Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibility'She deserves every bit of this:' Appomattox Co. woman helps turn heroes into house pets | WSET
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'She deserves every bit of this:' Appomattox Co. woman helps turn heroes into house pets

Garnet gets comfortable with her blanket and toys at her foster, Vicki King's home.{ } She's in the Homes for Animal Heroes program to find homes for dogs involved in scientific research studies.{ }{ }
Garnet gets comfortable with her blanket and toys at her foster, Vicki King's home. She's in the Homes for Animal Heroes program to find homes for dogs involved in scientific research studies.
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The COVID vaccine. The pacemaker keeping your grandmother alive. Treatments for Parkinson's Disease. All these medical advances are possible because of research done on animals.

Now, an Appomattox County woman is the first in Virginia to take part in a national program to turn those heroes into house pets once their study is complete.

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It turns out they have a lot of just everyday things to learn. They don’t live in bad conditions. They’ve just never experienced life beyond the walls of their institution.

Garnet is a hound who was a research dog, but at nearly a year-and-a-half, she has a lot of catching up to do. That's because Garnet spent her early years inside a research facility testing a pacemaker for a study on arrhythmia.

"When she came to me, she had surgical incisions healing on both sides and she had just been spayed," Vicki King explains.

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She's fostering Garnet in a world she’s never seen.

"Nothing about outside is familiar," says King.

King volunteered to take part in a national program called Homes for Animal Heroes.

As a dog lover and long-time trainer in the dog sport agility, King's a natural fit for the challenge ahead of her.

"My job with her is to introduce life. Introduce a normal, home dog kind of life."

The fosters acclimate research dogs, to prepare them for life as a house pet in their forever home. They need to learn basic things like stairs and walking on a leash. They even need to adjust to new sounds that most of us hardly notice, like birds.

The program was Cindy Buckmaster's brainchild. She cofounded Homes for Animal Heroes, which is part of its umbrella organization The National Animal Interest Alliance.

Buckmaster is the director of public outreach for the NAIA. She's also the chair of Americans for Medical Progress. She has a Ph.D. in neurobiology and is an expert in laboratory animal science. Buckmaster spent decades within the research setting. She says they don't live in bad conditions. The animals live in specially designed facilities just for them. She says they're not stuck in cages all day as some believe. They just don't know life beyond the walls of their research institution.

"They have playrooms, and we certainly socialize them with other dogs, and they get playtime and things like that, but being outside, knowing what traffic is, busy crowded streets, noisy family dinners, stairs, flushing toilets, vacuum cleaners, these are all things that our dogs are not accustomed to hearing," Buckmaster explains.

With her extensive training and expertise in laboratory animal science, it was Buckmaster’s job to oversee the proper care for all animals involved in studies, adhering to what she calls "mountains of regulations."

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Only about 1% of them are dogs, she says. Not all of the animals survive. It's tough on the researchers.

"We're in this constant cycle of bonding and heartbreak and bonding and heartbreak, and it's emotionally very intense," Buckmaster explains.

Because of that bonding, Buckmaster says researchers have been adopting out dogs on their own for decades. Many find homes, but unfortunately, sometimes they just run out of people to take them. Buckmaster felt compelled to change that. She choked up as she explained why.

"We take all of these treatments and cures for granted. And these animals make it happen. And ignoring that, I think, is ungrateful, and I get emotional about this, but very disrespectful. We owe a lot to these animals, and they are heroes."

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As for Garnet, King has put in a lot of time getting her ready for her new family, whoever that may be. She, too feels it's her duty, for this sweet girl who didn't have a choice.

"They give us so much in the medical research that we have to give back. And she deserves every bit of this," King said.

It can take anywhere from a month to several months to get the dog ready to be a house pet-- each dog is different. Right now, HFAH is already looking for a forever home for Garnet so she can live the hero’s life she deserves.

Neither the fosters nor the adopters will ever know what research facility their dog came from, and they're told very little about the study they were involved with. The organization also carefully vets anyone involved in the program in any way, including background checks, and home visits. All of this is to protect the researchers from any backlash for the research they do with animals, but also to gain their trust and confidence in handing over their dogs to the organization.

The Homes for Animal Heroes program is relatively new. Since it came to life in 2017, they've had 300 success stories. They would like to expand but need more dedicated fosters and adopters to make it happen. Any dog the program takes in will never end up in a shelter. He or she will always be loved and cared for. Click here to learn more about the program.

Cindy A. Buckmaster, Ph.D., CMAR, RLATG, is Director of Public Outreach, National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA), Chair, Americans for Medical Progress (AMP), and President, Texas Society for Biomedical Research (TSBR). She offers a frank discussion on the realities of animals in medical research, why animals are so crucial in scientific advances, and why it was so important for her to create Homes for Animal Heroes. Watch her full interview below.

Americans for Medical Progress created the website called Come See Our World, to help shed some light on the subject of animal research. You can also listen to Buckmaster's Podcast "GetReal."

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