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Dogs for Life: Beagles, Drugs, and Capital in the Twentieth Century


This article tracks the transformation of beagle dogs from a common breed in mid-twentieth century American laboratories to the de jure standard in global toxicological research by the turn of the twenty-first. The breed was dispersed widely due to the expanding use of dogs in pharmacology in the 1950s and a worldwide crisis around pharmaceutical safety following the thalidomide scandal of the 1960s. Nevertheless, debates continued for decades over the beagle’s value as a model of carcinogenicity, even as the dogs became legislated stand-ins for human beings in multiple countries. Situating beagles as a biocommodity, the article calls for more sustained attention to the “political economy” of laboratory organism breeding, use, and production. The story of American commercial breeder Marshall Farms offers insight into the role of for-profit companies in contemporary laboratory animal provision, as the article makes a case for the value of a global perspective on transnational corporations as key sites of scientific practice and collaboration.

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  1. Translations here and elsewhere are my own.

  2. “Farbwerke vorm. Meister Lucius & Brüning AG” shortened its name to Farbwerke Hoechst AG before joining into IG Farben in 1925. After World War II, Hoechst became independent once more after IG Farben was dissolved by the Allied Powers. Hoechst then proceeded to buy up smaller competitors, including Behringwerke. “AG” is short for “Aktiengesellschaft”.

  3. Although frequently counterposed in the literature of earlier decades, contemporary historians of capitalism have repeatedly shown how the expansion of globalizing markets required support and continuous intervention from state actors.

  4. In their introduction to Science and Capitalism,” Lukas Rieppel, William Deringer, and Eugenia Lean argue for an idiom of entanglement rather than divergence to explain the intersections of science and capitalism (Rieppel, Lean, and Deringer 2018).

  5. In this way, I hope to signal a subtle difference between Franklin’s account of Dolly as “protocapital.” Beagles were “biocapital” in the sense that they were commoditized and marketed at an industrial/pharmaceutical level as value-generating living products.

  6. Stefan Helmreich and Nicole Labruto (2018) offer an excellent summary of scholarship on biocapital and biocapitalism.

  7. This story has been well documented by Robert G. W. Kirk (2008, 2010, 2012).

  8. There is much more that could be said on the transition from “mongrel” or “pound” dogs to higher “quality” animals. I cover part of this process in a forthcoming article.

  9. Tellingly, the next large hemophilia colony, at Oklahoma State University, which opened a few years later, consisted of beagles (Associated Press 1966).

  10. Hanson, Frank Blair. “Diary,” 1941. Rockefeller Foundation records, Officers’ Diaries, RG 12, F-L, Hanson, Frank B. Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow, New York.

  11. A definite date for the founding of Stamford’s colony is difficult to pin down, but research at Stamford used beagles as early as 1943 (Mayer and Ottolenghi 1947). The American Cyanamid Company’s story is chronicled more extensively elsewhere (Chandler 2009).

  12. The quasi-eugenic undertones of experimental dog work at the time was briefly noted (Grüneberg 1942), but the story is much larger than the present article allows.

  13. Robert G. W. Kirk and Edmund Ramsden have written about the Cornell “Behavior Farm,” a related institution (2018).

  14. These field trial benefits can be seen retrospectively as early instantiations of the “citizen science” collaborations that contemporary research into dogs has increasingly adopted as a methodology (Bolman 2018, 251).

  15. My copy of Mason’s book includes an inscription from the “Pet Food Nutrition Lab” at General Mills, signed June 15, 1961.

  16. Eva Giraud and Gregory Hollin explore relations of “care” and “affect” in beagle research more thoroughly than there is space for here (2016).

  17. Ellis J. Robinson of American Cyanamid noted their experience raising beagles for research in an earlier discussion forum (Farber 1945).

  18. The difficulties in working with older dogs due to the colony’s short existence was another problem (Davies and Reinert 1965, p. 187).

  19. “English Kennel Notes.” Forest and Stream, January 8, 1885, Biodiversity Heritage Library.

