SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- It's biotech's dirty little secret: We discovered at least four companies in the Bay Area are testing everything from medicine to chemical products on dogs. The companies are in Novartis in Emeryville, Pacific Biolabs in Hercules, SRI International in Menlo Park and TB Holdings, LLC in San Carlos.
The breed of choice is beagles, because they're so friendly and they're the right size. Most won't survive. But for the ones that do, there is a chance at a new life.
"These dogs have spent their lives in a cage. We were told directly by the people in the lab that they have never been outside, that they had never seen sunlight, that they had never had a toy," said Shannon Keith, president and founder of the Beagle Freedom Project.
The organization is dedicated to saving beagles used in research labs, often for chemical and pharmaceutical testing. Since 2010, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit has rescued more than 300 beagles across the country.
3-year-old Riley is one of them. He first met his Bay Area family in July.
"He was looking at the trees and the sky and we got in the car and I don't know if he was expecting but it started moving and all he wanted to do was run around our car," said Casey Lane.
At first, Riley showed some signs of being a lab dog. On a walk down the street, he suddenly laid down to rest. But he quickly learned the ropes around his Piedmont home from his border-collie brother Freddy.
"I think he basically taught him how to play, Riley actually didn't really know how to run around and play with other dogs, so it was great," said Suzanne Lane.
The beagles we met in at the Beagle Freedom Project are used to their new lives, but there are still reminders of their old ones. They all have tattoos on their ears from the lab. And Spanky can't bark because he had his vocal cords cut. It's a common procedure in many labs.
What goes on in many labs is rarely made public. Videos shot by undercover investigators with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are disturbing. One shows a worker force feeding a beagle OxyContin.
Another video shows a beagle going crazy after being confined for years in a steel cage.
"I think it's really important to note that there is no experiment on dogs that is illegal," said Kathy Guillermo, senior VP of PETA. Experiments have to be approved by committees within a lab, but nothing is against the law, so they are put through all kinds of cruelty."
PETA said most dogs end up euthanized. It's rare for beagles bred for a life in the lab, to end up as pets in homes. "The laboratories don't want to release the animals to us, they simply don't want the information out there," said Shannon Keith.
Back in the Bay Area, at Riley's new home, Casey was learning a whole new way of living too. She uses an app created by the Beagle Freedom Project called the "Cruelty Cutter" to figure out how to avoid products that are animal tested.
"I went around our entire house and I scanned different things and I found out where different things came from," said Casey.
Three weeks after our first visit, it's clear her new buddy, and former lab dog is living the life of Riley. "He's really brought a lot of positive and happiness to our family," said Suzanne Lane.
KPIX 5 contacted all four Bay Area labs for comment. Only one responded.
In a statement Novartis in Emeryville said: "As a part of the research process, beagles are used to evaluate potential new medicines. Our facility has a long-standing rehoming program that has successfully placed more than 200 dogs with loving families."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the health and wellness of the animals that are used in biomedical testing. However, the Animal Welfare Act makes clear that as far as research is concerned, the USDA cannot interfere with the conduct of research. Thereforce, the act does not restrict testing on beagles.
California firms inspected by USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in 2014 that list dogs for use in testing:
Absorption Systems, Inc. San Diego, 79 dogs
Allergan, Irvine 114 dogs
Amgen, Thousand Oaks, 16 dogs
Big Heart Pet Brands, Terminal Island, 138 dogs
Biosurg, Winters, 2 dogs
Biotox Sciences, San Diego, 4 dogs
California Property Holdings, LLC, Sylmar, 41 dogs
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, 11 dogs
Cosumnes River College, Sacramento, 11 dogs
Critical Care Research Inc, Rancho Cucamonga, 32 dogs
David Young, DVM, Turlock, 291 dogs
Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Emeryville, 12 dogs
Pacific Biolabs, Hercules, 3 dogs
San Diego Mesa College, San Diego, 6 dogs
San Joaquin Valley College, Visalia, 14 dogs
SRI International, Menlo Park, 21 dogs
TB Holdings, San Carlos, 7 dogs
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 3 dogs
TOTAL: 805 dogs
for more features.