with guest Katie Conlee
About this Episode
In 2021-2022, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) conducted a seven-month-long undercover investigation at Inotiv—an animal research laboratory in Indiana—and what they found inside was horrific animal suffering. While most of the animals in these experiments at Inotiv have already been killed, there remain 48 beagles who are being used to test a new drug for Crinetics Pharmaceuticals, and their experiment is about to end…along with these beagles’ lives. Katie Conlee, Vice President for Animal Research Issues with HSUS, joins us in this episode to give us the latest news on these beagles and what we can do to help save them.
Guest: Katie Conlee
Kathleen (Katie) Conlee is Vice President for Animal Research Issues at the Humane Society of the United States.
Conlee oversees the HSUS’s campaigns on behalf of tens of millions of animals in laboratories in the US by pressing to end their use in research and testing.
Conlee, who has degrees in zoology and public policy, worked for several years at a primate breeding facility where she witnessed the animal research/testing industry firsthand. She also worked at a great ape sanctuary, a skillset she applies today as an adviser to Second Chance Chimpanzee Refuge Liberia, a chimpanzee sanctuary of Humane Society International-Liberia, and as a member of the board of directors of Project Chimps, an independent chimpanzee sanctuary in Georgia.
Conlee and her team at HSUS influence legislators, regulators, corporations and scientists to end animal testing and embrace 21st century science that advances human health while sparing animals from suffering. Importantly, they also educate and call on the public to act, which is critical to securing the change that is needed.
Her team has helped secure major victories for animals in laboratories, including ending invasive experimentation on chimpanzees and retiring hundreds of them to sanctuary; revealing what dogs and other animals in laboratories endure through undercover investigations; passing legislation in various states; and spurring government agencies to eliminate various animal testing requirements and accept non-animal testing methods. Conlee is at the HSUS because she is driven to make change for animals in laboratories after working in the industry.
Ellie Hansen, host:
I have to admit that the footage of this undercover investigation is permanently cemented into my brain and I wish it wasn’t, but it’s something that I think about every day. Can you describe what your investigator documented at Inotiv over seven months and what the dogs specifically were being used for? Also, because I believe his life deserves to be honored over the airwaves can you talk about the beagle in the laboratory that you named Riley.
Yeah, thank you so much for asking the question and I can certainly understand that emotional impact. You know, I have enormous respect for undercover investigators who go in and capture what they can for the world to see. I have absolute respect for them and I’m so grateful for their work.
I also happened to work in a primate breeding facility and laboratory myself, and so that brought back a lot of memories for me, you know, hearing the baby monkeys cooling and seeing the restraint chairs…that just can be very emotional. And, you know, we can talk about the suffering of these animals all we want, but really until people see it, they don’t fully grasp what’s happening.
So, I’m very grateful that we were able to show the world what was happening in this lab, which is one of thousands of animal research laboratories in the United States. During our seven-month period there, there were approximately 6,000 animals who were used: about 250 dogs, 500 primates, 60 or so pigs, and thousands of mice and rats. And they were all at this facility being used for drug testing, and it was specifically toxicity testing for drugs–so how much of this drug can you take before it becomes toxic in your body for example. Not whether or not the drugs work or address a certain disease, but actually whether they’re toxic.
Inotiv is the name of the company. It was a lab, one of their many laboratories, located in Indiana. And this is a rapidly growing company involved in breeding of animals, testing on them, and then even have facilities that look at their organs and tissues after the animals have been killed. This is known as a contract research organization.
So dozens of pharmaceutical companies, for example, paid them to do the animal tests for them. And Riley is a very compelling animal, of course, but one of way too many here in the United States suffering like this in laboratories.
On about the second day of being force fed…so they were feeding the dog a drug by stomach tube….and on the second day, he (Riley the beagle) really started having a bad reaction and was on the floor, moaning and groaning, and couldn’t get up, vomiting, hyper-salivating. It was just so painful to listen to and watch. And, the staff actually called the veterinarian to alert to the problem with the dog, wanting the veterinarian to come in and euthanize because of the suffering. And the veterinarian, because of personal reasons, wasn’t able to go to the facility.
So that dog suffered all night long like, which is obviously completely inappropriate and we believe a violation of the Animal Welfare Act. That was just one of the cases that we pointed out in this laboratory. Unfortunately a lot of what we did see there was your standard practice of using animals in laboratories.
So while we did document what we believe were violations of the Animal Welfare Act, a lot of standard practices show the world exactly what these animals go through.
I would like to shine a spotlight on Inotiv for a moment, the company performing all of these animal experiments. Inotiv is, as you said, a contract research organization and the company has laboratories and breeding facilities in multiple states, including Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, and Texas, and their Virginia facility called “Envigo” was recently closed. So pharmaceutical companies reach out to contract with Inotiv to test their new drugs. Is this correct?
