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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Begley the beagle is 3. He’s timid and shy — but not when it’s dinnertime. If food’s afoot, he hops on his hind legs and wags his tail intensely in Kristy and Greg Rhodes’ kitchen.

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He shares a couch with two other dogs and prefers to curl up alongside Kristy in bed.

But for the first two and a half years of his life, Begley lived in a cage.

“He was not a dog. He was a laboratory subject,” said Kristy Rhodes, who adopted him.

Begley never saw sunlight or felt grass under his feet, she said.

Greg and Kristy Rhodes found Begley through the Beagle Freedom Project, a group that rescues the breed from laboratories that raise and keep them for a variety of testing, mostly medical but also for cosmetics and household cleaners.

Click here to watch Brian Andrews’ report. 

The Rhodes adopted Begley, who lived in a medical testing facility in the Front Range, in September 2013. One of six beagles released together, Begley greeted the Rhodes when he took his first steps from his crate.

Beagles are commonly used in laboratory testing when dogs are needed because their demeanor is docile, and they’re easily socialized among animals. It’s helpful, too, that a dog’s physiology is similar to a human’s.

Kevin Chase, the executive director for the Beagle Freedom Project in Los Angeles, said there are more than 65,000 dogs in medical testing facilities in the United States. His group has helped rescue roughly 300.

“Our mission is to negotiate for the release of the dogs and give them a second chance at life,” said Chase.

Pre-Clinical Research Services in Fort Collins currently houses 75 beagles, most of them for pharmacokinetic testing, which measures how drugs interact with humans’ or animals’ bodies.

The beagles are kept in groups of two to five in dog runs, which feature doors that open for the dogs to interact with each other.

They have names, and the staff caring for them bestows genuine affection.

The beagles at Pre-Clinical Research Services are well-cared-for, said its president and owner, Don Maul.

“The staff that you see here and the professionals that are involved in operating facilities like this really care about the animals,” said Maul. “And they do their utmost to make sure the animals are cared for properly and are socialized and have good interaction.”

Maul, who is also a veterinarian, said the beagles in his care are healthy and well-socialized. They receive regular health checkups, dentistry exams, vaccinations, toys and healthy food.

He said he understands critics’ often vocal arguments against animal testing, especially when better technology is replacing animals in labs.

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“There certainly are ways to use non-living animals, and the biomedical industry is keen on developing those,” said Maul.

He cites the antibody produced in tobacco plants that recently treated Ebola patients in the United States.

“There are countless other examples where biomedical research is looking at alternatives, and looking at alternative species,” he said.

Fruit flies, zebra fish and worms are commonly used.

But dogs, especially beagles, are still necessary, he argues because there is not a better replacement for them in research. Studies on beagles, he said, have led to the development of cancer treatments for dogs at Colorado State University and the creation of oral insulin treatments in diabetics.

The fight against diseases in humans became personal for Maul’s family when his daughter was stricken with ovarian cancer two years ago at age 21. She is doing better, Maul said, thanks to treatments developed through testing.

“That’s the best testament I can see of positive results for biomedical research,” said Maul.

But Chase of the beagle rescue group said the medical community is split over the efficacy of animal studies.

“Animal testing is a very controversial topic,” said Chase.

He claims that 92 percent of all drugs that pass animal studies fail in the first phase of human clinical trials and that one in seven hospital beds are filled with patients who have adverse reactions from a drug used in animal testing.

Beyond that, however, Chase said laboratories should be required to put animals up for adoption as long as they’re healthy when their trials are over.

The Beagle Freedom Project is lobbying for legislators to pass the Beagle Freedom Bill.

The bill would require laboratories that receive taxpayer assistance — like a publicly-funded university — to reach out to adoption groups once testing is completed.

Maul said he doesn’t oppose adoption for animals that can be released, but many dogs are euthanized because their tissues need to be inspected as part of studies. When that’s not the case, he said they’re willing to consider adoption for the dogs.

But the significant number of beagles in labs can overwhelm rescue groups. Maul said Pre-Clinical Research Services has done studies with cats in which they were eventually adopted.

“The reality is we’ve contacted an adoption group, and they can only take a small number of animals,” he said.

Chase’s group has rescued dogs in 28 states. He said he feels they’re becoming more successful in convincing some labs to consider adoption, but others don’t want to because it will expose them to public scrutiny.

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