An Interview with Buyun Jeong, the COO of BRN
Beagle Rescue Network(BRN) was founded in 2015 following the very first rescue of four laboratory beagles in Korea. Since then, BRN has been a pioneer in rescuing animals used in testing, raising animal rights awareness, and acting to change the nation’s unreasonable animal testing laws. Xuyoni’s writer engaged in a rather deep conversation with BRN’s founding member and COO, Buyun Jeong, about the life of laboratory animals behind the bars and the future of animal testing.
There were five old laboratory beagles in a private shelter where I had been volunteering for a long time, left abandoned since the rescue. At the time, the public awareness of experimental animals was very low. Even I didn't know exactly what kind of treatment and welfare these animals were receiving. The five beagles barely had their lives saved after many years of sacrifice for humans in the lab. The reward in return was another lonely 10 years in a small shelter which nobody frequented. It was such a shame. The current CEO of Beagle Rescue Network(BRN), Mr. Youngjae Yoo, tried hard to rehome these beagles. Luckily, all except for the unhealthy one managed to find American families to spend the rest of their lives with.” Since this incident, Buyun has been actively involved in rescuing laboratory beagles with BRN.
All laboratory beagles come with stories of their own, but the story of Areum, Dawn, and Goun is especially memorable. On a bone-chilling, windy winter day in January, the BRN activists tensed up as they braced themselves in a deserted street corner. They were expecting researchers to sneak three beagles out of the lab after concluding planned tests. After six years of lab life together, researchers had grown fond of the dogs and wanted to give them a second chance at life if possible. When they brought up the topic of adoption to the institution, the answer was a simple “no.” Because of several potential complications such as intellectual property theft, public criticism, and costs, it was much more convenient for the institution to “follow the tradition” and put the dogs down. The lives of these animals, having yet never witnessed the world outside the lab where they probably experienced acute, prolonged pains of experiments, repeated pregnancy, and deliveries, were about to be taken away in the next few days. The bravery of a few lab employees who had planned and collaborated meticulously with BRN on this “espionage act” saved three beagles known to the rest of the institution as “mysteriously gone missing.”
Out of approximately 15,000 beagles that are scheduled to be euthanized a year, only a number of them are successfully rescued. By 2017, there had been about 150,000 beagles used in testing in Korea alone. Among them, only twenty one survived.
Even if researchers contact BRN in advance for rescue efforts, nine out of ten ended in failure due to opposition from the top. "Now that I think about it, it was such a pity. Animal testing can be a big trauma for both researchers and animals. However, it was often the case they were even denied the opportunity to give these animals a second chance. Rescue activities and adoption processes had to be carried out in the dark until in 2018 the relevant law was amended and things got a little better.”
For Areum, Dawn, and Goun, the lab was the only world they knew. They had been constantly put to testing, while also being forced to mate and produce more lab beagles for future experiments. From having been confined in floating cages 24/7, their paws had gone inflamed and toes abnormally separated. Their bodies vividly remembered the cold touch of the lab bench, the pungent smell of alcohol-drenched rooms, and the ceaseless pain they were taught to silently endure. They were to freeze and obey whenever people touched them. When the doors to their kennels were open, they hesitated for a long time before cautiously taking a step into the unknown, onto the snow-covered soil shimmering with the reflection of the sunlight and into the freedom they were finally granted.
Around the same time, May, Chunwang, and Fav - cloned dogs born in their lab at Seoul National University - were waiting for retirement after their five-year service as excellent detector dogs at the airport. What awaited them was not an honorable treatment, but a return to the very lab they had come from. From birth, they were created solely for human needs with the DNAs of the most outstanding detector dogs as part of the government-funded cloning project. Now the university wanted them back for another set of experiments on “fertility and physiological normality.”
“From May’s gential which was deformed and inflamed, we could infer they excessively collected semen to test fertility while starving him to death. To see if he could reproduce even when starved.” This brutal case of abuse surfaced during a lab audit, for which the university intended to hide May elsewhere. May was bone skinny and barely could stand straight, let alone walk, when discovered. He scattered blood everywhere from the nose as he hurriedly devoured food. It turned out the responsible caregiver sometimes even smacked the lab dogs with a cleaning brush or a bowl, smashed them into the cage, or sprayed them with high-pressure water for no reason. The dogs apparently didn’t let out a single noise through this maltreatment.
