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Pound Seizure: The Shame of Shelters

U.S. animal shelters and pounds were established for the purpose of taking in homeless animals in order to protect them and to protect public health. Some animals are taken to animal shelters by guardians who can no longer keep them. Others are strays who are taken in by concerned individuals, police officers, or animal-control officers. While animal shelters take in many species of animals, almost all of them are former companion animals or their offspring.

What Is Pound Seizure?
“Pound seizure” is the practice by which animal shelters sell or release stray, lost, or abandoned dogs and cats to laboratories or to animal dealers who sell the animals to laboratories for use in experiments. If an animal shelter or pound is located in a state or county that has a pound-seizure requirement, it must relinquish animals who are not claimed or adopted to laboratories that ask for them.

Pound seizure is illegal in Denmark, England, the Netherlands, and Sweden. In the U.S., there is no federal law prohibiting pound seizure, but Washington, D.C., and 18 states have banned it, including California (not banned at the state level, but banned in every county), Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. Most other states have no law prohibiting pound seizure, leaving it to the discretion of each animal shelter or to local government agencies. Oklahoma is the only state with a law that requires government-run shelters to turn over animals to laboratories on demand. Please visit for more information. The National Animal Control Association officially opposes pound seizure.(1)

A PETA undercover investigation into a University of Utah laboratory revealed that cats and dogs who had been purchased from local animal shelters had holes drilled into their skulls, medical devices implanted in their chests, and chemicals injected into their brains. Shortly after the findings of PETA’s investigation were made public, Utah legislators repealed a law that required shelters to provide laboratories with animals on demand. As a result, all but one shelter in the state immediately ended the practice. Following a PETA-led campaign, the university later announced that it, too, would no longer obtain animals from shelters, effectively ending pound seizure in Utah.(2)

Class B Dealers
While some shelters continue to sell or release animals to laboratories directly, they also broker agreements with so-called “random source” dealers (also known as “Class B” dealers).(3) Class B dealers buy cats and dogs from animal shelters for a small fee or the animals are given to them in exchange for disposing of animal cadavers for the shelters (some of which are sold to biological-supply companies for use in dissection). According to a recent government report, in a one-year period, 20 percent of dogs and 60 percent of cats acquired by Class B dealers came from animal shelters.(4)

These dealers also procure cats and dogs to sell to laboratories from a variety of other sources, including stray animals from the streets, animals who are no longer productive for breeders, and other animals who are stolen from backyards or obtained from “free to a good home” ads.

For example, in 2011, PETA obtained documents revealing that the University of Michigan (U-M) was purchasing cats from a Class B dealer called R&R Research. Some of the cats who wound up in U-M laboratories were procured by R&R from unsuspecting people who placed “free to a good home” ads. Some of the cats had hard tubes repeatedly forced down their delicate windpipes in the school’s Survival Flight intubation training laboratory and then were killed. Almost immediately after PETA publicly exposed the association between U-M and R&R, the school announced that it was ending the use of cats in this training. U-M now uses human simulators for intubation training exclusively.(5)

According to a recent report by the National Research Council, from November 2007 through November 2008, Class B dealers sold 2,863 dogs and 276 cats to laboratories across the U.S.(6) Eight active Class B dealers sell to laboratories in the U.S., five of whom are currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violating federal animal welfare laws, including for illegally obtaining and selling animals from undocumented sources, falsifying records, and mistreating animals.(7) Because of rampant illegal activity in this industry, both the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Research Council support ending the random-source dealer system.(8,9)

In 2014, the NIH announced that it would no longer fund experiments using dogs obtained from Class B dealers.  It stopped funding research on cats from those sources in 2012.(10)

Cheap, Easy, and Cruel
Selling animals to laboratories or to Class B dealers creates a conflict of interest for animal shelters because a shelter may decide that instead of keeping dogs or cats and expending resources to feed and house them and promote their adoption, it can make more money by selling them to labs.

For example, when North Utah Valley Animal Shelter sold a dog to the University of Utah for use in experiments, it received $150.(11) The shelter’s listed adoption fee for a dog in the same month was only $64.(12) Because selling vulnerable animals to large laboratories with deeper pockets than most adoptive families have is profitable, shelters have less incentive to save the lives of animals. In addition, because laboratories typically want friendly, docile animals for use in their experiments, the most “adoptable” animals are often the ones turned into laboratory victims.

