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Research animals get new lease on life

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Ringo the beagle loves all the things every dog would: Running in the yard, rides in the car and the frequent snack.

“He’s just so happy to sit right in your lappy,” his owner, Amy Bleich, an engineer in Edgewater, Maryland, said.

You’d never know that Ringo, now five years old, had lived the entire first two years of his life inside a small cage at a nearby medical laboratory. When he was first adopted by the Bleich family in 2015, he was nervous around people and other dogs, and thrown off by the feel of grass beneath his paws and cool gusts of wind under his floppy ears.

Dogs like Ringo rarely seem to get a happy ending. A majority of dogs that have been subjects of medical research and experimentation are euthanized and destroyed when the laboratory they live in has completed its tests, according animal welfare groups.

Image: Therapy Dog Ringo
Therapy Dog Ringo with Zev Bleich, age 6.Courtesy Amy Bleich

But, thanks to a growing number of states that have passed legislation cracking down on the practice by mandating that research laboratories must first attempt to adopt out healthy animals that have survived the research tests, thousands more dogs and cats may find homes.

Since 2014, Minnesota, Connecticut, Nevada, California, Illinois and New York have all enacted so-called “Beagle Freedom” laws, named for the dog breed that is most commonly tested on due its particularly docile nature. Just last month, Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed his state’s bill into law, and on Tuesday, Delaware’s General Assembly passed a similar measure (it had already passed the state Senate), sending it to Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, for his signature.

“Every animal, who can, should be afforded the opportunity at life in a loving home after their time in the laboratory. That’s the very least we should do for them,” Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues for the Humane Society of the United States, told NBC News.

Nearly 61,000 dogs and nearly 19,000 cats lived in medical and scientific research laboratories in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (In total, nearly 821,000 animals were used for medical and scientific testing in 2016, according to the agency’s records.)

Animal welfare advocates don’t know exactly how many of those dogs and cats are euthanized after research, but most estimate that a vast majority are put down.

Under the U.S. Animal Welfare Act, medical and scientific laboratories must disclose the number and type of animals on which they’re conducting testing and periodically allow in federal inspectors, who make sure the facilities comply with minimal requirements that pertain to the living conditions of the animals in the labs.

But they aren’t required under the law to report what they do with the animals after the research has concluded, which advocates say is the primary reason states have gotten involved.

Image: Beagle rescue
A former medical animal test subject, a beagle, hesitates to leave a pet carrier during a First Steps of Freedom Event held by the Rescue + Freedom Project.Courtesy Rescue + Freedom Project

Another five legislatures — in Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey — are currently debating similar bills.

“These are compassionate, common sense bills that don’t have a real down side,” said Matt Rossell, the director of advocacy, programs campaign and public policy at the Rescue + Freedom Project, a Los Angeles-based animal rights nonprofit focused on securing freedom for creatures that have lived in laboratory settings.

“These animals have lived in a very stark environment that does not at all resemble what life looks like for dogs and cats in homes. Small cages, no potty training, they haven’t even had opportunities to be outside,” he said. “No fresh air. They haven’t even ever touched the grass.”

Skeptics, many of whom are actually animal welfare advocates, say that the bills are not enforceable, because they don’t require institutions to report what they have done with their animals and don’t offer any punitive measures for institutions that don’t comply with the requirements that they prioritize adoption over euthanasia.

Image: Beagle rescue
Volunteers hold a beagle’s ear to reveal the tattoo ID from the beagle’s time as a medical animal test subject.Courtesy Rescue + Freedom Project

But experts maintain that the laws are working, pointing to public attention and shame as a forceful deterrent.

“I actually think they’re quite effective. These science institutions are large and sophisticated and hyper-aware of public relations and don’t want to be shamed when animal welfare groups expose them for killing all of these animals,” said David Favre, a law professor at Michigan State University’s College of Law, whose expertise is animal law.

“And it’s not going to hurt (the institutions) to take the high ground. These (laws) don’t curb their research, they just help the dogs,” said Favre. “And besides,” he added, “you don’t really want to go and arrest scientists anyway.”

Advocates, and pet owners, say the benefits of the bills don’t just apply to animals.

Jeremy Bernard, a southern California author who worked as former President Barack Obama’s social secretary, says his life has only been enriched by the two beagles — both former inhabitants of medical labs — he’s adopted in recent years.

Image: Jeremy Bernard and Mason
Jeremy Bernard and MasonCourtesy of Jeremy Bernard

Mason, adopted in December, came to him a “nervous puppy” who got especially anxious before his breakfast, Bernard said.

“I got the sense he must have been fed and tested in the AM,” Bernard said.

But now, just six months later, “he loves playing with other dogs and people … and his breakfast.”

“He’s so affectionate,” Bernard said. “I watch him when it’s windy and he looks up at the sky and I don’t think he has any idea what wind is. But it makes him really happy. And it makes me happy watching him.”

“I don’t think he has any idea what his life used to be like,” he added.

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Labour’s failure to tackle anti-Semitism our biggest shame says top MP

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LABOUR’S failure to tackle anti-Semitism under former leader Jeremy Corbyn will be laid bare today after an 18-month probe by the equalities watchdog. London Belfast Birmingham Cardiff Glasgow Manchester Newcastle Norwich Plymouth Britain

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One battleground state, two rallies — and radically different versions of reality

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PHOENIX — Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris held rallies 30 miles apart Wednesday, six days before Election Day, in this battleground state poised to shape the outcome of the race.

