A 1965 dog-napping leads to the passage of the Animal Welfare Act.

The stolen dog that changed American science.
June 3 2009 7:22 AM

Pepper Goes to Washington

The most important animal-welfare law in America began with a stolen dog.

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Life Magazine article from Feb. 4, 1966

The most significant contribution to the dog-napping panic arrived in February 1966, when Life magazine released an eight-page photo essay, "Concentration Camps for Dogs." (A cover line warned, "Your dog is in cruel danger.") Life photographer Stan Wayman had joined Humane Society investigators on a raid of a dog dealer's farm in Maryland, where animals were chained to wooden boxes and left out in the cold to feed on frozen entrails. Christine Stevens distributed a copy of the article to every member of Congress.

Lawmakers claimed to be getting more mail on the subject of dog-napping than they were on Vietnam: The Senate commerce committee received 20,000 letters over the 12-month period beginning with Pepper's death; the House agriculture committee counted 60,000. At the beginning of March 1966, the House held two days of hearings to sort through the growing stack of animal welfare bills. The Humane Society's Dec Hogan testified to the ugly details of the raid in Maryland: The dealer, he said, "showed us a beagle, blind in one eye and pus running from the other." According to the New York Times, the huge hearing room was crammed with spectators, and the crowd spilled out into the hallway.

Meanwhile, the medical establishment was in retreat. The NSMR abandoned its Research Dog Hero program in 1965, the same year that one of its two founders was charged with fraud by the FDA. In the face of the publicity surrounding Pepper and the Life photo spread, the research lobby changed tactics: Now it would try only to moderate whatever bill was coming down the pipe. Scientists had good reason to worry. By that point, Resnick's original proposal to prevent the theft of dogs and cats had been expanded to cover the treatment of all warm-blooded laboratory animals, stolen or not.

Lobbyists for the universities and hospitals succeeded, at first, in scaling back the bill's most ambitious provisions, but a last-minute push in the Senate restored some of what had been stripped away. When the final version of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act was signed into law in August 1966, its guarantees of humane treatment extended both to the dealers' premises and to the research holding facilities where animals were kept before experiments. It now applied to every dog, cat, monkey, rabbit, hamster, and guinea pig in federally funded labs.

For the activists, though, Pepper's law was at best a foot in the door. The act protected the animals where they were housed, but it had no impact on their treatment inside the lab, where some of the most distressing cruelties were taking place. "This was the breakthrough and end of stalemate," said Free. "We decided, Well, we'll just have to go ahead and year after year, whenever we can, amend it and strengthen it, amend it and strengthen it."

That's just what they did.

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