Adopted laboratory animals rescued from a secret USDA facility

Adopted laboratory animals rescued from a ‘secret’ USDA facility – to avoid deadly cannibalism experiments

Violet the Hound was locked in a dark basement laboratory in Washington DC for most of the first year of her life and never had the opportunity to play outside.

She was intentionally infected with hookworm as a puppy and treated with experimental drugs as part of a government-funded pharmaceutical trial before being gastrically banded by medical students so they could practice before performing the surgery on humans.

Violet was to be included in a final study where her dead body would have been dismembered for further experimentation. But in 2014 she was adopted by Julie Germany, an activist who volunteered to play with lab dogs during her lunch breaks in the capital.

Violet – who now enjoys long walks – is one of a growing number of dogs and cats previously locked away in cruel labs who are being given a second chance at life.

Violet in the basement of the animal testing lab in Washington DC on the first day Julie Germany, board member of the WCW project, met her in Spring 2014. Behind her is the cart of dog toys that volunteers were allowed to choose from during daily indoor play times Violet allowed

Violet and Germany dress up and enjoy Violet's post-lab life at Germany's home in Alexandria, Virginia

Violet and Germany dress up and enjoy Violet’s post-lab life at Germany’s home in Alexandria, Virginia

In November 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced a policy that forces research institutions to put healthy animals up for adoption or foster care after they have been involved in laboratory experiments.

It followed a year-long campaign by project watchdog White Coat Waste (WCW), which Ms. Germany co-founded a year before Violet was admitted.

Until 2019, labs were left to decide what to do with the animals after their initial experiments were completed. Many have put them to sleep for convenience or to further their research.

Tabby Petite and house cat Delilah were also lucky enough to be adopted before the 2019 policy change.

They were involved in secret experiments conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Beltsville at a notorious lab called the Kitten Slaughterhouse.

Delilah was born at the USDA in 2013 and has spent her life there, while Petite was born at a commercial lab breeder in 2015 and sold to the USDA when she was just over a year old.

Delilah, now nine, and Petite, seven, were two of the 14 breeding mothers at the lab, known as “incubator” cats, who were used exclusively to breed kittens for USDA research.

Since 1982, more than 3,000 healthy two-month-old kittens have been killed at the Maryland laboratory after being forced to eat parasite-infected raw meat to combat toxoplasmosis.

Delilah with the ear tattoo she was given at the Maryland lab Petite was also given a government ID so the lab staff could track her

Delilah (pictured left) and Petite (pictured right) with the ear tattoos they got at the Maryland lab to keep track of

Delilah met Senator Jeff Merkley in July 2019, who helped close her lab Delilah welcomes Congressman Brian Mast, who also helped put an end to the Kitten Slaughterhouse

In July 2019, Delilah met two members of Congress who were helping to shut down her lab. She met Senator Jeff Merkley (pictured left) and Congressman Brian Mast (pictured right)

After studying them for two to three weeks, the lab staff butchered the baby cats, put them in sacks, and burned them.

The kittens were also fed cat and dog meat bought at Chinese wet markets in cannibalism experiments.

Delilah had four litters between 2014 and 2016 and gave birth to 22 kittens that were separated from their mother at birth, while Petite only had one kitten.

The couple had their government numbers permanently tattooed on their ears.

When they were finally released from the Kitten Slaughterhouse in April 2019, they spent six months in foster care before joining Anthony Belloti, President and co-founder of the WCW Project, and his partner Kellie Heckman, who were instrumental in the lab’s closure .

He said adopting the cats was “one of the greatest things we’ve done in my life.”

“Not only to end this national disgrace, but to be able to live personally with the survivors of our work,” he said.

Belloti and Heckman had to buy the two cats for $1 each to bring back to their St. Louis home because the FDA’s adoption policy was not yet in effect, meaning they had to sell them.

“So they see them as used test tubes,” Bellotti told .

Due to lack of care in the lab, Delilah had to have several teeth pulled and developed asthma when she was discharged.

She now needs a special cat food to control her allergies. She also suffered from recurring, chronic ear infections, which her vet says are a common condition of cats forced to live in colonies like her lab.

But mentally she was very well adjusted to life outside the lab.

