This is part one of a five part series of where Beagle Freedom Project's Rescue #9, aka The Christmas 11, are today.
It was a sunny, crisp December morning when I met Matzah. His mom, Amber, stood in the doorway of her bright, happy house in Woodland Hills, CA, holding back two very excited Beagles. Once inside, she told me to make myself at home. I did. I put my camera down and hit the floor so I could play with brothers, Matzah and Lucky.
Lucky was a five-year-old Beagle/Pittie mix with piercing green eyes. He was shy at first, but friendly. He took his time getting to know me. Which was actually a good thing because it was Matzah I was here to photograph.
In December of 2012, Matzah was rescued by the Beagle Freedom Project from an undisclosed laboratory where he had been subjected to horrific animal testing. But what I found that day was a dog so full of sparkling energy that he was now walking all over me. And by walking all over me I mean actually walking all over me. My lap, my stomach, my chest… His Beagle nose was on high alert as he checked me out. I must have passed his inspection with flying colors because he never left my side after that. It also might have been because I had treats in my pocket.
Nine months earlier, I had the privilege of photographing Beagle Freedom Projects 11th Rescue. If you’re not familiar with BFP, let me give you a brief history.
In 2010, BFP’s president, Shannon Keith, received news that Beagles who had been used in medical experiments and animal testing on medical, pharmaceutical, household and cosmetic testing, were going to be “given a chance for freedom”. Miss Keith moved quickly and legally to rescue these dogs.
Beagles are very popular for use in testing, as they are extremely loving, good-natured, and sociable animals. It is why they have been recognized as one of the top ten best family dogs for years. These kinds of Beagles are specifically bred to be sold to these facilities. At $750 a dog, immoral breeders make a lot of money. Some laboratories, however, do reach out to re-home these animals.
On December 23rd, 2010, the first two Beagles, Freedom and Bigsby, took their first steps outside a cage. They felt the sun on their faces for the first time, felt the loving arms of a caring human being. They became dogs for the first time.
It was after seeing the Gentle Giants rescue (4% of research animals are not Beagles) in October of 2013, that I had a thought. These types of rescues are more than just a headline. Some of these dogs have had horrific things done to them. Most of them have been debarked so as not to disturb the scientists while they work. Being test subjects was the only life they’d known. So, I wanted to know where are they now? How are they now? I wanted to know about their recovery and how they acclimated to their new homes and families. After getting the okay from Shannon, BFP graciously sent out an email asking some of the parents from The Christmas 11 (Rescue #9), if I could photograph their rescued Beagles. All were more than happy to oblige.
Back at Matzah’s house, Amber shared with me how she found out about Beagle Freedom. A friend had adopted a Beagle from an earlier rescue. That friend, in turn, suggested that Amber be a foster mom. That was the plan, anyway. She already had Lucky and wasn’t ready for another dog. But, she said, after two days with Matzah, she knew she was going to be a foster fail. She had fallen in love and there was just no going back.
We moved our photo shoot outside and it was a good thing. Matzah could not be restrained any longer. It was hard to imagine this pooch had had any trauma in his life. Not only was he a love bug, the playful beast was Super Canine and would have given any Olympic high jumper a run for their money. Having had Beagles for sixteen years, I know that jumping is not a trait they normally possess. Stubbornness and curiosity, yes. Jumping? No. But little Matzah? Maybe he was making up for all that lost time in his cage or maybe he was showing off for me, but whatever it was, that boy could fly. I adored him.
Amber told me that there were no behavioral issues once Matzah had arrived at her house. She suspects that the tests done on him were something to do with his eyes, because shortly after he arrived, he and Lucky developed very bad eye infections. Lucky would not tolerate the drops going in his eyes but Matzah, she noticed, barely blinked. Compliant test animal. In every way, she says, he has been a dream. She even takes him hiking… off leash! (I am always so envious of Beagle owners who can claim that. That is a feat in itself.) And he and brother, Lucky, are the best of friends.
And since we are on the subject of Lucky, he warmed up to me eventually. Treats will do that for a stubborn Beagle. Even though he was, at first, scared of my camera, he did sit for me, treat held high above my lens, of course.
Beagle Freedom Project doesn’t just find homes for these animals. They give us hope that the abused and the lonely can find help. They prove to us that there can be light at the end of that proverbial tunnel. We can learn how to trust again because, look at these animals! They are proof to that old saying, "No matter what life brings you, kick some grass over that stuff and move on."
Thank you Amber, Lucky and Matzah for letting me share the day with you.
Next up in the series is Percival (formerly Comet), sister, Daphne, and their mom, best-selling author, Teresa Rhyne.