But voters could be forgiven for thinking they were running in two different universes.

In Trump’s world, the coronavirus crisis is exaggerated and the biggest danger to the country is a threat of socialism or communism, while top-of-mind issues include allegations of corruption by Joe Biden’s son Hunter and a “deep state” of government officials plotting against the president.

In the Biden-Harris world, the pandemic is an overarching issue that is crushing middle-class pocketbooks, health care access is threatened by an incompetent president and the country is on a knife’s edge between a return to normalcy and a march to authoritarianism.

Symbolic of the two attitudes, Trump’s rally featured supporters packing into a section of Phoenix Goodyear Airport, many of them elbow to elbow and maskless, while Harris held a drive-in event that was sparse and heavily socially distanced, with attendees covering their faces even when nobody was near them.

Coronavirus case numbers are surging across the country, with a death toll that has topped 225,000. Scientists widely agree that the virus can be relatively contained if people wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Trump boasted that he has done “a great job” handling the virus. Many of his rallygoers doubted the official diagnosis figures, while others said elites were using the issue to control the population. Still others said the media was covering the pandemic to hurt Trump.

“I think it’s overblown. It’s a political ploy to keep people from voting,” said Michael Bieda, 53, of Buckeye. “It’s a power that the opposite side could control people with.”

Dee Ann Kriebs, 74, of Goodyear, who was wearing a red “MAGA” hat, said, “There is so much politicization of Covid that I find it very hard to trust numbers.” She cited the “deep state” as her top issue in the election.

“The deep state has to be eliminated in Washington,” she said.

Tammy Byler, an operations manager in Waddell, said the panic surrounding Covid-19 “feels like communism trying to take over.”

People watch a video during a rally with President Donald Trump at Phoenix Goodyear Airport in Goodyear, Ariz., on Wednesday.Brendan Smialowski / AFP – Getty Images

At her rally, Harris called the coronavirus “one of the greatest mass casualty events that we as a nation have experienced since World War II,” and Trump, she said, “covered it up.”

Rachael Clawson, a teacher in Mason, said that her husband worked in tourism and that the virus had left her in a single-income household.

“If we don’t get the pandemic under control, what does that mean for his job?” she asked, adding: “Access to health care is huge. We have three small kids and a history of chronic disease. It’s very scary to think about raising a young family without health insurance.”

‘Creating a fictional world’

Clawson said she was worried about a march to authoritarianism if Trump is re-elected.

“He thinks Article II of the Constitution allows him to do whatever he wants,” she said, fretting that if voters give Trump four more years, “what permission does that give him to do?”

Kimberly Marteau, 61, a lawyer visiting from Los Angeles, said the pandemic is “a huge concern.” She said she’s supporting Biden and Harris because they’ll “let the facts and science lead us.”

“Information and truth are our defense against someone who wants to create his own world when it’s not the reality on the ground,” she said.

The dueling rallies highlighted the extent to which Americans are voting about not just which set of policies to enact, but also which version of reality they believe to be true.

“Trump has always been about creating a fictional world that conforms to the one he’d like to be true,” said Tony Schwartz, co-author of Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal.” “What’s new is that he’s doing so now, repeatedly, in the face of unassailable facts that directly contradict what he’s claiming. Covid numbers are rising. The economy is still deeply troubled. And on and on.”

Nationally, Biden leads Trump by 7.8 percentage points in the NBC News polling average. In Arizona, Biden leads Trump by 3.5 points in the FiveThirtyEight average, buoyed by defections from college-educated white voters and independents.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris speaks at a mobile campaign event in Phoenix on Wednesday.Sahil Kapur / NBC News

The contrast in the compositions of the two crowds was stark. Trump’s crowd was predominantly white, and it included many of the sort of older voters who have helped Republicans carry the state in all but one presidential election since 1952. Harris’ crowd was younger, with a large share of Black and Hispanic voters, reflecting a rising Democratic-leaning electorate that is reshaping Arizona — and much of the rest of America.

The state is also home to a competitive race in a close fight for control of the Senate, with appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally trailing Democrat Mark Kelly in polls.

“The biggest problem we have is if they cheat with the ballots. That’s my biggest problem,” Trump said, even though experts say that voter fraud is extremely rare in the U.S. and that it’s unlikely to influence any outcome.

To some Trump supporters, the coronavirus lockdowns were unnecessary.

Marlene Parsons, a retiree in Glendale, said it was a “travesty that we had to go through this and ruin the economy.” She said the virus isn’t “as serious as the media portrays it to be,” and she refuses to wear a mask, “because it doesn’t make me feel good.”

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But to Democrats, curtailing the virus is paramount, with many saying they wish Trump would listen more to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert.

“We can’t get back to normal until we get this virus under control,” said Steven Slugocki, the chair of the Maricopa County Democratic Party. “This is a campaign with reality and listening to the scientists ,or propaganda from Fox News that Donald Trump insists on listening to instead of Dr. Fauci.”

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Merkel faces 'catastrophe': No deal Brexit to hit Germany harder than any other EU nation

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IF the UK fails to strike a trade deal with the EU before the end of the year, it will be a “catastrophe” for Germany, which will be harder hit than any other member of the EU27, a former MEP has said.

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