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Conduct of Animal Research May Well Necessitate Focus on ‘Forever Homes’

Throughout her career, Lara Helwig, director of animal care at Brown University, has helped adopt out a number of research animals beyond the typical cats and dogs. These include “mice, rats, hamsters, rabbits, ferrets, pigs of all sizes, and even anoles,” a type of lizard. “In this case, the anoles went home with the graduate student at the end of a non-invasive study,” said Helwig, who has been with Brown for seven years.

Helwig, previously associate director of the Division of Teaching and Research Resources at the veterinary school at Tufts University for nine years, also said Brown has retired approximately 20 nonhuman primates (NHPs), rhesus macaques. She recently described her experiences as part of a webinar sponsored by the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW).

Universities, institutions and other research centers that don’t already have a formal policy for how to handle animals after their research life is over may look to Brown’s example to guide their efforts. While such policies are not required by federal granting agencies, state laws and other developments are driving awareness of the issue, if not the outright imperative to implement strategies for what Helwig referred to as the other “Rs” in animal research.

The three Rs in animal research, as they are known, stand for replacement, reduction and refinement. To this group Helwig adds “the fourth R,” which itself is three: rehoming, retirement and release.

As she explained, rehoming is also known as adoption, retirement refers “almost exclusively” to NHPs, and release is “typically associated with field studies or other studies involving wild animals.”

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