When the black Labrador retriever owned by Janet Vormittag‘s sister went missing in 2000, it sparked a curiosity in Vormittag. The dog somehow had gotten out of the house – no one is sure whether it managed to open the unlocked wooden door, or if someone entered the house to take him.
Fraser was not microchipped. He had a collar, but no tags – he had gotten a new collar for Christmas and the tags hadn’t been switched over by the time he disappeared in January.
Despite the efforts of her sister, which included running a newspaper ad for a year, postcards dropped off at business establishments in the area, thousands of fliers and even a pet detective, Fraser was never seen again.
Since the family lived in Montcalm County, Vormittag wondered if Fraser ended up in the hands of R&R Research, a Class B dealer licensed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Class B dealers take dogs from animal shelters and sell them to research facilities. Laws state that shelters must hold dogs for a certain amount of time so owners have the opportunity to claim them, but Vormittag discovered that is not always the case. She also learned Class B dealers hire “bunchers,” who bring dogs to the dealers for cash, no questions asked. These animals often are gathered through “free to good home” ads or are stolen. She wondered if Fraser had been stolen and met such a fate.
Vormittag, an animal advocate who lives in Jenison and publishes the monthly free “Cats and Dogs, a Magazine Devoted to Companion Animals,” throughout West Michigan, investigated the acquisition and use of animals in research. The result is “Dog 281,” a book inspired by Fraser’s disappearance and now available via Amazon.com.
“Dog 281″ is a work of fiction, but Vormittag’s research into the real-life world of Class B dealers and laboratory research on animals is evident. The story is based in Michigan and any resident will recognize the many places traveled by the main character, Alison, from whose perspective the story unfolds, and her animal advocate love interest, Cooper. Their exploits take them from the Ludington area to Grand Haven and Kalamazoo. They’re primarily based on Alison’s grandmother’s farm in Pearline, from where they take visits to areas well known to Michigan residents, like Hamlin Lake, Lake Michigan and even specific shops and restaurants along the way.
Vormittag’s description of their adventures puts the reader right alongside Alison and Cooper, and one can almost feel the change in smell, sound, appearance and attitude as she compares Alison’s previous life in Chicago to her new life on her grandmother’s farm.
“Dog 281″ is an intriguing, easy and quick read with a story line that makes it difficult to put down. From the first chapter, available as a sneak-peek on Vormittag’s website, the reader is sucked into the mystery and intrigue surrounding the disappearance of Alison’s two dogs. The lengths at which Alison is willing to go to find and save her dogs do not appear to be far-fetched for anyone who has ever experienced the unconditional love of a faithful dog and considers the dog a part of the family.
The engaging story also serves to educate readers on the unscrupulous practice of dealers selling animals to laboratories and universities for research and the horrifying experiences the animals go through in experiments. Vormittag’s epilogue includes a news account of a lawsuit against Wayne State University by a doctors group for violating Michigan’s animal cruelty law and urges readers to take action against pound seizure and the inhumane treatment of animals used in research.
In the 10 years since Vormittag started writing “Dog 281,” Montcalm County chose not to renew its contract with R&R Research, and Gratiot County this week made the decision to give just one dog per year to the Class B dealer until their contract expires in 2014 (there is no stipulation in the contract as to how many dogs must be given over to R&R).
Readers of “Dog 281” will no doubt feel compelled to learn more about the practice of Class B dealers (there are eight such dealers in the United States, three of which are located in Michigan) at the very least and perhaps even get involved to put an end to the practice.
Mary Ullmer, Press Unleashed