  20. Whitney wrote widely on animals, particularly dogs (L. F. Whitney 1929). He wrote most of his explicitly eugenic work in earlier decades (L. F. Whitney 1935), before largely shifting his focus to animal breeding and veterinary practice after attending veterinary school in parallel with his son, George. The writing is, nevertheless, confirmation of a persistent connection between dog breeding and eugenics in his thinking. In a later text, The Truth About Dogs, one chapter covers “How Dogs Have Degenerated,” as one obvious example. Whitney’s eugenics work is chronicled more carefully elsewhere (Lombardo 2008, p. 231; Kühl 1994, p. 85). George was a dedicated beagler and wrote an extended treatise on the dogs (G. D. Whitney 1955), by all accounts disconnected from his father’s eugenic research.

  21. Author’s interview with Stanley R. Saxe, February 2019.

  22. A study in 2000 called the beagle model “conventional” but difficult to acquire for “economic” reasons (Srivastava et al. 2000).

  23. America’s Cancer Chemotherapy National Service Center, an early federally funded institute to investigate and test experimental cancer treatments integrated with the National Cancer Institute, also made beagles a default testing animal during the early 1960s (Hadidian and Pawlowski 1964).

  24. As previously discussed, beagles had served for a long time in studies of radiation, which required baseline studies into their “natural” tumor tendencies (Mulligan 1949). Although numerous studies were done and multiple large treatises were written on the subject, the topic remained in dispute for decades.

  25. When Depo-Provera, the first injectable contraceptive treatment, was tested in 1973, the FDA noted that beagles receiving the drug demonstrated escalated risks of breast cancer. Nevertheless, they argued that the drug had such a “small patient population, that limited clinical trials with informed patient consent” would be permitted. The choice was not entirely unpredictable, since even supporters of the beagle standard quietly acknowledged the lingering uncertainties offered by any particular study: the dogs were expensive and trials typically employed a limited number. Whether or not Depo-Provera raised breast cancer risks in humans was not known, FDA Commissioner Alexander Schmidt acknowledged that year, (Conlon 1973). Activist Gena Corea later argued that the focus on breast cancers in beagles obscured the threat of uterine cancer posed by Depo-Provera, although studies have suggested that the drug lowers risks of uterine and other cancers (Corea 1980, pp. 112–113; Westhoff 2003).

  26. “To: Faculty Members Using Dogs and Cats,” n.d. A. Clifford Barger papers, Box 39, Folder 20, “Animal Costs 1980 June 27—1988 January 27.” Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine.

  27. Early twentieth century newspapers contain a multitude of stories and advertisements about them. For one of many examples, see (Dubuque Times Journal 1922).

  28. My analysis here benefitted from aconversation with Arnold Arluke about his “’We Build a Better Beagle’: Fantastic Creatures in Lab Animal Ads” (1994).

  29. Marshall BioResources was charged with importing dogs into France without paying customs fees in 2014. One of Poorva Joshipura’s first tasks after joining PETA was fighting Marshall’s expansion into France (Sundaram 2001).

  30. Arnold Arluke (1988) has written extensively on the conceptualization of laboratory animals as both “pet” and “object.”

  31. While much has been written about the Wistar Institute and Jackson Memorial Labs, the large producers of scientific rats and mice (Clause 1993; Rader 2004; G. Davies 2013; Myelnikov 2019), the tale of transnational beagle capital remains far less well understood. One reason is the sheer number of mice and rats that continue to be used in research today, with mice in particular symbolizing the genetic and genomic advances of the past few decades (Haraway 1997; Kevles 2002; G. Davies 2012). Another reason is that, despite growing attention to dogs in experimentation, the accounts of beagles in science have come from an explicitly activist perspective (Beckham 2018; Greenwald and Woodhouse 2018; Fowler 2019). The breed has nonetheless, as we have seen, played an important role in the last century’s investigations into human health—dogs for life, very literally.


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Bolman, B. Dogs for Life: Beagles, Drugs, and Capital in the Twentieth Century. J Hist Biol 55, 147–179 (2022).

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  • Organisms
  • Dogs
  • Animal experimentation
  • Political economy
  • Biocapital
  • Global science