Research Scientist Changing the Fate of Lab Animals By Adopting Out Dogs After Testing

Four healthy dogs were slated to be euthanized after an experiment, Sandra Smieszek made sure the canines were adopted instead

lab animals adopted
Photo: Courtesy Lauren Kellogg

Sandra Smieszek is working to change the lives of lab animals.

Smieszek is a research scientist — working on whole-genome mapping to find treatments for gastroparesis, sleep disorders, and other health issues — and head of genetics for Vanda Pharmaceuticals, she is also an animal lover and dog owner.

Animals are still sometimes used in pharmaceutical testing, but Smieszek found a good match with Vanda, a company that believes that all other opportunities should be explored before an animal is used in lab testing. Vanda filed a complaint against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in support of these beliefs after the FDA put a partial clinical hold on the company prohibiting Vanda from “studying a promising new drug in humans for more than 12 weeks without conducting unnecessary and unethical animal studies,” Vanda shared in a press release about the complaint.

The research scientist also chairs the Animal Research Rights Committee, which “overlooks all experiments that involve animals,” Smieszek told PEOPLE. This role also allowed her to take her dedication to the safety and health of lab animals one step further, when, earlier this year, she realized that four dogs involved in animal testing at a Vanda partner lab were slated to be euthanized after testing, even though they were healthy and unaffected by the tests.

“In the testing, we manage to show that these animals feel good and have been put through extensive vet exams,” she said of her reaction to this discovery. “Why would you put them to sleep?”

She contacted the lab involved with the test to see if the canines could be adopted out instead of killed, and was told there was no policy in place that required labs to find homes for dogs involved in experiments and trials

In response, Smieszek, with help from the Animal Research Rights Committee, worked with Vanda to create that missing policy and found homes for the four dogs. Two lab employees, wanting to set a good example and support the change Smieszek is working to create each adopted a dog, one pup was taken in by Vanda’s head of corporate strategy Lauren Kellogg, and the final dog, a beagle, was adopted by Smieszek herself.

lab animals adopted
Courtesy Lauren Kellogg

The former lab pup, now named Malina, lives with the Smieszek family and spends her days cuddling and playing with her dog brother — an 8-year-old dachshund named Lolek.

Instead of being euthanized, all four of these dogs now have forever homes, which they quickly adjusted to even though Smieszek was warned that the dogs likely wouldn’t “adapt to home life.”

lab animals adopted
Courtesy Sandra Smieszek

“After fifteen minutes of being in the house, she was rolling around and playing with my other dog’s toys,” she said of Malina’s easy adjustment period.

Smieszek and the Animal Research Rights Committee hope their efforts, and Vanda’s compliance, inspire other testing facilities across the country to not see their lab dogs as supplies, but as living, breathing creatures that deserve to live full lives, especially after helping humans through testing.

These changes can be made, like they were at Vanda, by putting a simple clause in every contract between labs and pharmaceutical companies which mandates that healthy dogs used in lab testing be found forever homes after experiments are complete.

“Right now you are ordering animals like test tubes, this clause would challenge the person who is signing up to have dogs used in their testing,” Smieszek said

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