Mr Bellotti said: “It’s remarkable how loving [she is]. You have a cat like this, a survivor of abuse. She gave birth to 22 confirmed kittens. [The lab workers] grabbed their necks and stuck a needle in their hearts and then put them in a state incinerator. This has happened to her over 22 times. The fact that she is as loving as she is now is remarkable and we are very proud.’

A wide variety of animals — including mice, rats, monkeys, fish, and birds — can be used legally in America for experiments on chemicals, drugs, food, and cosmetics.

However, critics have described how the animals’ financial value is prioritized over their safety and welfare, with the animals often confined in tiny cages for long periods of time.

Ms Germany said: “The value associated with it is the value of an object or thing. And once the thing loses its financial value, it’s worthless. They are not seen as individuals.’

Violent was kept at the government-funded Washington DC lab with two other dogs, which were used for medical students to practice surgeries they would later perform on humans.

The dogs were housed in wire cages in a room the size of a long closet and were only allowed out in the basement for daily indoor play times with volunteers.

Germany worked near the lab in early 2014 and visited the lab on their lunch breaks as volunteers to play with the dogs.

She told : “It was exactly what you would think of when you think of an American haunted house. It was dark, it was linoleum, it smelled funny. There was no sunshine – it was a hallway. We took out the toys and I played with the dogs.

“I met Violet pretty early. She was quite traumatized when I met her. She was very young, about a year old. The other dogs in the lab would see and interact with me as a person and engage with me, it’s like their eyes would open and say, “Oh, human. Feed me, play with me, scratch my ears.”

The day Violet was brought home from the lab in August 2014.  Violet was so scared of weed that she didn't want Germany to drop her off, and kept folding her legs to avoid touching it

The day Violet was brought home from the lab in August 2014. Violet was so scared of weed that she didn’t want Germany to drop her off, and kept folding her legs to avoid touching it

“Violet wasn’t like that. She couldn’t get involved with another person at all. But I watched her play with the dogs around her and that’s when I fell in love with her. I picked her up to put her back in her cage at the end of the day and I said to her, “We’re getting you out.”

One of the experiments Violet was subjected to was to put gastric bands on the dogs and feed them immediately so the band would rupture.

They were also infected with hookworm — a type of parasitic roundworm that can cause infection and disease in the gut in humans — and then given various drugs to see how the dogs would react.

The Washington lab allowed volunteers to adopt the dogs once the researchers were done with them.

But when volunteers weren’t available to adopt them at the time, the dog was enrolled in a final study that ended with their dead bodies being dismembered.

In mid-2014, Germany’s name was called out to adopt the next dog to complete the experiment, but she didn’t know it was Violet until the paperwork came through.

“When the vet called, she said, ‘That’s one of the dogs you volunteered with.’ And I just said, ‘Please let it be the worst dog with the most problems.’

She told : “She probably hadn’t seen real sunlight for more than a few minutes in her entire life. She definitely hadn’t been out on the lawn.”

Volunteers would put newly released lab dogs on grass. “You can see them learning how to be dogs again and do dog things from very scared lab dogs,” Germany said.

When they got home, Violet was “absolutely terrified” of the lawn.

Deutschland and her husband feared Violet had been booted out — where scientists cut the dogs’ vocal cords for convenience — because she didn’t make a sound for months.

Germany said: “When she finally started barking, it was like she had finally discovered her voice. It took months and months before she learned to use the stairs. It took her a year or more to get used to going outside to use the bathroom. She’s got some difficulties now, she’s just going to get upset or something and she’s going to go to the bathroom, but we have a really good method for her.’

“She’s been out for eight years now. She is a normal dog, like all the other dogs in the neighborhood. She can run around and play and take long walks and cars can drive by and she’s not scared of it. She is loving and interacts with people and she helps us care for our cats. She has become an incredible member of the family.’

The Washington lab wasn’t all that bad. Germany said: “They had a really nice wall with pictures of all their former lab dogs and their adoptive families when you enter the lab. So if you do animal testing, this was a good example of what we’d like to see more of.

Violet’s Act, named after Violet the Dog, is WCW’s current campaign to ensure government agencies have a plan to adopt or retire all animals at the end of their experiments.

A study published this month found that ex-lab dogs are significantly less aggressive towards people and other dogs than dogs with no past lab use.

They are more attached to their caregivers and are just as capable of learning, as has been shown.