More Animals Suffering in Laboratories
By providing an inexpensive and easy source of animals, pound seizure allows experimenters to continue using animals rather than switching to superior, humane alternatives that may require an upfront financial investment.

For decades, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center purchased cats from a local animal shelter for $15 each and used them in cruel and deadly medical training exercises. Even though sophisticated simulators were available, animals used in the exercises had tubes forced down their throats and needles stabbed into their chests.(13) After PETA launched a campaign that exposed the unsavory relationship, the school severed its ties with the shelter and ended the use of animals in the course.(14)

Similarly, Primary Children’s Medical Center in Utah replaced the use of cats in intubation training with high-tech simulators after PETA convinced the University of Utah, which was responsible for procuring the animals for the course, to stop purchasing cats cheaply from area shelters.(15)

Pound-Seizure Problems
Animal-protection organizations object strongly to pound seizure―and for good reason. Animals who were once beloved companions suffer the double blow of losing their human families and being confined to a laboratory cage. Families experience the anguish of knowing that a lost animal or an animal they have given up may have been killed in a painful experiment. A 2009 survey by the American Humane Association found that 97 percent of people would not take a lost animal to a shelter that released unclaimed animals for experiments.(16) In communities that allow or mandate pound seizure, people who are unable to keep their animal companions often choose to abandon them rather than sending them to a shelter and running the risk that they could end up in a laboratory. This increases the number of stray animals.

What You Can Do
If you live in a state or county that mandates pound seizure, learn as much as possible about the subject. Talk to the managers of local animal shelters and pounds to see what they have done or are doing. Find out whether any town or state officials are interested in the issue and whether any are working to repeal pound-seizure laws, either locally or nationally. Start a petition campaign, find opportunities to talk about or debate the issue in public as well as in private, and organize a letter-writing campaign. Try to arrange a public viewing of PETA’s video of a medical-school dog lab or write to PETA for an anti-vivisection action pack.

If you live in a state that leaves the decision up to local authorities, you can work to ban pound seizure in your community or you can campaign for a state law banning the practice.

If you live in a state that has already banned pound seizure, you can guard against efforts to change the law and work for federal legislation to ban it. Because it’s easy to transport animals across state borders, companion animals in every state will be at risk until there is a federal law against pound seizure.

1)John W. Mays, “Dispositions of Animals—Pound Seizure,” National Animal Control Association Guidelines, 17 Sept. 2002.
2) Tony Semerad, “U. Labs No Longer Will Take Shelter Animals,” The Salt Lake Tribune 2 Mar. 2011.
3) Committee on Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats for Research and the National Research Council, Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats in Research (The National Academies Press: 2009).
4) Committee on Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats for Research and the National Research Council.
5) Kellie Woodhouse, “Úniversity of Michigan Ceases Use of Cats in Survival Flight Training,”, 13 Dec. 2011.
6) Committee on Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats for Research and the National Research Council.
7) Thomas J. Vilsak, letters to Congress members, 8 July 2011.
8) National Institutes of Health, “Notice Regarding NIH Plan to Transition From Use of USDA Class B Cats to Other Legal Sources,” 8 Feb. 2012.
9) The National Academies, “Report: Academies’ Findings.”
10) David Grimm, “NIH Ends Funding for Experiments Using ‘Random Source’ Dogs,” Science 1 Oct. 2014.
11) North Utah Valley Animal Shelter, invoice, 3 Jan. 2011.
12) North Utah Valley Animal Shelter, “Pet Info: Sheena (S-2A),” 4 Dec. 2010.
13) City of Odessa Animal Control, receipt to Texas Tech University, 8 Oct. 2008.
14) Halie Hartman, “TTUHSC No Longer Performing Medical Tests on Cats,” TexasTechToday 16 Dec. 2009.
15) Jesse Fruhwirth, “Primary Children’s Drops Cat Intubation Training, a PETA Demand,” Salt Lake City Weekly 10 Feb. 2011.
16) American Humane Association, “Pound Seizure Survey Results,” 2009.


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