Dogs like this one rescued from an Eastern Oregon residence have been used for lab testing in Oregon and then euthanized. A new law taking effect in January requires labs to offer animals for adoption. (PMG file photo)

Here’s some good news at the tail end of a contentious political year.

It’s a story of a group of Oregon fifth-graders who navigated the intense legislative session to help a few animals find good homes.

The story begins in 2018, when fifth grade teacher Courtney Yeager of Beaverton’s Elmonica Elementary was in the middle of teaching a unit on the United Nations’ Global Goals. Students chose to work on goal 15, which has to do with protecting the earth and animals. 

As part of the unit, Yeager participated in a program called Skype in the Classroom to introduce her students to Shannon Keith of the Beagle Freedom Project, a Valley Village, California, nonprofit advocating for the release of animals – particularly beagles – from research labs when the work is done and the animals are healthy enough to live a second life. 

They learned about animal testing of health and beauty products, and the effects it can have on the dogs. Students learned that a majority of the research animals are forced to live all their lives indoors with no sunlight, in small cages. They also learned that many of these animals could get a second chance if they were adopted by loving families. 

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Students were gung-ho to join the fight for legislation – already in place in several states – to protect animals from euthanasia once laboratories were done with them. The effort became their class project.

The students took the basic framework of a bill Beagle Freedom Project was able to pass in nine other states and applied it to Oregon law. The result was Senate Bill 638. 

According to Kelly Peterson, state affairs director for the Oregon Humane Society, federal law only regulates the care and use of research animals while they’re in a lab. It doesn’t provide protection to animals once the research is finished, other than mandating euthanasia. 

The law is critical because it creates a relationship between labs and nonprofit animal shelters. Cats and dogs used in research must be evaluated and if they’re found healthy enough, they’re given to local shelters to be put up for adoption. The new law also requires labs throughout Oregon to report the numbers of animals they have to the secretary of state’s office at the end of each year. 

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2017 (the most recent year data is available) 27 cats and 26 dogs were used in research at Oregon labs.

To aid in their effort, the students reached out to state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, who was enthuiastic about the proposed legislation. 

“Every person in elected office, it”s our dream to see young people engaged in this way,” she said. 

Many people were supportive of the bill, which was passed after public testimony from sudents and other supporters.

The law takes effect Jan. 1, and students will participate in a Jan. 13 ceremonial signing at the state Capitol.

Sam Stites is a reporter for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of Pamplin Media Group, EO Media Group and Salem Reporter.

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