• Animal Justice Party Introduces Right to Release Bill to NSW Parliament

    On Thursday 21st June the NSW Upper House sat in silence with shock on their faces as Animal Justice Party MLC introduced our Right to Release Bill. The bill has been well received and we will continue to lobby for other parties and members to support the bill if it comes to vote later this year.

    SECOND READING SPEECH

    I am pleased to introduce the Animal Research Amendment (Reduction in Deaths of Dogs and Cats Used for Research) Bill 2018. This is a bill that requires little change to research practices, but it will mean everything to the approximately 1,000 dogs and cats that are routinely killed after being used in non-lethal research each year in New South Wales. Once these animals are no longer required for research purposes, they are killed with an intravenous barbiturate overdose. At times, the impact of the experimental protocol means that there is no alternative for these exploited animals but being put to death. However, if this is not the case, the Animal Justice Party believes these companion animals should be afforded the opportunity to be homed by animal rescue organisations.

    The bill essentially provides a second chance at life for cats and dogs held in research establishments. The Animal Research Act’s overarching principles in regard to the use of animals in research are those of replacement, reduction, and refinement—the three Rs—to cause the least amount of suffering to the least amount of animals. Renowned Indian animal activist Maneka Ghandi, a leading pioneer of animal welfare regulation in India, was successful in adding a fourth R to include “rehabilitation” of research animals. Ghandi’s reforms made it compulsory for research bodies to provide:

    … after-care rendered to animals that have been bred for the purpose of experimentation, subject to any form of experimentation and retained in laboratory animal houses or breeding houses for the purpose of experimentation with the sole purpose of alleviating any pain or suffering due to the physical, physiological, psychological trauma that the animals had been exposed to, and to prolong the life of the animals until the point of natural death.

    The Animal Justice Party’s bill is in line with reforms in other jurisdictions. In the United States, New York, California, Nevada, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Illinois passed legislation providing that animals used in research facilities must first offer dogs and cats to rescue centres before the option of killing can be considered. The New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society and Helping You Help Animals are currently campaigning for the New Zealand Government to enact a mandatory retirement policy for animals used in research, testing, and teaching. Facilities using these animals would have attempted homing of ex-research animals with willing animal rescue organisations before lethal options are considered.

    The Animal Justice Party supports the transition to alternative methods of experimentation. However, the purpose of this bill is not to end animal research per se. The party asserts that experiments on animals are cruel, expensive and represent an outdated nineteenth-century approach to science and medicine. We would like to see investment in methods of studying diseases and testing products that replace animals entirely. There are now far more sophisticated predictors of human health outcomes. The alternatives include in-vitro tests using human cells and tissues, in-silico modeling using advanced computer-modeling techniques, and far more relevant studies with actual human volunteers. Tragically, penicillin was not used until a decade after its discovery because when tested on rabbits it was found to be ineffective. If tested today, it would not be recommended for human use because of its toxicity to guinea pigs.

    There are far more biological differences between and within animal species that can affect the results of any experiment, including variations based on different ages, sexes and developmental stages. There are numerous examples of drug testing on animals that inadvertently led to harmful drugs being approved for use on humans. Benoxaprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, was tested on rhesus monkey with no ill effects, but human patients suffered severe liver toxicity and phototoxicity; and Rezulin, which safely lowered the blood sugar in rats, caused 391 human deaths due to liver toxicity.

    Government statistics show that more than six million animals are used every year in Australia for medical research, experiments and surgical skills training, the majority of which are rats and mice. While the Animal Justice Party would like to see all these animals spared from invasive and cruel experimentation, I believe this bill is the beginning of a more enlightened approach to animal experimentation. It is a welfare-focused approach to those animals that have been domesticated for thousands of years to live with us and to trust us with their lives and wellbeing.

    The object of this bill is to amend the Animal Research Act 1985, requiring research establishments to take all reasonable steps to home a dog or a cat that is no longer required by accredited persons for animal research purposes unless a vet or authorised person has determined that the dog or cat is not suitable to be homed. Such reasonable steps include: first, socialising or training the dog or cat to ensure that the dog or cat is suitable for homing; secondly, causing the dog or cat to be given to a person or animal homing organisation; or, thirdly, any other action taken in accordance with the code of practice under that Act. I use the word “homed” rather than”rehomed” because of the lives dogs and cats experience in these facilities, which cannot in any way be described as homes.

    The RSPCA states that Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with about 62 percent of Australian households living with companion animals. Of those households, 38 percent share their home with a dog and 29 percent with a cat. Looking around the Chamber, there will be many members like me who share their home with dogs and cats. The dogs and cats used in research are no different from our four-legged companions who curl up in our laps or accompany us on our walks. It takes little imagination to consider how our companions would react to months of confinement in a research facility, deprived of exercise and entertainment, a caring touch or a kind word. The sterile, barren and isolated housing and the frightening or painful procedures may be too much for some to bear, but this bill limits the length of confinement and mandates socialisation or training so that animals stand a chance of retaining the ability to live as domestic animals in a family environment.

