats for pets—and they loved them just as much as I loved my dogs. Rats are smart, too. I assume that they don’t read human emotions like dogs do, but I don’t know that that is true… it’s just my bias showing.

Maybe I think of rodents as being more “disposable” (how horrible a thought is that?) because they have large litters of babies frequently. But why should that matter?

Still… dogs?? I can kinda see chimps, since they share 99% of their DNA with humans… and mice are 98% genetically similar to us (go figure!).

But why dogs?

I started doing some research and quickly found out that the anti-animal testing side of the debate is wayyyyyyy more adept at flooding the interwebs with graphic/incendiary defenses (looking at YOU with only one open eye,!). And yes, those hit me in the gut.

It also hit me in the gut to find out that beagles are the most commonly used breed in laboratories. According to the “anti-animal testing” side, it’s because they’re smallish and docile. And relatively cheap, thanks to the “Class B” dealers (so designated by the US Department of Agriculture, which also sets the welfare guidelines for US labs) who sell them.

According to one “pro-“ site, in addition to their “ease of handling, and general behavior,” beagles “are considered good models for human diseases including the study of heart disease and testing new medicines.”

I was surprised to learn that the US Food and Drug Administration asks drug researchers to “determine the acute toxicity of the drug in at least two species of animals…” [emphasis mine]. The USDA tracks the annual usage of animals (other than mice and rats) —and which ones are used in experiments with and without pain relief—at USDA-registered research facilities. In 2015, 767,622 animals were reported—61,101 of them were dogs.

When it comes to non-medically necessary cosmetics (and I’m not even sure there is such a thing as “medically necessary cosmetics”), I’m crystal clear: animals should NEVER be used. Figure out another way to determine if a vanity project will eat peoples’ faces off, all you companies getting rich off our insecurities!

But Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), like so many rare diseases, progresses rapidly. Most people who have the genetic disorder that occurs in about 1 out of every 3600 male babies, face death by age 25, usually through lung disorders.

What if one of those babies is born to my family? Would I be grateful for the beagles bred with DMD because of the hope of a cure they offer?

I know that my sweet puppers of 12 years would willingly give her life to save mine, just as I’d willingly give my life to save the lives of my children. But she’s been smothered with love and pampering, not constant experimentation and manufactured sickness. There’s no way I’d “give her up for science” if I died before she did.

In the end, I thought about all the brave people dealing with illnesses who regularly sign themselves up for clinical trials. So often they know the trials won’t save them—they do it ONLY because they want to help future generations.

I had to accept that sacrifices for the greater good happen in all species. And as long as every effort is made to minimize the need for animal testing and to care for those animals making the sacrifice, I’m (currently) OK with that.



EmpatheticBadass is a young-at-heart writer from Ohio (Go, Bobcats & The Marching 110!)) who is passionate about being a voice for the patient perspective.

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