A few months later, when May was reported dead due to "weight loss of unknown reason," BRN could no longer bear with the situation and immediately created a petition to call for an action and initiated a legal proceeding. As a result, the two remaining beagles, Chunwang and Fav, were able to escape the horror of the university lab, but the head of the research did nothing but solely blame the caregiver for the abuse. "May’s death enraged many and the animal welface act for service dogs has been since amended, banning their animal testing. I take it as May’s last gift to his friends,” commented Buyun. Various animal rights groups worked together to find Chunwang and Fav a new home, and adoption applications flooded in. But the ministry ended up rejecting the matching due to “bad health of the dogs and the decision of the officials.” Just like that, the doors, literally and figuratively, were closed for the two.
"As interests in animal rights grow, the awareness and perception of the general public is certainly going through a positive transformation.” Buyun explains that we cannot outright oppose to all animal testing just because it seems “too cruel” or we “feel bad” for them. Rather, she thinks it’s important for us to do what we can in our place to reduce the necessity for animal testing.
“It doesn’t make sense to feel sorry for laboratory animals while guiltlessly or unknowingly consuming products that test on animals. Surprisingly many number of the products that we use on a daily basis are results of animal testing. A majority of shampoos, conditioners, body washes, shaving creams, toothpastes, wet wipes, cosmetics, and medications expose animals to experiments.”
Buyun adds it’s important to create a social atmosphere in which alternative methods of testing are encouraged for scientists and industry researchers. “In order for that to happen, more and more consumers should make educated consumptions of choosing cruelty-free products so that manufacturers naturally stay away from animal testing.” In Korea alone, more than 4 million animals - 10,000 beagles included- are sacrificed a year in often unnecessarily gruesome and pointless experiments. Worldwide, the number of all experimental animals killed in testing exceeds 190 million.
Just in time for the next World Day for Laboratory Animals (April 24, 2022), the lucky 1% - twenty one lab beagles - were newly rescued by BRN and welcomed at their Nonsan shelter. It’s a rescue of the largest scale since 2020. Beagles are known to be used in testing because of their gentle nature and uncomparable friendliness toward humans. Even with one eye removed, being fed pesticide for an entire year, or being applied toxic chemicals on shaved skin, these people-loving dogs would have happily wagged their tails at the sight of the lab workers approaching them.
Having stayed isolated in narrow, individual cages, the twenty one beagles from the same lab are yet to meet each other. Everything is new and scary but also fascinating and hopeful. We want to see these beagles playfully jumping on each other. We want them called amiably by names, not numbers. We want them to enjoy the fresh fragrance of spring grass and witness the trees as they change colors. We want them to feel the affectionate gaze and touch of the owner on their daily promenade together. We certainly do not want to keep them too long here at the shelter. We believe it’s humans that can make them the happiest beagles on earth.
When asked about the difficulty of running a non-profit animal rights organization without government subsidies, Buyun noted that the lack of funds is always a challenge. Among more than 800 animals currently at the BRN shelters, many require regular visits to the vet. It breaks her heart to see animals that are left untreated because of the cost. The number of animals in need of attentive care far exceeds what existing activists and full-time employees can handle. Therefore, volunteers are always a big help. And if you’re interested in adopting a dog and consider yourself responsible, the beagles at BRN might just be eagerly waiting for you.
As a cruelty-free enterprise, Xuyoni is committed in keeping our skin and environment sustainable and healthy. Profoundly moved by all the meaningful work BRN has been doing for the welfare of laboratory animals suffering from human selfishness, Xuyoni has been regularly donating a part of its proceeds to BRN since February, 2021. We hope the stories told on this page have touched some hearts and that our readers will join us in our efforts to make the world a better place, where humans, animals, and the environment peacefully coexist together.
Editor: Ami Kim
Photography by Beagle Rescue Network (From BRN Blog)