Published in 2014 by The St. Ignace NewsDownload PDF
A visitor in Jennifer and Kirby King’s home will immediately draw the attention of their two beagles. StuE will likely yip and jump and snuffle, but MurphE may wait patiently before silently rearing up on his hind legs, stretching his paws out, and softly placing them on the visitor’s leg in a gentle greeting.
“He’s like that all the time,” said Mrs. King. “He’s just so gentle and so sweet. It’s like he’s constantly just so thankful to be here.”
Prior to joining the King family July 10 on Mackinac Island, MurphE lived in a laboratory crate, where he was used for pharmaceutical testing.
The Kings don’t know what drugs were tested on him, and they’re not allowed to. An identification number tattooed on the inside of MurphE’s ear was changed into a series of eights so no one could ever find out. At some point, most likely when his identification number was obscured, someone added a smiley face, as well.
“We think that’s how they indicated he was going to be released and put up for adoption,” Mrs. King said. “But we’re not really sure. I’ve only heard of one other lab beagle with a smiley face.”
Rats are the animals most commonly used to test drugs, cosmetics, and household products like oven cleaner, but rabbits, cats, and dogs are used, as well. Of the dogs used in research, the vast majority are beagles, said Mrs. King. They are preferred owing to their small size and docile, people-pleasing natures.
When animals are no longer needed for testing, generally, they are euthanized. Some are saved by organizations that partner with laboratories across the country to find homes for them.
One of the most-established of these organizations, Californiabased Beagle Freedom Project, posted a video online that shows a group of nine rescued beagles walking on grass and seeing sunlight for the first time in their lives.
“A friend shared it with me and I was just stunned,” said Mrs. King.
After a few weeks of her own research, she knew that she wanted to rescue a lab beagle. She located a small organization in Des Plaines, Illinois, called Roll Over Animal Rescue (ROAR), that could connect them with a lab beagle in need of a home.
She applied and received a phone call the next day. There was a beagle. He would be released July 3. Would they like to adopt him?
Soon after, they went to Wisconsin to pick up the dog.
The dog had never been outdoors, didn’t have the strength to climb a flight of stairs, had never run, wouldn’t eat from a person’s hand, and wasn’t housebroken. He also didn’t know what treats are and whenever he was picked up, his front legs stuck straight out.
“He was trained that if someone was picking him up, it was only to take a blood sample,” Mrs. King said.
It also took him two weeks to make a sound.
“He just didn’t know why he should,” Mrs. King said. “Many of the dogs have clipped vocal cords because the researchers don’t want all the noise. He’s still pretty quiet unless he’s playing with StuE.”
It has been a challenge, but the Kings had some additional help in adjusting MurphE to his new life. Mrs. King’s cousin, Katelin Verspoor, a night auditor at Grand Hotel, and Mr. King’s daughter, Wylie King, were both living with them and happy to help.
StuE, their three-year old English pocket beagle, also helped by setting a good example of how dogs typically behave: smelling and chasing things and playing and otherwise enjoying life.
“It was really critical that we had everyone here for those first few weeks,” said Mr. King. “But he’s pretty well adjusted now.”
Within two months, MurphE can run up and down the stairs, is housebroken, enjoys treats, happily begs for whatever “people food” is being prepared, and loves sitting on soft things, such as the couch, especially if “his people” are nearby. He likes to sleep alongside his people, too.
“That’s how StuE was as a baby, but I think MurphE will be this way forever,” Mr. King said. “He’s got five years of nothing to make up for and I’m fine with that.”
MurphE still dislikes walking on a leash and he can be easily overwhelmed. One day, it rained while he was out on a walk. Having never seen rain before, he grew confused and sat down.
“When he’s overwhelmed, he grown-up dog with a puppy mentality. He’s never seen most of this before, so flowers, grass, anything – it just intrigues him. You can’t rush him.” “It takes the phrase ‘stop and smell the roses’ to a whole new level,” Mrs. King said.
They have yet to take him on a boat or into the downtown area and are eager to see how he reacts to snow this winter.
Adopting MurphE and teaching him what it’s like to be loved has brought many challenges, but the Kings and Miss Verspoor agree that it has been a wonderful and rewarding experience for all of them.
“There’s a misconception that these animals used in testing can’t be acclimated to a normal life, but they’re great dogs, great pets, a great addition to the family,” Mrs. King said. “No matter what someone thinks about animal testing, you can see that they shouldn’t be destroyed just because someone’s done with them.”