    Undoubtedly some research is so invasive and so traumatic to both body and spirit that the dog or cat must be euthanised. Humane Research Australia has detailed experiments on greyhounds where researchers deliberately asphyxiated dogs for 30 minutes to cause the loss of function of the heart and lungs. The hearts were then surgically removed and preserved for four hours, after which period heart transplantation was performed and the dogs’ recovery was assessed. Those that recovered were then killed. Other greyhounds were subject to cosmetic dental experimentation which involved the removal of teeth, sections of jawbone and replaced with dental implants. The Greyhounds were then killed so that the researchers could remove the jaws for examination. This is despite there being little similarity between a dog and a human jaw.

    At Sydney University in 2011, 11 cats were subjected to vision research. A partial craniotomy and bilateral cervical sympathectomy, which cuts the nerve supply to parts of the head and eyes, was then performed. The cats’ heads were restrained in a stereotaxic device and a plastic cylinder was glued to the skull and a small opening was made in the brain matter where a microelectrode was placed and recorded neuron activity. Solutions were applied to the eyes to dilate the pupils and to retract the blinking membranes. The eyes were focused on a screen position using corrective lenses. At the end of the experiment, each cat was killed and the brain removed and studied.No outcomes have been identified.

    The Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching raised concerns about using 11 cats for what seemed like “clearly an example of basic research … without any particular application or use in view”. The Bionics Institute conducted experiments on day-old kittens that are artificially induced to become profoundly deaf. Cochlear implants are inserted while the kittens are anaesthetized and placed in a stereotaxic frame where the brain is exposed and stimulated by electrodes implanted into the brain. The kittens are then killed. Beagles are known for their placid natures and are often bred for sale to research facilities. They are used to test medical or pharmaceutical items, household products, cosmetics and for veterinary training. Not all beagles die as a result of the experiments conducted upon them, and they can languish for years in sterile cages, waiting for the next round of research to begin. Once their usefulness comes to an end they are killed.

    The Animal Research Act was passed more than 30 years ago in New South Wales and was in response to the first stirring of the animal rights movement in challenging the ethics of keeping and using animals for medical and scientific research. The Act was designed to assuage the concerns of the general public that a proper system of oversight was in place to ensure the humane treatment of animals used in research. The Animal Research Act provides for a licensing system for research establishments to keep animals for the purposes of conducting research. The Act also established an Animal Research Review Panel responsible for a number of areas including oversight of the supply of animals for use in connection with animal research. While neither the Animal Research Act nor the regulations address the issue of homing, the Australian code of practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes does consider the rehoming of animals. Clause 3.4.2 states:

    Opportunities to rehome animals should be considered wherever possible, especially when the impact of the project or activity on the wellbeing of the animal has been minimal and their physiological condition and behavioural attributes indicate that they can be introduced to a new environment with minimal, transient impact on their wellbeing.

    The Animal Research Review Panel and the Animal Welfare Branch of the Department of Primary Industries have developed policies and guidelines to assist researchers and teachers, members of animal ethics committees and the management of scientific institutions to understand and comply with the requirements of the Animal Research Act, the regulations and the code of practice. Within the “Guidelines for the Care and Housing of Dogs in Scientific Institutions”, the Animal Research Review Panel has recommended in clause 13.4 that euthanasia should only be considered if the impact of the experimental protocol prevents the animal being returned to a normal life, or if the dog cannot be satisfactorily socialised.

    My bill is intended to ensure that accredited research establishments, wherever possible, assist in the homing of cats and dogs after the non-lethal research ends and the animal is not required for research. My bill will insert a new section into the Animal Research Act, section 56B, which includes a requirement that the agency socialises or trains the dog or cat to ensure that they are suitable for homing. They must take reasonable steps to cause the dog or cat to be bought or adopted or given to an animal homing organisation by notifying the Animal Research Review Panel that the dog or cat is available to be homed. There are provisions to comply with the code of practice.

    The bill also provides that in order to ensure the best possible chance of successful rehabilitation into a domestic environment, cats and dogs cannot be kept by an authorised person for more than six months or, with the approval of the panel, 12 months. In consultations with animal behaviourists, the consensus was that anything longer than 12 months confinement is the outer limit for companion animals placed in such stressful and barren conditions. Whilst the specifics of each individual research project undertaken would have an impact on an animal’s capacity to be homed, 12 months would be more than enough time for an animal to develop negative associations with human interactions.

    The list of specific facilities that use cats and dogs in medical research is not publicly available. In lieu of being able to consult directly with these researchers and groups, consultations have taken place with Dr. Malcolm France, a chairperson to the University of Technology Sydney [UTS] Animal Care and Ethics Committee, and a New South Wales consultant in laboratory animal care and management. Dr. France liaises with many of these establishments. He has expressed support for the bill and considers that it will significantly improve welfare outcomes for dogs and cats capable of being homed.

