Advertisement

Rescue Group Shuts Down Animal Testing Lab and Plans to Make It a Sanctuary for Former Lab Pets

The Beagle Freedom Project is transforming a 30-acre property in Oklahoma that used to be an animal testing facility into Freedom Fields

<p>Gene Blalock </p> Beagles formerly used in animal testing in an outdoor enclosure

Gene Blalock

Beagles formerly used in animal testing in an outdoor enclosure
  • The Beagle Freedom Project shut down an animal testing facility in Oklahoma in February and purchased the property surrounding the lab

  • The animal welfare organization is planning to turn the 30-acre property into a sanctuary and adoption center for pets rescued from animal testing

  • Over 200 pets used in testing at the Oklahoma facility are now in the Beagle Freedom Project's care and are looking for forever homes

Over 200 cats and dogs are getting a fresh start in a familiar place.

In February, Beagle Freedom Project (BFP)— an animal welfare organization dedicated to saving lab animals and ending animal testing —shut down a private facility in Nowata, Oklahoma, performing tests on cats and dogs for the flea and tick medicine industry.

Beagle Freedom Project took over the former lab's 30-acre property and the more than 200 animals remaining on the premises. The organization is now transforming the property into Freedom Fields, a sanctuary and adoption center for the former lab animals at the facility and future pets rescued from animal testing.

For Shannon Keith, who founded the Beagle Freedom Project in 2010, Freedom Fields is a success story that was hard to imagine 13 years ago.

When Keith started BFP, "the status quo was that facilities would typically kill animals at the end of testing," she tells PEOPLE. Through Beagle Freedom Project's work, hundreds of lab animals slated to die have been rescued and adopted out to loving families. The organization has also passed its "signature legislation," the Beagle Freedom Bill, in 13 states and is working on passing federal legislation.

<p>Beagle Freedom Project</p> The Beagle Freedom Project's Shannon Keith with a beagle rescued from animal testing

Beagle Freedom Project

The Beagle Freedom Project's Shannon Keith with a beagle rescued from animal testing

"What that does is mandate the release of animals after the testing is over. So instead of killing them, they release them to organizations like ours, so they have a second chance at life," Keith explains.

Keith, an animal rights attorney, doesn't rely on legislation alone to save animals used in product testing. Each year, she writes a letter to every operational animal testing facility in the United States, asking them to release their animals to the Beagle Freedom Project.

Related: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry Adopt 'Traumatized' Senior Former Research Beagle

While Keith says it's "very rare" she gets a response, one of these letters led the Beagle Freedom Project to the property that will eventually become Freedom Fields.

"This facility in Oklahoma, the owner of it finally called me, and he said, 'Hey, I got your letter. I actually got it a couple of years ago.' And he said, 'I ignored your letter,'" Keith says.

<p>Beagle Freedom Project</p> Cats inside a former animal testing facility in Oklahoma after it was shut down by the Beagle Freedom Project

Beagle Freedom Project

Cats inside a former animal testing facility in Oklahoma after it was shut down by the Beagle Freedom Project

What changed the facility owner's mind were citations from the USDA. The agency encouraged the owner to contact Beagle Freedom Project to surrender the dogs and help clear up some of the citations.

"To his credit, he called us, and we started working with him in 2021. And so, we started going there, and whenever he was done with dogs and cats, we would get them and adopt them out," Keith shares.

This relationship allowed Keith to pitch shutting down the testing facility and purchasing the property to the owner when she felt the time was right.

<p>Beagle Freedom Project</p> Two beagles in an outdoor enclosure at the former animal testing facility shut down by the Beagle Freedom Project

Beagle Freedom Project

Two beagles in an outdoor enclosure at the former animal testing facility shut down by the Beagle Freedom Project

"I suggested he close his business and that we purchase the land from him, not the business, but the land. It's a beautiful 30 acres. We would turn it into a sanctuary, and he'd be done with it. And I literally thought that he would laugh me off the phone," Keith recalls of the conversation.

To her surprise, the owner was ready to retire and agreed to the Beagle Freedom Project's proposition.

Related: Rescue Beagle Is 'Excited About Absolutely Everything' One Year After Leaving Breeding Facility

"Part of our negotiations was that he would relinquish his USDA license and never test on animals again. We had no part in paying for the business; the business is over. We purchased the property and took all the animals he would release to our custody. So we got 200 plus dogs and cats. He agreed, and we officially took custody of everybody and the land on February 1st," Keith explains.

<p>Beagle Freedom Project</p> The property surrounding the former animal testing facility shut down by the Beagle Freedom Project

Beagle Freedom Project

The property surrounding the former animal testing facility shut down by the Beagle Freedom Project

After the sale, the Beagle Freedom Project started working on making Freedom Fields a reality. Currently, a BFP employee lives on the property with the former lab animals who have yet to be adopted.

The animals came into Beagle Freedom Project's care with burns on their bodies and health issues from being exposed to the toxic substances used in testing for flea and tick prevention medicines — and they also came ready to be loved. Over 30 animals from the Oklahoma testing facility have already found forever homes, and more are still searching for their families.

"Our goal is to get all of them adopted out. In the meantime, they're living there, and we are in the process of renovating and making it a beautiful place for them to live until they're adopted," Keith says.

<p>Beagle Freedom Project</p> A former lab beagle with her newborn puppies, all whom are now under the care of the Beagle Freedom Project

Beagle Freedom Project

A former lab beagle with her newborn puppies, all whom are now under the care of the Beagle Freedom Project

Plans for turning the former testing facility into Freedom Fields include adding a rehabilitation center for animals recovering from the abuse they endured during testing and a senior center for the numerous aging pets rescued from animal testing.

"The majority of dogs used in testing were born there, so they've been there their whole lives, and they've got arthritis, cataracts, and all kinds of ailments. They need their teeth pulled. They're in pain. So we're building a senior center so they can have orthopedic beds, ramps, and heat, all kinds of comforts they should have until they're adopted," Keith details.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

Freedom Fields won't just be for pets. Keith says that BFP plans to add an education center to the sanctuary "where people can meet animal testing survivors, learn about animal testing, and learn how to take care of animals properly and be kind to animals."

<p>Beagle Freedom Project</p> A cat used in testing at the facility in Oklahoma shut down by the Beagle Freedom Project

Beagle Freedom Project

A cat used in testing at the facility in Oklahoma shut down by the Beagle Freedom Project

"It's one thing to hear me blabber on about animal testing, but when you meet a survivor in person, and you look in their eyes, it's something that really melts your heart and makes you want to do something impactful," she adds.

Keith hopes that news of Freedom Fields inspires animal lovers to learn more about the grim reality of animal testing.

"I would just love people to know and be aware of the products that they're using, not only for themselves but also for their beloved animals, who are family members," she says.

To help with this goal, BFP has developed the free Cruelty Cutter app, which allows users to scan a product's barcode and learn if animal testing was used to create the product.

To learn more about the Beagle Freedom Project, visit the organization's website.

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.