Cramped pens & ‘bled like vampires to death' for cash: Inside harrowing UK beagle farms which breed dogs for lab testing

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CRAMMED into cages, handled by the scruff of their necks and hooked up to machines that drain them of blood before their lifeless bodies are discarded as medical waste.

The life of a beagle in one of Britain's most prominent animal testing facilities is the stuff of nightmares for dog lovers.

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Cramped pens & ‘bled like vampires to death’ for cash: Inside harrowing UK beagle farms which breed dogs for lab testing

Beagles pictured in cramped cages at MBR Acres in Cambridgeshire – believed to be Britain’s biggest beagle farm Credit: Scarlett, beagle ambassador for FLOE

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Cramped pens & ‘bled like vampires to death’ for cash: Inside harrowing UK beagle farms which breed dogs for lab testing

This rescued beagle has a number tattooed on its ear for identification purposes Credit: Supplied

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Testing on beagles – selected for their submissive, trusting natures – is still widely practiced in this country, with thousands of pups bred in factory farms every year.

The latest UK Home Office statistics reveal there were 4,320 procedures carried out on dogs – 4,270 procedures on Beagles specifically – in 2020.

MBR Acres in Cambridgeshire – believed to be Britain’s biggest beagle farm – breeds up to 2,000 puppies a year that are sold at around 16 weeks old to laboratories.

On its website, MBR – short for Marshall BioResources – says it is “dedicated to maintaining high standards of animal welfare” and “believe our animals deserve the best possible treatment and care we can provide”.

But upsetting footage from the facility obtained by The Sun Online shows dozens of caged dogs barking and crying, jostling for space in their cramped pens while staff go about their business seemingly unfazed.

It follows a leaked video released last year by animal rights group For Life On Earth (FLOE), also filmed at MBR Acres, which appears to show whining puppies being man-handled into crowded crates, ready to be shipped off to labs.

The footage caused outcry, with Home Secretary Priti Patel vowing to launch a review of animal testing in the UK.

However, last week campaign group Hounded established the Home Office still has “no current plans to hold a review into the use of animals in science”.

Cramped pens & ‘bled like vampires to death’ for cash: Inside harrowing UK beagle farms which breed dogs for lab testing

A beagle is seen being lifted by the scruff of its neck at MBR Acres in Cambridgeshire Credit: Scarlett, beagle ambassador for FLOE

UK law currently requires all new medicines to be tested on two animals before being allowed on the market – commonly a rodent and a dog.

But campaigners claim some toxicity experiments can cause pain and distress, and are calling for an end to animal testing.

What really goes on behind closed doors at animal testing sites in the UK is currently shrouded in secrecy, as the law blocks access to information about their treatment during experiments.

Section 24 of the ASPA (Animals Specific Procedures Act) 1986 makes it a criminal offence for this information to be disclosed.

This law was set to be reviewed in 2014, due to its “inflexible confidentiality requirements” being “out of step with government policy on openness and transparency”. However, changes are yet to happen.

'The worst thing is hearing their distress'

Campaigners have expressed concern about the beagles' treatment at MBR Acres.

One member of Camp Beagle, which set up a protest outside the facility last year and counts popstar Will Young among its supporters, says she can hear them “crying”.

Nurse Jo Shaw, 56, from Cambridge, told Sun Online: “The worst thing is hearing [the dogs'] distress.

“At the camp I can hear them crying and yelping, and it’s heartbreaking as you want to comfort them – but you can’t.

“They’re incarcerated, and the only time they’re allowed out is when they’re moved to a new cage or transported to a laboratory.

“They’re also trained from a young age to learn to lift their paws so they can be injected easily, and are trained so they can wear masks over their faces.”

I can hear them crying and yelping, and it’s heartbreaking as you want to comfort them – but you can’t

Camp Beagle campaigner

Hounded, set up last August by dog-lovers Penny Weston and Sophie Atwood, has launched a petition to ban canine experiments in the UK, which has the backing of celebs including actor Simon Pegg and comedian Kathryn Ryan.

Sophie said: “Dogs are innocent, loving, loyal and trusting creatures that bring so much joy to our lives. How can we be a nation of dog lovers and let this happen?”

Hounded claims most dogs do not survive the “painful toxicity” experiments they endure in labs across the UK, but say those that do are often killed as they are deemed “too damaged to be rehomed”.

'Bled to death'

One of the groups' most shocking discovery came in the form of a “bleeding license” held by MBR Acres.

The facility is permitted to carry out scientific procedures on living animals – including draining them of their blood so that it can be sold to “customers” for the “benefit of biomedical science”.

Guidelines state that blood in studies must be “as fresh as possible”, meaning it is taken from a “living donor”.

