by Allie Phillips
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.
(4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706), 2010. 220 pages, hardcover. $34.95.
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
American Humane Association director of public policy Allie Phillips has in How Shelter Pets Are Brokered for Experimentation written by far the best researched report on pound seizure to appear between book covers since the late Animal Welfare Institute founder Christine Stevens contributed a long chapter about it to Animals & Their Legal Rights (1990).
Other discussions of pound seizure have usually intimated that the crux of the issue is that evil bunchers supplying laboratory animal dealers sometimes steal pets. In actuality, the evil bunchers mostly traffic in pound animals who have not been rehomed, or puppy mill culls who remain unsold after the picks of each litter are snapped up at dog auctions.
Historically, most dealers who supplied dogs and cats to labs were either for-profit animal control contractors, or worked closely with for-profit animal control contractors, who were underpaid (if paid at all) in the expectation that they would earn most of their incomes by selling unclaimed strays. Thus the culprits most responsible for the existence of this inherently abusive system were the voters, taxpayers, and public officials who looked away instead of taking responsiblity for addressing animal homelessness in their communities.
“Pound seizure,” in the strictest sense of the term, refers only to the mostly bygone practice, in states with laws that allowed it, of laboratories and lab suppliers being empowered to “adopt” any pound animal they wanted. This put humane societies that held animal control contracts in the position of being forced to surrender animals for painful and lethal experiments. In animal advocacy parlance, “pound seizure” eventually came to mean the release of any shelter animals for lab use, even if the release was (or is) entirely voluntary.
Thirteen states passed legislation prohibiting either pound seizure or pound release between 1976 and 1986. Pound seizure and release go on in some states, but tend to become controversial and be abandoned wherever the practices come under public scrutiny–in part because most lab animal users now prefer to avoid notice.
Michigan is among the states where pound seizure and pound release of animals to labs continue. Phillips has been involved in trying to end both pound seizure and pound release in Michigan for about a decade.
Much of How Shelter Pets Are Brokered for Experimentation centers on the Michigan struggle. Phillips appears to be aware that she is helping to direct the end game for pound seizure and pound release. Phillips hopes to rally support for eradicating the last vestiges of an old abuse, yet the numbers of animals involved have diminished so much that more pound animals die these days from fighting in the kennels.
Just 947 dogs and 230 cats were sold to labs in 2007 by the 10 remaining Class B dealers. These animals amounted to 1.3% of the dogs used in labs, and 1% of the cats. Even if all of them came from animal shelters, each of hundreds of dealers sold more impounded dogs and cats to labs every year between the 1966 passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act, which became the present Animal Welfare Act in 1971, and the most recent relevant amendments to the Animal Welfare Act in 1990.
Phillips’ employer, the American Humane Association, has not taken a leading role against either pound seizure or pound release in nearly 70 years. The Animal Welfare Institute (1952), the Humane Society of the U.S. (1954), and the International Society for Animal Rights (1959) were all founded by former donors, volunteers, and staff of the AHA who became disillusioned when the AHA retreated from previous opposition to pound seizure and pound release.
Phillips’ sincerity is not in question. She fought pound seizure and pound release long before the AHA hired her. Longtime observers, however, cannot help but notice that the AHA only resumed giving pound seizure and release prominence, after a a hiatus of decades, after the issue reached the mop-up phase.
Meanwhile the AHA has avoided taking conspicuous positions on other aspects of laboratory use of animals, and has taken compromised positions on farm animal issues, such as endorsing caged egg production and decompression of chickens, which recall the spinelessness of the AHA on pound seizure and release for nearly half of the 20th century.