North of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s Montcalm County has been the site of a fierce debate over animal research and the Montcalm County government. For over thirty years, Montcalm County has maintained a contract with R & R Research to give unadopted animals from the county’s animal shelter to the company. In exchange, R & R Research euthanizes animals for the county and disposes of their bodies.
The relationship has been a target of animal advocates for years, with the contract–which is typically renewed every five years–being a frequent target of opposition. Monday night saw a similar outpouring of opposition, with 150 people commenting against the renewal of the contract at a Board of Commissioners meeting. In response, the County crafted a “compromise” solution where the contract would be renewed for six months and a so-called “blue ribbon” committee would investigate the relationship and report back to the Board of Commissioners.
At Issue: Pound Seizure
A group called the Concerned Citizens Coalition – Montcalm has been organizing much of the opposition to the county’s contract with the Howard City based R & R Research.
R & R Research obtains animals through a process called “pound seizure:”
“Pound seizure is the practice of releasing or selling lost, stray, or abandoned cats and dogs from municipally funded animal shelters for use in biomedical research, product development, safety testing, and educational demonstrations.
Animals from shelter, commonly called “random source animals”, are used to practice surgery by medical and veterinary students and are then euthanized. Hundreds of dogs and cats taken from shelters are used every year in painful or long-term experiments or programs.”
R & R Research is what is referred to as a “Class B Dealer.” Class B Dealers acquire animals and then sell them to research facilities. According to the Concerned Citizens Coalition, Class B Dealers get animals from “random sources” such as “auctions, flea markets, “free to good home ads” in the paper,” and shelters like the Montcalm County animal shelter.
Montcalm County is one of only four counties in Michigan who release animals to shelters–the others being Gratiot, Mecosta, and Osceola. There are only ten dealers in the country that still obtain animals from shelters, including three in Michigan.
Pound Seizure Criticized by Advocacy Groups
National animal advocacy groups have been critical of Class B Dealers. The Humane Society of the United States is opposes the use of Class B Dealers saying that:
“…poor conditions and horrendous animal suffering are still prevalent in the Class B system, where disease is a constant problem, leading to significant health care problems, including diarrhea, heartworms, and sarcoptic mange. As an investigator in Missouri for many years, HSUS staffer Curtis Ransom personally witnessed “dead, injured, emaciated, lethargic, flea-infested, mange-ridden, hair-matted, parasitic, hairless, and unhealthy animals” at Class B facilities. Class B dealers also routinely transport animals in a manner that causes behavioral stress, physical harm, and sometimes even death.”
Pound Seizure has also been criticized by the National Animal Control Association that specifically recommends against policies like the one in place in Montcalm County.
R & R Research’s Troubled History
“I’m sorry, they may have been a pet at one time, but at the point R & R becomes involved, they are an unwanted, unclaimed animal about to be euthanized… Animals are not equal, given the choice of using a choice to advance knowledge that can benefit man and save lives, or euthanize an unwanted or unclaimed animal, the choice is clear.”
R & R Research has also been the target of animal advocates before the most recent controversy. According to an email circulated by opponents of the county’s pound seizure policy:
“In 2006, USDA records reveal R & R Research of Howard City, Michigan grossed $196,723 from the sale of 621 dogs and cats. Moreover, R & R flaunts an unethical history. A 2006 USDA citation shows R & R illegally transported dogs chained to a livestock trailer. In 2005, R & R was cited for procuring dogs and cats from Howard City, where there is no pound. Apparently officials sold their strays to R & R.
Before that, the Michigan Attorney General ordered R & R to pull its “animal shelter” listing in the yellow pages. In the 1990s, a WOOD TV investigative video portrayed R & R owners gassing animals in a corroded ‘CO2 barrel.'”
Woudenberg had also been criticized for not being licensed as an animal control officer or a veterinarian.
Montcalm County Shelter Criticized
Beyond its dealings with R & R Research, animal advocates have been critical of Montcalm County Animal Control. The county uses an antiquated and unnecessarily cruel method of gassing animals that it euthanizes. Moreover, it has a dismal adoption record and its previous director resigned over allegations of animal abuse.
What You Can Do
While the contract was temporarily renewed, the findings of the investigative committee must be weighed before the contract can be renewed again. Those concerned about the situation are encouraged to follow developments at MichAnimalNews.com and to sign onto a petition circulated by the Concerned Citizens Coalition.