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Tator is learning how to be a dog

By Ed DuBois

At two years old, Tater would normally be well adjusted to life as a family pet.  But the young beagle never had a family until about a month ago.  Because he lived his first two years in a cage at a lab, he is just now learning how to be a dog.

Tater, who was officially dubbed Potato by Melissa Gudvangen's six-year-old son, Ben, has been receiving foster care at Melissa's home in Montrose.  Like other former laboratory beagles, he is getting a new life through the Beagle Freedom Project, which is based in Los Angeles and has rescued more than 300 beagles from across the country since 2010, according to a recent CBS Los Angeles news report.  Beagles in labs are often used for testing chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the report said.

Known as AZP2 in a lab somewhere in the Midwest, Tater never knew about being petted, playing with toys, running in a yard, and being taken for walks.

"We are pretty sure his vocal cords were removed because he never barks," Melissa said.


Two beagles

Fortunately, Tater lives with Melissa's 14-year-old beagle, Buddy.

"Tater uses Buddy to speak for him," Melissa commented.

Tater is learning from Buddy.

"He's learning to be a dog," said Melissa.  "It was like having a baby, in a way.  He didn't know how to do anything."

Because he did not get a chance to use his muscles at the lab, Tater needed to be carried up and down the stairs.  He could not jump up on furniture.

But Tater has been a fast learner, and his muscles have been getting stronger.  He now runs up and down the stairs, and jumping up on a couch or a bed is no problem at all these days.

"I have been impressed by how quickly he has learned," Melissa mentioned.

He wasn't 100 percent housebroken last week, but he was catching on fast.


Not much information

Melissa doesn't know much about Tater's life before being rescued.  All she knows is that he was in a lab in the Midwest.  The Beagle Freedom Project might know more, but a non-disclosure agreement was involved with Tater's release from the lab.  Perhaps because using animals in labs is unpopular, labs are reluctant to release information to the public.

For Melissa, the fact that Tater is now free is her current focus.  She mentioned that it might have been just as easy for the lab to euthanize Tater as to turn him over to the Beagle Freedom Project.

She has been working to get him adjusted to family life so he can be adopted into a loving home.

There is a chance Tater will end up staying close to her family.  Her former husband, who was Buddy's originally owner, met Tater and almost immediately wanted to adopt him.  He has since filled out an adoption application and if approved by the Beagle Freedom Project, he could become Tater's new owner in the near future.


Saw it on Facebook

The process that brought Tater into Melissa's life began when she saw the Beagle Freedom Project page on Facebook.

"We love beagles, and I decided to sign up to be a Beagle Freedom Project foster care provider," Melissa recalled.

"We don't know what tests were done, but he seems very healthy," she added.  "We realize he has a higher risk for things in the future.  We don't know what to expect because there is no way we can know what he was exposed to at the lab."

Asked what she likes about beagles, she said they make great pets.  They are docile and gentle.  They are just the right size and taking care of them is very easy.  She has no concerns about children playing with Buddy and Tater.

"Beagles go with the flow and are safe with children," Melissa commented.


First time on grass

Tater was extremely shy at first.  When he was ready to be taken home, a meeting was set up on Oct. 18 with the Twin Cities Beagle Freedom Project director of operations at a location in Inver Grove Heights.  Tater looked scared and was cowering in the back of a car.  Approaching slowly, Melissa started petting him.  Ben crawled in and petted and snuggled with Tater.  He was eventually led out of the car, and then he walked on grass for the first time in his life.

To help with his house training, Melissa took Tater to work for two weeks.  She said her bosses are very nice.  She works in the office at Craft Pattern in Montrose, which does foundry work and machining.

At home, Tater loves belly rubs.  Melissa said he likes new experiences, including opportunities to meet other dogs.

The arrival of snow on Nov. 10 was interesting.  Melissa said Tater did a careful "monster walk" down the driveway.  He then started running in the snow on the yard and loved it.  He ran in the snow all over the yard.

Melissa tries to take Tater along whenever she goes on a short trip so he can socialize.  He is still shy around people but has been getting much better.


Needs more attention

"It has been so much fun seeing his progress," Melissa said.

Meanwhile, Tater's tender paws have been getting tougher.  He never walked on the ground and on small rocks and things before leaving the lab.

Walking while on a leash is "a work in progress," Melissa said.

"It's like walking a cat," she explained.  "Sometimes he just stops and rests, and when he is ready, he resumes walking."

Her commitment as a Beagle Freedom Project foster care provider involves keeping a dog at least two or three weeks.  When a dog is ready for adoption, it is posted on the Beagle Freedom Project website.

Efforts are made to be certain that those adopting a dog understand where it came from and that it will likely need more attention than most dogs typically need.

The foster care provider shows the dog to those interested in adopting.  The foster care provider can provide recommendations on which prospective adoptee would be best for the dog.

While caring for a dog, foster care providers are invited to post updates and photos on a foster and adopter Facebook page.


Adopting a birth date

If Tater ends up being adopted by Melissa's former husband, she said Oct. 18, the day the young beagle was taken to Montrose, will likely be the day his birthday is celebrated.

"We know he is two years old, but we don't know his actual birth date, and the only other information we have about him is that he was given a rabies shot," Melissa said.

She mentioned that while in foster care, Tater's veterinary care is paid for by the Beagle Freedom Project.  His care has included the attachment of an identification microchip.


A new and different way

The once terribly shy beagle from a lab has undergone tremendous change.  He has experienced the joy of contact with others, playtime and going out for walks and runs.  He is constantly on the go, both inside and outside the house, as he explores his newfound freedom.

At two years old, he would normally have adjusted to life as a family pet long ago.  But until about a month ago, he never had a family.  He had known nothing but the inside of a cage and occasional contact with lab techs who knew him as AZP2.

Free from that life, he is just now learning about a new and different way.

He is learning how to be a dog.


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