Melanie Kaplan's rescued beagle, Alexander Hamilton, is different from most rescued dogs. He wasn't found wandering the streets or adopted from an animal shelter.
Hamilton, or "Hammy" for short, was rescued from a laboratory where experiments are conducted on animals — a lab funded by taxpayer money.
Hamilton is one of the DC7, seven beagles freed from a Washington-area lab last year by the Beagle Freedom Project, a nonprofit that works to release dogs used in research.
Kaplan got involved with BFP after losing a pet beagle, and when she got a call asking if she would foster a dog rescued from a lab, she agreed.
"Until the dogs are safely out of the laboratory, there is no guarantee that the lab will release them, so all the planning was tentative," she said.
On the day of the DC7's release, all the foster families met in Maryland, and a van arrived with seven dogs in cages straight from a Virginia lab.
"One by one, they were carried into a big, grassy backyard, and for the first time they were able to walk on grass, sniff trees."
Kaplan took Hamilton home that day, but she still doesn't know what kind of testing he was involved in or what lab he even came from. It's part of the labs' arrangement with the BFP.
"I don't know the tests that these dogs underwent, but there are some visible signs of their treatment," she said. "One had a sore by his eye, one had a broken tail that didn't heal correctly, and Hamilton's vet said it looked like he had an old leg injury."
Life as a lab animal
Beagles are frequently used in research because they're friendly, people-pleasing animals — the same reason they make great pets.
Although the dogs are often under anesthesia in labs, Kaplan says their vocal chords are cut to keep them from barking.
When vocal chords are cut instead of removed, they can grow back, and many of the rescued beagles are able to bark again.
While labs don't provide specifics about what dogs like Hamilton undergo, Kaplan says much of the testing done on beagles is for cosmetics and household products — experiments often funded with taxpayer dollars.
But just because animal testing finds a product to be safe doesn't necessarily mean it is. According to the BFP, 106,000 people die each year from drugs that tested and found safe on animals.
Anthony Belotti, executive director of the White Coat Waste Project, says the federal government spends about $12 billion annually experimenting on animals through grants given to colleges and universities.
"Even if you didn't care, worst-case scenario, about the animals, maybe you care about the fact that you're forced to pay for it?" Belotti told U.S. News & World Report.
Once laboratories are finished testing, the animals are often euthanized.
"From what I understand, the laboratories euthanize the dogs because they say they wouldn't make good pets because they haven't been socialized, or because of the testing that has been performed on them," Kaplan said. "The reality is that having dogs adopted just makes the public more aware — and naturally, the labs want to avoid publicity."
But publicity is exactly what the BFP wants. The organization works to raise awareness about the plight of beagles and other animals that are tested on in U.S. labs — and Hamilton and the rest of the DC7 do their part to help.
"We talk about the dogs' stories and educate people about animal testing and cruelty-free shopping, showing people the numbers tattooed in our dogs' ears," Kaplan said. "Most people are surprised to hear that things like detergent and bug spray are tested on dogs, and that the majority of these animals are euthanized after testing is complete."
In addition to raising awareness and rescuing dogs from labs, the BFP also lobbies states to pass legislation requiring that dogs be adopted after testing instead of euthanized. Minnesota recently became the first state to pass such a law.
As for Hamilton, it took time for him to transition from lab life to the life of a spoiled family pet.
Kaplan said he initially reacted like any abused animal might. He was very skittish and easily frightened by the smallest things: city noises, moving tree branches, his own reflection.
For weeks he only used the bathroom once a day, making her wonder what his schedule was like in the lab.
But now Hamilton has adjusted to post-lab life. He loves nothing more than human attention — except maybe dinnertime — and Kaplan says he and the rest of the DC7 are living proof of what great pets former lab dogs can make.
"These dogs make us laugh and make our hearts bigger and lives richer. It certainly took patience and time at the beginning of Hammy's transition, but that hardly seems like a burden compared to whatever he had been through. And that's just what you do for someone you love."
Below, watch the video that went viral after the BFP rescued nine beagles from a Nevada laboratory in May.