May 14, 2012 at 4:43 PM ET
These dogs hadn't felt grass under their paws or the sun on their fur in seven years of laboratory life. But when the Beagle Freedom Project and Four Paws Coonhound Rescue and Friends let 20 lab research beagles loose on Thursday, it didn’t take long for them to leave their crates behind.
Brought to Los Angeles from San Diego, the 10 hounds are among 67 beagles the organization has rescued from labs. This particular rescue stands out, however, due to the age of the dogs. Seven is easily senior territory for a beagle, which makes it all the more important to find the right families to help them live out their golden years.
But first on the agenda: medical treatment and foster homes, which is handled on a case-by-case basis.
“We have to take into account their personalities," Shannon Keith, president and founder of the Beagle Freedom Project, told TODAY.com. "We have one who is so fearful of humans that he won’t let them near him, so he’s going to need more rehabilitation. Some of the dogs are already playing and enjoying being touched by humans — they’ll probably be ready for their 'forever-homes' in a week or so.”
According to the organization's website, there's no information available about what the dogs experienced while being used for research, which can add additional challenges.
In the meantime, temporary, loving, foster homes are important.
“These animals thrive in a home environment, especially one with another dog so they can learn how to be a dog,” Keith said
This is not the first beagle rescue the organization has facilitated. The second one, which happened last June, is the most well known — the touching YouTube video has over 3.5 million hits. But Keith recalls the first rescue as the one she holds closest to her heart.
“We rescued two beagles, and although I knew ... that beagles were often used in lab research, I’d never met one that had been released from a lab before,” she said. “When we put their crates down on the grass, on this beautiful, sunny day, you would have imagined they’d think, ‘Freedom!’ and gone running. But no, it took 15 or 20 minutes to get them out of their crates. And one of them, once out, fell over from lack of muscle tone.”
But that’s where this tale starts wagging.
“They started running. And running. And they just didn’t stop,” Keith said. They’ve since been placed in happy homes.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area and interested in fostering or adopting, you can find more information on the Beagle Freedom Project website. Keith acknowledged that adopting one of these special dogs isn’t for everybody — as you might guess, there are some challenges unique to dogs coming from this background. But, there are plenty of other ways to help. Donations to alleviate the often exorbitant medical costs associated with rescuing animals used in research labs are always in demand, and you can find an entire wishlist of items the organization needs.