(CBS) — Dogs living in cages are used for medical research including here in Chicago. One breed is used more than any other, but as Roseanne Tellez reports, one group is working to give these animals a new life after the lab.

The former laboratory beagles are reluctant, but volunteers finally coax them from their cages for a first taste of freedom. Shannon Keith is with the Beagle Freedom Project.

“These dogs have spent their lives in a cage. We were told by people in the lab that they have never been outside, seen sunlight, or had a toy,” said Shannon Keith with the Beagle Freedom Project.

To avoid euthanizing them, some labs release the dogs to groups like the Beagle Freedom project, which places them with people like Jamie Foster of Naperville.

Describing her new dog Casper, Foster says, “After everything he’s been through, he’s just such a positive little guy and full of life.”

Casper spent 4 1/2 years at an unnamed lab in the Midwest, before coming to live with the Fosters and their other dog Linus.

“He was scared at first,” Foster said. “He was afraid of the TV, music and any loud noises.”

An estimated 70,000 beagles like Casper are being used in U. S. research labs right now including some in the Chicago area. According to the USDA, in 2012 Abbott laboratories had 1,286 dogs. In 2013 the University of Illinois had 751, UIC had 129, IIT had 114, and this year Baxter Health Care had 16. We don’t know how many were beagles, but they are the most popular due to their size and friendly nature.

“I was extremely surprised at the numbers. I had no idea. I think most people don’t have a clue,” Foster said.

Life in the lab can mean several dogs to a cage. They are used to test chemicals and drugs. One lab outside Denver allows breaks for play and TLC.

“I have a number of examples of very positive outcomes in human and animal medicine that have resulted in positive medical treatments as a result of dog research,” said Dr. Don Maul, a veterinarian with Preclinical Research Services in Fort Collins.

But an undercover PETA video from another lab shows a dog being force fed Oxycontin and that years in a cage takes a toll.
“Nothing is against the law so they’re put through all kinds of cruelty,” said Kathy Guillermo with PETA.

For Casper, the effects of the lab linger only slightly.

“Linus has kind of taught him how to be social, how to be a dog,” said Foster.

AbbVie which now handles the medical research formerly done by Abbott Labs, says it actively looks for groups to adopt dogs. Baxter says it has initiatives now to reduce and replace the use of animals in testing. IIT had no comment. UIC has a webpage that discusses the use of animals.

Cindy Buckmaster, Ph.D. Chair of Americans for Medical Progress also sent WBBM a statement. Click here to read it.