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It's a Dogs Life by Zoe Broughton

My main worry when I finished making an undercover documentary in Europe’s largest animal testing laboratory was that nothing would happen after the film was broadcast.  But a year on, I am happy to report that changes were made.  

In October 1996 I gained employment as a laboratory technician at Huntingdon Life Sciences. I worked there cleaning cages, holding animals to be tested on and, unknown to them, gathering evidence which I wrote in a detailed diary. After two weeks I had enough evidence to convince the Independent Television Commission that it was in the public interest to grant me a licence to film inside.

I wore a camera strapped to my body, underneath my lab clothes. Though the lens and microphone were very small, the recorder and batteries were bulky, and - I thought - very obvious.

After a total of ten gruelling weeks, I had filmed an entire process of puppies being brought in, tested upon and killed. The film was broadcast on Channel 4 on March 26th 1997 and the response has been amazing.

Small World Productions, Channel 4 Television and The Guardian Newspaper all received hundreds of letters of support for exposing the cruel treatment of dogs in the laboratory; the Home Office, RSPCA and Animal Aid were inundated with phone calls.

The film showed that the tests done at Huntingdon Life Sciences Ltd (HLS) were not to be relied on. The data - due to technicians’ short cuts - was inaccurate. Many of the company’s clients withdrew their work causing the company’s share price to plummet from 126p down to 50p.

The two animal technicians shown in the film hitting and shaking the dogs were sacked. They were then arrested by the police and have now pleaded guilty to charges of animal cruelty under the Protection of Animals Act. A third technician shown fiddling the doses has also lost his job.

The British Home Office began a full investigation. On July 24 1997, Home Office Minister George Howarth told parliament in a written answer: "Shortcomings relating to the care, treatment and handling of animals, and delegation of health checking to new staff of undetermined competence, demonstrate that the establishment was not appropriately staffed and that the animals were not at all times provided with adequate care."

As a result the Home Office decided to revoke the company’s working licence unless 14 conditions were met. This company which, according to Home Office estimates, was currently using 1,000 beagles, 200 marmosets, 450 macaques, 13,000 mice, 35,000 rats, 2,000 rabbits, 4,000 guinea pigs, 3,000 birds, 4,000 fish and smaller numbers of other animals, could have been shut down. The company improved its working practices and a licence was granted for 1998.

Huntingdon Life Sciences has associated companies in Korea, Japan and America. While I was investigating HLS in the UK, unknown to me another woman was scrutinising HLS Inc in East Millstone, New Jersey, for the campaigning group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The alleged violations witnessed included puppies being killed in the same room where post mortems were being carried out. One puppy watched as a power saw was being used to cut the skull of a dead puppy on the next table. In another case a puppy was cut from neck to groin, exposing its ribcage. It then howled, threw back its head and writhed from side to side, obviously still alive.

HLS Inc have taken PETA to court and successfully injuncted the animal rights group. As a result, PETA has been barred from using the videotapes and documents in their campaign against HLS Inc. They say they are unable to get the US Department of Agriculture to follow up the case because of this ruling.

I still have flashbacks of the gruesome images I witnessed. I watched dogs being slowly poisoned with agrochemicals. I sat and filmed as needles were inserted into a dog’s leg over and over again by poorly-trained technicians. I saw technicians playing around whilst performing experiments, nudging each other and wiggling each others’ glasses so they couldn’t see to find a vein.

I will never forget the sound of the high pitched squealing of the dogs and I live with the fact that I never said anything then to stop what I saw, focusing only on getting the video footage out to the public to reveal what really goes on inside an animal testing laboratory.

To recuperate I have taken to living on a houseboat which I have named ‘The Beagle’ in memory of those I didn’t save.

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