Garnet, a year-old female hound, stares up into the sky and marvels at the vastness of it.
She sees jet plane contrails and runs to hide. Under the safety of the porch, she hears birds singing and cocks her head perplexed by the sound. Just then, a car goes by and Garnet retreats even farther under the porch.
“That’s what it was like at first,” explains Appomattox resident and Southside Electric Cooperative member Vicki King, a dog sports agility trainer, who fostered Garnet for about six months until the confused canine got more used to the outside world.
You see, Garnet is no ordinary hound. She spent the first year of her life in a Richmond research facility, helping lab technicians study pacemaker use and its effects on heart arrhythmias.
The hard truth is that virtually every vaccine, treatment, cure, diagnostic and surgical procedure available in the U.S. today was first tested on animals. The Food & Drug Administration requires the testing of almost every new drug and medical device treatment on animals before approving any testing on people.
Between 17 million and 22 million animals are estimated to be involved in research studies annually in the United States. About 1% of these research animals nationwide are dogs, and Garnet was one of them.
“In the lab, Garnet had a pacemaker implanted and when I got her, she had three still-healing surgical incisions and one lead left in her,” says King, who was the first foster parent in Virginia for retired laboratory animals though a national program called Homes for Animal Heroes.
“Dogs like Garnet truly are heroes,” King says. “They are on the front lines helping find cures and when they are retired, they deserve our care.”
Homes for Animal Heroes, a program borne of the National Animal Interest Alliance, is dedicated to finding homes for these retired research dogs, many of whom play a critical role in finding cures for human ailments such as heart disease. In the labs, the dogs are well treated and well cared for, according to King.
FILLING A VOID
The HAH foster and adoption program was inspired by the research community’s desire to find loving homes for these retired animals. “Scientists wind up adopting a lot of them because they fall in love with them,” says King. “But they can’t take them all.”
It was this fact, and an overall love of animals, that compelled HAH co-founders Cindy Buckmaster and Patti Strand to form an organization to address this issue.
“We take human medical treatments and cures for granted,” Buckmaster says. “But it is these animals that make them happen. Ignoring that, I think, is ungrateful and disrespectful.We owe a lot to these animals; they are heroes and they deserve good homes.”
Since the organization began in 2017, Strand says it has successfully placed 400-plus dogs nationwide, but they need more dedicated fosters like King in order to prepare, acclimate and train more dogs to be placed eventually in forever homes.
“Virginia, especially, needs more fosters as it is one of our newest participating states,” says Strand. Currently, the program boasts 15 participating states and continues to grow, allowing more dogs to find loving forever homes.
“Garnet recently was adopted and now lives happily with a wonderful family in Smith Mountain Lake,” says King.
For more information, go to homesforanimalheroes.com.