Pups are often given no sedation or anaesthetic – despite having a tube down their throats to aid breathing – while they are bled as it provides the customer with advantageous “drug free” blood.

If demand is high and the donor “colony” can’t meet the orders, “surplus” pups that can’t be sold on are bled to death under terminal general anaesthetic.

The facility may also breed more dogs to provide “extra stock” to act as donors and fulfil orders, meaning they are essentially bred to be bled.

The licence states that the facility has a full veterinary suite on site suitable for euthanasia and “terminal bleeds”. The “customer” usually dictates whether or not the dog is killed before the blood is harvested.

'Lucrative side business'

In 2016, MBR Acres provided 10,942ml of “whole dog blood” and 41,515ml of dog plasma to its customers. 

Penny, 35, told The Sun: “Not only are dogs being drained of all their blood alive, for use in other tests, it confirms that bleeding is a lucrative side business for the holding company, Marshall Farms Group.

“Until last year this was denied; finally we’re uncovering the truth into how they’re raking in millions of pounds of profit. This is a lucrative side business.

“Some dogs are bled for years and years, others for much shorter time periods.

“Chris Magee from Understanding Animal Research put in writing that dogs are not bled like vampires. Shortly after, we got hold of the project licence for the bleeding which proves that they absolutely categorically are.”

The 'lucky ones'

Cramped pens & ‘bled like vampires to death’ for cash: Inside harrowing UK beagle farms which breed dogs for lab testing

Clare rescued two beagles, believed to have been from an Irish testing facility Credit: Supplied

Some animal testing dogs are rescued, but the trauma of their upbringing is often apparent.

Clare Tollan, 38, from Cheshire, and husband Tim took on two Beagles, called Liberty and Luna, in 2017 from the Dogs Trust, thought to have been rescued after an Irish laboratory shut down.

Clare told The Sun: “[From the beginning they] were inseparable, huddled right at the back. Straight away it was obvious that they’d been through a horrible ordeal and we’d have to earn their trust.

“At first, we couldn’t turn on the TV as it terrified them, even with the sound off.

“The washing machine and vacuum cleaner were a similar story – the dogs were so mentally brittle and at first they wouldn’t come upstairs at all.

At first, we couldn’t turn on the TV as it terrified them, even with the sound off… the dogs were so mentally brittle

Clare Tollan, rescued beagle owner

“Even now, if you move your hand towards the back of their heads, where we presume they were man-handled in the lab, they flinch and move away, and they still won’t let anyone they don’t know stroke them.

“Last year we took Luna to the vet as she seemed very sensitive around her hip, and scans showed she and Liberty both have special chips embedded there, probably used to identify them.

“It’s a grim reminder of their backgrounds.”

'His tattoo is a reminder of his suffering'

Five years ago Nina Dixon, 42, and her family also provided a loving home for beagle Harry, now seven, rescued from a toxicology lab in Hungary.

Nina says: “Every time we lift up Harry’s ear and see the numbers tattooed inside we’re reminded of what the poor animal was put through.

“To think he’s one of just a handful of the thousands of poor beagles to have escaped alive is simply horrific.

“When he first arrived, he couldn’t even drink from his water bowl. We had to show him how.

“Whenever we tried to touch him, he’d cower and shake in the corner with his tail between his legs.”

When he first arrived, he couldn’t even drink from his water bowl. We had to show him how. Whenever we tried to touch him, he’d cower and shake in the corner with his tail between his legs

Nina Dixon, rescued beagle owner

Nina said Harry still suffers from PTSD-like symptoms, and has to be carried upstairs each night to sleep in her room.

She added: “Harry’s proof you can re-home these poor dogs – he’s still not fine, but like all of us he’s had his challenges and he’s part of our family.”

The Sun has contacted MBR for comment. Previously, a spokesperson for MBR said it is regularly checked by the Home Office to ensure that correct standards are met.

They added: “We remain proud of what we do every day because our work allows the progress of medicine to save millions of human and animal lives.”

Cramped pens & ‘bled like vampires to death’ for cash: Inside harrowing UK beagle farms which breed dogs for lab testing

Harry was rescued from a Hungarian lab by Nina, and has a tell-tale number tattooed on his ear Credit: Supplied

Cramped pens & ‘bled like vampires to death’ for cash: Inside harrowing UK beagle farms which breed dogs for lab testing

Singer Will Young joined protesters last year outside MBR's Cambridge facility Credit: SWNS

Cramped pens & ‘bled like vampires to death’ for cash: Inside harrowing UK beagle farms which breed dogs for lab testing

Beagles are bred for animal testing purposes because they are typically gentle, docile and submissive Credit: Getty

Harrowing footage filmed at MBR Acres, Cambridgeshire, reveals panic-stricken distress cries from many hundreds of Beagles

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