Beagles bred at two Dane County facilities go to labs around the country

Ridglan Farms keeps a low profile. Located 10 minutes outside of Mount Horeb on a desolate county road, the farm sits on a gentle hill, hidden by a long row of evergreens. Only the silo and a glimpse of the pale blue warehouse are visible from the road. If you didn't know any better, it could easily be mistaken for a dairy farm.

That's how Jim Burns, president and co-owner of Ridglan Farms, likes it.

"What we do isn't accepted by the general public as a positive thing," says Burns. "But we're completely legal, and we do everything we can to take care of the animals."

Ridglan Farms breeds beagles for research. In 2014, it housed 3,733 beagles, 622 of which were experimented upon in some fashion at the farm itself, according to Burns. Its breeding colony consists of around 750 bitches and 70 studs.

The vast majority of Ridglan Farms' beagles are sold as puppies to research institutions, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The mission of the company, according to its website, is "to provide purpose-bred beagles for research that increases scientific knowledge and exceeds the expectation of the scientific community."

Ridglan Farms was founded in 1966, the year the Animal Welfare Act was signed into federal law. The push for the bill followed revelations that dog and cat dealers had been selling stolen pets to laboratories. The act put stringent regulations in place, requiring laboratories to document exactly where they obtained animals for research. Burns says it was about this time that beagles became the standard dog used in drug treatment studies.

Ridglan has grown over the years, and its reach extends far beyond Wisconsin. Though it provides dogs to overseas labs, most of its customers now come from the States, since post-9/11 security measures have made transport of live cargo more expensive. Burns says Ridglan Farms nets $2.5 million annually and has 15 employees.

Ridglan Farms is one of the top three research beagle breeders in the country, according to Burns as well as Kevin Chase at the Beagle Freedom Project, an arm of the advocacy group Animal Rescue, Media and Education that raises awareness of the plight of research beagles and is opposed to animal research. Only Covance, a transnational drug development corporation with a location in Madison, and Marshall Farms, based in upstate New York, produce more dogs for research.

In Dane County, Ridglan Farms and Covance Laboratories are part of a largely hidden local economy of research animal breeders.

"You don't love doing it," says Burns, "but that's the business."

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