People calling for an end to animal experimentation and research gathered near the Sails sculpture in downtown Kelowna on Sunday.

The friendly and playful nature of a few canine participants underscored the serious purpose of a demonstration held Sunday in downtown Kelowna.

A couple dozen people, many wearing black, gathered at a second annual local event to call for an end to the use of animals, particularly household pets, in scientific and commercial research in Canada.

The Canadian Council on Animal Care says almost 17,000 unwanted dogs and cats were sold from animal shelters to research labs across the country for a variety of investigative medical purposes.

"The use of animals in experimentation is increasing, not going down, contrary to what many people might believe," rally organizer Karen Stiewe said.

Between 2015 and 2016, the council estimates, the total use of animals in Canadian research projects increased by 800,000, most being rats and mice. But accurate statistics are hard to come by, the group acknowledges, because many research facilities do not provide an accounting of their animal use.

"Whatever the number is, it's deplorable, because alternatives are already out there and becoming more widely available all the time," Stiewe said.

A European Commission research paper in 2016 suggested stem cells could eventually replace animal experimentation in research and regulation. Stem cells can reproduce human tissues and model diseases, the paper said.

For now, however, many researchers say animal testing is the best way to advance scientific understanding of the causes of, and potential cures for, many diseases.

"It is difficult, and in most cases simply not yet possible, to replace the use of living animals in research with alternative methods," says AnimalResearch.info.

Nevertheless, Stiewe said she is confident animal experimentation is a form of research that's destined for the history books. People at Sunday's gathering were asked to sign a petition asking Premier John Horgan to ban use the dogs and cats in research conducted in B.C.

"I think we will see it in our lifetime that animal testing is completely obliterated," Stiewe said.

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