    Dr. France’s feedback has helped shape this bill and has also provided guidance regarding the development of a confidentiality protocol between rescue groups and institutions to ensure that researchers and their staff feel protected and confident in the process. I have also consulted with a previous Animal Research Review Panel member, Ms. Emma Hurst, and current panel member Paula Wallace in regards to the practicalities of the bill. Both have expressed the belief that homing is not an onerous addition to the panel’s responsibilities and that the panel is also examining ways to encourage more homing practices with all animal species used in research.

    This bill has its genesis in a trial homing program that was instituted in 2014. The Research Animal Rehoming Service, run by a panel member of the Animal Research Review Panel, was created to assist with the rehoming of retired research animals. The service was promoted at its inception in an e-newsletter sent from the Department of Primary Industries to research facilities and animal ethics committees in New South Wales. While smaller animals have been rehomed, no cats or dogs have been offered up for homing. While research staff may occasionally adopt a dog or cat with whom they have developed a bond, the vast majority of healthy animals are still killed without any attempts made for rehabilitation or homing.

    Despite the provisions of the code of practice and the policy and guidelines which support homing, such practices remain rare, especially for dogs and cats in research institutions. Accordingly, I consider that homing must be expressly directed in the legislation to ensure greater take-up by research institutions. The current voluntary practice is failing to provide re-homing opportunities for dogs and cats. The bill provides a clear process for research facilities to understand their responsibilities and for rescue and rehoming organisations to give cats and dogs used in research the opportunity to be rehomed. If surrender cannot be arranged with any rescue organisations due to space or other concerns, the research facility can choose to rehome privately. Only when these options are exhausted should euthanasia be considered.

    The bill charges the Animal Research Review Panel with the responsibility of establishing a database of animal rescue and rehoming organisations including the RSPCA, the Animal Welfare League, the Cat Protection Society and rescue agencies registered under the Companion Animals Act and alerting those that have indicated a potential interest when animals are available for homing. This need not be more than an email alert and would not be resource intensive for the panel. The Animal Care and Ethics Committee also has a duty to monitor the appropriateness of euthanasia for cats and dogs that are deemed unsuitable for homing.

    In consultation with rescue and rehoming groups, there is general support for the establishment of a homing database. The RSPCA recognises the benefits of suitable research animals to be offered for homing. I will be consulting with the National Health and Medical Research Council and animal ethics committees across New South Wales in the coming two months before the bill comes back before the House for consideration. In regards to the socialisation and training requirements of the bill, if objections are raised about the practicalities of these requirements then questions must be asked about the current living arrangements for companion animals in these facilities and compliance with the Animal Research Review Panel guideline No. 14 published in 1999, “Guidelines for the Care and Housing of Dogs in Scientific Institutions”, which details aspects of dog behaviour relevant to housing and husbandry.

    Clause 3.1 clearly states that dogs are social animals and are better housed in groups than individually and that social isolation can be a severe stressor for dogs. If dogs are to be individually housed for a project, the animals should be given extra human interaction, care, attention and play activities apart from normal husbandry procedures. Group interaction for individually housed dogs should occur whenever possible, by pairing dogs during play times or during lead walks. Under 3.1.3, staff need to be experienced in animal behaviour and need to be able to understand and monitor the dogs based on group interactions dependent upon age, sex, breed, reproductive status, prior socialisation, sibling relationships, facilities and capability of staff to manage the group.

    Clause 3.1.4 emphasises how human socialising is extremely important for most dogs and essential in accustoming them to human handling procedures in experimental studies, with dogs that actively avoid or reject human socialisation being unsuitable for research. Clause 3.2 details the design and construction of housing to avoid triggering aggressive behaviour. If the dog experiences difficulties in coping with the kennelling condition, strategies must be used to avoid behavioural problems and the facilities must provide the dogs with opportunities for behavioural choice. Given the improvements in understanding the behavioural needs of companion animals since the Animal Research Act was introduced, upgrades may be needed regardless of this proposed bill. All cats and dogs should receive regular socialisation, time with other animals, and positive experiences with their human guardians as a basic requirement for their physical and psychological wellbeing.

    For those members who may be concerned about the suitability of animals placed on the database, nothing within the bill would put families or rescue agencies at risk. A dog or cat is not required to be homed under section 56B subsection (2) where a veterinary practitioner or a person with such relevant qualifications has determined that the dog or cat is not suitable to be homed. However, there are checks in place to ensure that vets do not simply rubber-stamp animals as unsuitable. Under subsection (8) if a dog or cat is determined to be unsuitable for homing by a veterinary practitioner or other person under subsection (7), the authorised person is not to cause the cat or dog to be killed without the approval of the Animal Care and Ethics Committee. This is a modest, uncontroversial reform with a simple mechanism that has the potential to save the lives of thousands of otherwise healthy companion animals. I am confident that the millions of companion animal loving residents of New South Wales would overwhelmingly support this bill and I commend it to the House.

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