Over the last seven years, Dr. Stacy Lopresti-Goodman of Marymount University has studied post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in non-human animals, specifically primates and dogs. As part of her research, Lopresti-Goodman traveled to Los Angeles for a week this past November in order to meet and observe five beagles that were rescued by the Beagle Freedom Project. Due to their small size and sweet, docile disposition, beagles are used more than any other dog breed for lab experimentation.
Josephine Werni: How do dogs exhibit symptoms of PTSD? Is it similar to the way that humans do?
Stacy Lopresti-Goodman: Yes, it’s very similar. Humans, chimps and dogs alike express many of the same easily observable symptoms of PTSD, such as intense emotional reactions to things which may remind individuals of the initially traumatizing event, avoidance of those reminders, being easily startled, having trouble sleeping and so on.
JC: Was there anything that you observed during your time with the rescued beagles that surprised you?
SLG: I was extremely moved by the way that the caregivers talked about their animals, seeing how strong their bonds were and how much healing had occurred. The caregivers told me that when their dogs first came out of the labs, they were fearful and timid. After spending some time in a loving environment, they gradually learned how to play and be a real dog for the first time.
JC: When it comes to adopting or fostering a dog that is suffering from PTSD, what sorts of special needs should caregivers be taking into consideration?
SLG: I’d say that above all, caregivers should just keep in mind to be patient. Some of the dogs who’ve lived in laboratories have never been outside before. They may have never walked on stairs or seen grass. Because everything is so new to them, the way they behave when you bring them home will likely be different from the behavior of dogs from shelters.
JC: Other than being paired with loving caregivers, are there other common methods of rehabilitation for the victims of lab experimentation?
SLG: Yes. As with humans, treatments vary based on an individual’s needs, but research shows that anti-anxiety medication and behavioral training can be helpful.
JC: Is it difficult to get these animals out of the labs?
SLG: Definitely. I think that it’s partly due to the type of research that they’re used in, specifically chemical toxicity testing. Some dogs die as a result of the experiments that they’re used in, and laboratories are reluctant to release those that don’t. This is actually one of the issues that the Beagle Freedom Project is working on.
JC: What strides has BFP made toward getting more dogs out of laboratories and into loving homes?
SLG: They’ve rescued approximately 750 dogs from laboratories, and they’ve been working on state legislation that would require laboratories to adopt the dogs out at the end of experiments, instead of euthanizing them. It’s called the Beagle Freedom Law, and it’s been passed in California, Nevada, Connecticut, New York and Minnesota.
JC: What is the most effective way for individuals to help out with the lab animal rescue efforts?
SLG: I think it’s important for individuals to lobby their state legislators in support of laws that help to get those animals rescued and adopted out. For example, I’ve lobbied lawmakers here in Washington D.C., and brought students with me to lobby on Capitol Hill on behalf of bills that would help protect chimpanzees in the United States.
It’s crucial to offer support for laws such as the Beagle Freedom Law. After all these dogs have gone through in those laboratories, it’s important that they have the chance to lead a normal dog life.