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Caller Says Beagles Have Rotten Teeth : UCI Officials Deny Mistreating Lab Dogs

Times Staff Writer

UC Irvine officials Tuesday denied that 13 beagles stolen by animal rights activists had been mistreated, neglected and underfed while being used for medical tests at the university research center.

“It’s simply not true,” said Linda Grannell, a UCI spokeswoman. “The dogs were in excellent condition when they were taken.”

On Tuesday an anonymous caller claiming to represent the Animal Liberation Front, which took credit for stealing the beagles, told The Times that the dogs had been examined by a veterinarian and were found to have rotten teeth and gums. He said most of the animals appeared undernourished.

“One had only two or three teeth,” the caller said, adding that the dogs had been adopted by unnamed families in unspecified areas.

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Grannell and other UCI officials disputed the claim and said all 13 beagles were in excellent shape at the time they were stolen late Friday or early Saturday from an outdoor kennel on the north campus.

“One of the dogs is quite elderly, I think 12 1/2 years old,” Grannell said, “and he has only two or three teeth, so maybe they are talking about him.”

The dogs, which had been used in researching the effects of smog on the lungs and complications that occur in tracheotomies, were apparently stolen by animal rights activists who sawed through two locks and freed the dogs from the campus kennel.

Dr. Robert Phalen, director of the Air Pollution Health Effects Laboratory, reiterated UCI’s position that the beagles were not only in good health but in fact had been pampered by their keepers.

“The last time I saw them they were all fine,” he said. “We’re worried about what is happening now.” Phalen said the dogs had regular dental checkups “because beagles have bad teeth, and you have to keep up with their dental care.”

Contrary to Phalen’s statements that the dogs would be as homesick as a kidnaped child, the caller said the beagles appeared thrilled to leave the research center kennel.

“They were pretty excited to have somebody be with them,” he said.

Shedding some new light on how the theft took place, the caller said that a group of activists--he would only say between 2 and 10--staked out the animal kennel near the corner of Jamboree Boulevard and Campus Drive for 2 1/2 hours Friday night. At midnight, he said, they spent 15 minutes breaking into the kennel and freeing the dogs.

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The caller said the organization singled out UC Irvine because it was one of the fastest-growing facilities in terms of animal research. He said dogs were taken instead of other research animals because they were housed at a relatively isolated location a mile north of the main campus.

The university has said that about 25,000 animals are being used for medical research at UCI.

According to the caller, the “liberation” of animals at university research labs has become more difficult because of electronic security systems installed by many schools. UCI has no such security system.

The source added that the Animal Liberation Front has about 50 members in California and resorted to such thefts because “we feel like we have to do something.”

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The group has claimed responsibility for similar incidents at other universities across the state, including the theft of more than 260 animals from a research lab at UC Riverside almost three years ago.

University officials, meanwhile, said they hoped the offer of $27,500 in reward for the safe return of the dogs would lead to information regarding their whereabouts. The research programs involving smog and tracheotomies have been dealt temporary setbacks because of the thefts, officials said.

Phalen said a dog-breeding company, which he declined to name, had offered to replace the dogs at no cost but no decision had been made on whether to accept the donation. University officials estimated that replacing the beagles would cost as much as $20,000.

Staff writer Jim Carlton contributed to this story.

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