By Gabe Licht
SAN DIEGO, CA When a 2-year-old beagle named Potato arrived at Melissa Gudvangen’s home in Montrose, he wasn’t potty trained, couldn’t go up or down stairs, and couldn’t run.
“He had never been outside on grass before; he hadn’t done anything,” Gudvangen said of the former laboratory test animal rescued by the Beagle Freedom Project. “It was like he was a newborn puppy.”
Potato, also called Tater, has come a long way, and recently helped raise awareness about test animals at the “Peanuts” exhibit at Comic-Con International: San Diego.
Potato has been with the Gudvangens for nine months.
“We’ve seen a lot of progress,” Gudvangen said. “A lot of simple things happened in the first few weeks. The more emotional things have taken more time. Now, he feels comfortable in most situations with most people.”
He doesn’t mind letting people pet him.
Sudden loud noises still scare him, but loud noises in general, such as trains and fireworks, aren’t a problem.
When Potato first arrived at the Gudvangens’ home, he could only play for a couple minutes before getting tired, due to a lack of muscle and stamina.
“He’s got a lot of energy, but still tires fairly quickly, so he still naps a lot and snuggles,” Gudvangen said.
His “normal Beagle instincts” have started to kick in.
“They use their nose for everything and are really food-oriented,” Gudvangen said. “He’s just getting into using his nose and exploring things and being comfortable on his own.”
Trip to San Diego
20th Century Fox planned to have a large replica of Snoopy’s doghouse at Comic-Con International: San Diego to promote the new “Peanuts” movie coming out in November.
“They partnered with the Beagle Freedom Project to have dogs there in a dog park area,” Gudvangen said.
Organizers sent a message to all adoptive and foster families to see who would be interested in being part of the exhibit. Gudvangen thought it would be fun and decided to make the trip work on a month’s notice.
They arrived in San Diego July 12, and headed to Comic-Con, where the “Snoopy” exhibit was a popular attraction.
“They had more than 25,000 people go through the blow-up Snoopy house,” Gudvangen said. “It gave us a good chance to talk to people and show them these dogs and what animal testing is really about and what happens after the testing. It was a good, educational experience.”
Some people were more receptive to the message than others.
“I remember one lady who had a beagle,” Gudvangen said. “She was crying as we were talking to her. There were a lot of people in shock that animal testing still happens. Some people just walked by and looked at the dogs. They didn’t stop long enough to find out anything about them.”
Gudvangen believes the experience was powerful for many people, as they had the opportunity to see the dogs and the effects testing had on them.
“It was good for them to see that these dogs are capable of still living,” Gudvangen said.
It was also good for her to talk to other people who had adopted or fostered dogs that had been test subjects.
“We got to meet other families who have these dogs and share our experiences and actually meet them,” Gudvangen said. “We’ve talked to them on Facebook. It’s fun to see how the dogs are turning out.”
Some dogs are in much worse conditions than Potato, she said.
“After years of being freed, they’re still not trained and still have medical problems,” Gudvangen said. “A lot of them pass away at a fairly young age.”
Speaking out against animal testing
Gudvangen is passionate about her opposition to animal testing.
Everything from pharmaceuticals, to cosmetics, to cleaning products are tested on animals. Colleges also use them for many types of research.
Not only is animal testing not illegal, it is required for pharmaceuticals. It is not required for other products, but many manufacturers do so to limit liability.
Beagles are ideal dogs for such testing.
“Beagles are the No. 1 dog used for testing because of their disposition and personality,” Gudvangen said. “They are very gentle, calm, and they love people and human interaction . . . Labs use them because they’re easy to manipulate. They’re not too big or too small.”
They are kept in small cages, do not have interaction with other dogs, and are not allowed to go on walks or go to the bathroom outside. Many of them have their vocal chords cut so they can’t communicate with other dogs or bother the workers.
When labs are done testing on a dog, they typically euthanize it, whether it is healthy or not. That practice is beginning to change.
“Minnesota is the first state to pass the Beagle Freedom Law,” Gudvangen said. “It requires labs to release their dogs to an organization if they’re healthy enough.”
Nevada recently passed a similar law, and California and at least one other state are working on such legislation, as well.
Gudvangen is pleased with the progress, but also calls for individuals to take action. She recommends the Cruelty Cutter app for smart phones, which can identify whether or not a product was tested on animals, and gives users the option to send an email to the company to encourage them not to test on animals or to thank them for not doing so.
“If we continue to buy products that use animal testing, they’re going to continue to do it,” Gudvangen said.