Yes. So, and usually it’s the companies that don’t have their own animal research laboratories. So they use a facility like Inotiv to do the testing for them.
And so while Inotiv has submitted general statements saying that their activities comply with federal, state, and local regulations, your undercover investigation revealed several violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. What can you say about these violations? You mentioned letting the beagle Riley suffer all night long after a terrible reaction to the experiment they were conducting. But there must have been other instances as well.
Yes. And just stepping back, I want to highlight that the Animal Welfare Act only covers warm-blooded animals other than mice, rats and birds used for research. So, if there were any issues with the mice and rats, the USDA is not the authority to complain to.
So we did submit a complaint related to the use of dogs, primates, and pigs. Again, those cases where animals were suffering, they were not euthanized when they should have been. There’s a term called “humane endpoints” where when they are approving the use of the animals, they should have plans for. When we start seeing certain signs of X, then we should euthanize the animals at that point, knowing they’re not going to recover or that the suffering is too much. And that was one of the things we pointed out to the USDA is that there are not human endpoints being carried out this facility. So inadequate veterinary care…Riley laying on the floor overnight–unacceptably. And then we had documented primates in restraint chairs who died while in the restraint chair because they were unattended, or the restraint chairs weren’t being properly operated.
And that actually was confirmed by the USDA. They did an inspection following our complaint, and an inspection report came out confirming the death of primates in restraint chairs. And also a pig whose leg was broken while he was being handled. And they did not do anything to address the leg break such as euthanasia. They wanted to continue to carry out the experiment, so they let it go on without addressing the broken leg. Those were just some examples, and unfortunately, we saw repetitive cases of this inadequate veterinary care. The other thing was not enough staffing. They had all kinds of studies going on and not nearly enough staff to cover the proper care of the animals.
Has the USDA reached out to you in any way, or did they just go in, do the inspection and you haven’t heard anything since.
We have submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to ask for any documents related to their follow-up actions. Typically what happens is you submit a complaint, they send you a case number and basically say…be on the lookout on our website for any reports that may come out. They don’t follow proactively follow back up with you typically. So, you kind of have to keep asking them or look for the documents yourself on their website, or like we are doing, getting more documents through a Freedom of Information Act request beyond just that simple report.
Auditors have pointed out that there aren’t enough consequences for research facilities who are violating Animal Welfare Act. It’s somewhat a slap on the wrist and just a normal cost of doing business for them. We want there to be meaningful action taken when there are serious violations.
Most of us are familiar with this recent historic rescue of the 4,000 beagles from the dog breeding facility called Envigo. Envigo is actually a subsidiary of Inotiv, which means Inotiv is the parent company of Envigo. Envigo was found guilty in July 2022 of over 70 animal welfare violations at its facility in Virginia and is now closed. Just surmising here, if Inotiv is capable of these violations at one of its facilities and refused to rectify them even after a federal judge ordered them to do so, couldn’t we assume that these same violations maybe be taking place at their other facilities. I believe often the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And if so, what can we do about this? How can we make Inotiv accountable?
So thank you for this question. First off, I’m happy to confirm that all 4,000 beagles have been removed from the Virginia facility, and I’m grateful to the Department of Justice for the opportunity to get those animals transferred out. You know, I was fortunate enough to meet some of the dogs myself, which I will hold onto tightly since those opportunities are really extremely rare as you know, unfortunately, not many of the animals we’re advocating for make it out alive of these situations. So they’ve been spared a life. Hopefully their ambassador families will lead the charge with us on moving away from this.
But we confirm that violations, like I said, were occurring at the site in Indiana. So we know for sure there. And it is a rapidly growing company, but the unfortunate reality is we don’t know what happens behind closed doors. We were fortunate enough to be able to capture what was happening. We rely on the USDA and that’s a once-a-year visit, if that. We learned, I think it was a couple years ago now, that the USDA had adopted an internal policy that if a facility was accredited by ALAC, the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (which is a private accrediting body)…if a facility was accredited by ALAC, they didn’t need full inspections every year. They could get focused inspections. So that could be, they would go in and not even see or look at any animals for three years, because that’s how often ALAC does their visit. We cannot be relying on these private accrediting bodies. There’s already a minimum–once a year–we’re not catching what needs to be caught. We do want to see greater enforcement.
Of course, we have a lot of work to do to change the whole system. Importantly, over the years, like I said, there haven’t been enough penalties given. We actually have changed the Animal Welfare Act to increase penalties. That’s the first step, right? The second step is getting the USDA to actually give the penalties. It’s like they have more authority to give higher amounts, but don’t always take it. So it’s a long process of getting enforcement to be correct.
But of course, we want to move away from the system altogether. We don’t want to see another facility stepping in and replacing those 4,000 dogs with 4,000 more, for example. So while it’s important to make sure our current laws are being enforced, we want to move away and change the whole system of using animals and laboratories.
In May, 2022, just a few weeks after that undercover footage that we’re talking about went public, several protests took place to try to save the 80 beagles that were part of the experiments at Inotiv. These experiments were being conducted on behalf of the pharmaceutical company called Crinetics.
And the Humane Society of the U.S. called on both companies to release the beagles and end the unnecessary testing. One protest was outside the Inotiv lab in Mount Vernon, Indiana. Another protest was outside Crinetics Pharmaceuticals in San Diego, California, which I attended. And the third protest was in Maryland where Inotiv is trying to expand their headquarters.
So these were peaceful protests to hand deliver over 250,000 signed petitions calling on the company to release the beagles. In addition to these protests, there was overwhelming public support to save these beagles, with even our own government representatives stepping up. Can you describe these efforts and how have Inotiv and Crinetics responded?
First of all, thank you to you and all the others who actually went in person to these events. It really did get a lot of attention in the media. Definitely they were nervous about it and a lot of high-level people are asking questions and joining in our long-term effort here.
These were events that absolutely put a spotlight on those 82 beagles who were the ones who were still alive when our investigator left the laboratory. So all of the other animals basically had been killed during her time there, but we knew about these specific 82. So you might be wondering why these 82, when there were thousands of animals.
Crinetics was the company paying for 80 of these beagles to be used. I want to first talk about two of them who were known as “practice beagles.” They actually have what they call a stock room where the animals are kept there for technicians, for example, to practice their procedures. So practicing putting the tube down the throat of the animals every day. That was two of the beagles.
The other 80 were being used for a Crinetics drug and 32 of them were scheduled to be euthanized in May and the other 48 this coming November. So to date, Inotiv and Crinetics have both ignored our requests to engage in any discussion at all. And they’ve made claims to the media…that’s how we’re getting any answers from them is when the media’s asking them questions; Crinetics was quiet for a very long time…they finally said, well, we have to do this to meet FDA requirements, which is inaccurate.
But importantly, they’re hearing still from legislators across the country. We had hundreds of legislators sign a letter to them urging the release of these dogs, and in Maryland at our event our key speaker was a legislator intent on not allowing Inotiv to get funding from the local government. So they’re getting the pressure from many, many people, but unfortunately have refused to engage in discussion.
You speculate that 32 of the 80 beagles at Inotiv were euthanized in mid-May, even after everything we all tried to do to help. At this at this moment, the fate of 48 more beagles is in question when their experiment ends in November, and HSUS is asking for the rest of these beagles to be released for adoption at the end of the study.
And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has refused to comment specifically about the Crinetics study, they did say in a statement that euthanasia is not required after the study is complete, unless it’s necessary to examine tissue. You’re asking members of the public to step up yet again to help save these beagles. Honestly Inotiv and Crinetics haven’t responded to the first round of petitions and protests. How can we make enough of an impact this time? Is signing a petition enough?
Yes. I know it can be very frustrating. This is a long-term issue to work, and I’ve been doing this for 23 years. It takes a long time to make change. I always ask people, “Please, please stay patient. Do all the actions that people ask.” We’re still urging people to pressure them to release the 48 remaining beagles who we assume are still alive. You know, we don’t know for sure. Unfortunately, like I said, everything’s behind closed doors, but of course I think of those beagles every day. And we need to keep the pressure on, but I’m also driven by the fact that these are 48 of the 60,000 dogs used a year, the tens of millions of other animals suffering in labs, many of them right now as we speak—even though we haven’t come to know them through an investigation, for example. So, we do have to address the big picture.
You know, why do animals continue to be used when we know that results from their animal tests are highly inaccurate and misleading?
We’ve made strides with agencies. I hear you, like signing petition doesn’t feel like enough, but I think, you know, looking at other cases like cosmetics testing, the public members had to engage and in the European Union they ended cosmetics testing. And they gave a really long phase out time. And everybody said, well, that’s too long. And you know, we agreed, but it did push the issue forward. And now cosmetics testing is very close to ending worldwide.
We made strides with the EPA. So back in early 2000, the EPA was calling for massive animal testing programs. The public weighed in, right? They did exactly what you did. Signed petitions. Okay. That leads to legal actions where you get the government…the agency..to make changes. And ultimately in 2019 EPA said, “We’re going to end all testing on mammals by 2035,” which is phenomenal and something we never thought we’d see.
And the good news is while we’re using the public and making these changes, and it is a step-by-step process, there are technologies now that are moving us away. They’re getting better every day. They’re providing superior information. So all these things come together and take time.
And we did see an interesting case in our investigation. There was a drug being tested on primates and we knew the name of the substance. And at the same time there happened to be human studies happening at the same time outside the laboratory, and a press release came out from the company saying, “Oh, wait, we had unexpected toxicity of that drug in the humans and they had liver failure and they were hospitalized.” And I’m like, “That same drug is undergoing more animal tests in the lab right now.” And so those animal tests misled somebody to put a dangerous drug in humans.
So I think, you know, we need to highlight those cases and say, okay, I know the FDA needs information, but they’re not getting what they need from the animals. We need to be moving away and using non-animal methods, which, you know, people might say, what are you talking about? What is a non-animal method? There are these things called organ-on-a-chip technologies where you take human cells and create an environment like in the human body and test the drug on there to see if it’s toxic, for example. That’s just one example. There’s 3D printing and epidemiology and clinical studies are telling us information. There’s existing information where you can do computer modeling to say okay…This chemical substance had this reaction…Let’s look at it…How similar is it to the one we’re looking at today?
There are all kinds of ways to start looking at this without just putting something in the animal like a black box and expecting an answer which is often misleading. There’s just way too much finger pointing between the FDA saying the companies need to give us these non-animal methods and the company saying, well, FDA is demanding animal tests. We have a lot to do to change everyone’s behavior. So, we need to change the companies. We need to change the government agencies. And we really do rely on the public to make those changes.
So, you know, we’re looking to do state legislation in various states to prohibit these practices. I mean, we will keep pressing Crinetics and Inotiv to release these dogs. But we also have to keep that bigger picture in mind to have the bigger impact and state legislation can move really quickly.
Excitingly this year, California passed the first bill ever to focus on dog testing. The bill, once and hopefully signed by Governor Newsom–we’re waiting on the governor’s signature now–prohibits the testing of pesticides, food additives, and chemicals. Now we wanted to go further than that. We wanted to end drug testing on dogs, but unfortunately the pharmaceutical industry had a lot of power and they stopped that bill in its tracks a couple of sessions in a row. So we did end up passing a narrower bill, but we have to go back at some point and amend that bill and make it stronger. You have to start somewhere and that’s where we count on the public to take action. Get in touch with your state legislators. Get in touch with the agencies. Get in touch with federal legislators.
So, I hear you. The best we can do is make phone calls, do social media and sign the petition for Crinetics and Inotiv, but that bigger picture we have to start tackling in the meantime.
Is HSUS going to give the public any action steps for these 48 remaining beagles at Inotiv as we get closer to the test end-date in November?
Yes. I mean, we would do already have things on our website that people can sign and do the social media and the tweets and, and all that. I know our Facebook page (which is: facebook.com/hsusanimaltesting) will be engaging the public again. You know, take action on these dogs, but also hear some other actions you can take for other dogs in laboratories who are suffering today as well.
I think we all know that the industry isn’t going to change by itself. We have seen this time and again, so we really do rely on the public to take the actions when we ask.
And, you know, the great news is speaking of actions people can take, so we have these 4,000 beagles out there and people are writing letters to the editor. They want to see action. They want to see their state take action and prohibit this from happening. They want to see the government take action. So, we need to take these 4,000 cases and amplify the message and keep it into the legislative sessions in the future. And I have a feeling all these beagle families are going to want to join us in making that change once they have them in their homes.
I get worried because I feel like sometimes people shy away from this issue and think, well, what if I don’t use the dog? Does that mean my child isn’t going to get treatments that he or she needs, or my grandparents or my parents? And it’s just a false argument. We don’t have to choose between the humans and the animals. As a matter of fact, by not using the animals, we’re helping the humans. You know, we have to think about the cases where we wasted years and years and all kinds of money and resources to have a drug fail. I mean, think of all that time where we could have had drugs that were getting better results and resulting in treatments for humans.
So, I think people shy away from this issue, but really it’s irresponsible to continue to rely on animals for testing safety of chemicals, drugs, and all these other things that we come into contact with in our daily lives.
I remember when we had this effort to end the use of chimpanzees and laboratories and people were very anxious. They were asking, “What can I do to make this go faster? What else can I do for action steps here?” And we did call on the public to take multiple actions along the way, signing different petitions, getting in touch with legislators, reaching out to agencies, and it all ended up contributing to ending chimpanzee research in the United States, which no one thought was possible in my lifetime.
So, we have to keep faith that if we keep at it, you know, don’t leave any stone unturned, keep taking those actions, you will ultimately see change. It’s never fast enough for any of us. I completely understand, but, just hang tight and keep weighing in and we will see strides.