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VA’s Taxpayer-Funded Dog Experiments Slow to a Near-End Amid Pressure from Republicans and Veterans

Recent developments at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) signal its controversial practice of conducting painful, taxpayer-funded dog experiments may be on the brink of ending, thanks to pressure from congressional Republicans and veterans themselves.

As IJR Red reported, the department has been facing backlash from veterans groups and conservative lawmakers who view the experiments as unnecessary, cruel, and a waste of tax dollars. Congress is even considering the PUPPERS Act, legislation that would permanently end such tests and is currently sponsored by 109 legislators — 17 of whom are veterans.

Additionally, the House Appropriations Committee passed its 2020 funding bill for the VA last month, which includes language calling for the elimination of all taxpayer funding for the department’s dog tests, IJR Red noted.

Until recently, only three VA clinics were still performing the invasive experiments, which have included removing parts of dogs’ brains, using electrodes on their spinal cords and implanting pacemakers in them all before ultimately euthanizing them. But now, that number is down to just one.

Cleveland, Ohio

Last week, local media reported that painful spinal cord tests on dogs at the VA’s facility in Cleveland, Ohio have been put on hold.

While a VA spokesperson told IJR the move is “neither a permanent decision nor a temporary hold” and that the department “will continue conducting canine research,” the halt could still potentially spell the end of the practice.

Documents obtained by taxpayer watchdog White Coat Waste Project show that April 2019 marked the last shipment of dogs to the Cleveland clinic. As of now, no more have been purchased. This project is also set to expire in September, and funding has been dwindling over the past few years with the tests receiving significantly less money in 2019 than in 2017.

Furthermore, despite the department’s insistence that the experiments are “absolutely necessary,” spinal cord researcher Dr. James Guest declared the opposite about the Cleveland VA’s use of dogs. Just last month, he stated that “there are alternatives” to testing on dogs and argued that “we have learned more by doing human studies than we have so far by doing animal studies.”

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The VA’s Milwaukee clinic stopped drilling into dogs’ skulls and destroying their brains in November 2018, and the project appears unlikely to resume as a lack of funding could prevent future tests. The facility received funds for the project in both 2017 and 2018 but not in 2019.

Richmond, Virginia

The Richmond, Virginia facility is the last VA clinic that is still currently conducting experiments on dogs and has just four studies underway, which involve implanting the animals with pacemakers and forcing them to undergo stress tests.

However, it looks like this project could also be on the chopping block soon.

As IJR Red recently reported, a powerpoint that was leaked back in March revealed the VA’s plan to invest $2 million into studying alternative testing methods, which could potentially serve as future replacements for its Richmond dog experiments.

Lawmakers and Veterans Are Applauding the Progress and Calling for More

Republicans and veteran lawmakers have partnered with colleagues across the political aisle to lead the charge in the fight to stop the VA’s controversial dog experiments and are praising the latest progress.

In response to the department’s recent moves, Rep. Riggleman (R-Va.) called on the VA to shut down the only remaining tests and blasted them as a waste of resources in a statement to IJR:

“As an Air Force veteran, I don’t want the VA wasting its limited resources on outdated, cruel and unnecessary research on dogs, including the deadly heart attack testing on puppies exposed by whistleblowers at the Richmond VA hospital. We can and should do better for veterans and dogs and I’m proud to support the PUPPERS Act to end this abuse.”

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), another veteran himself and co-sponsor of the PUPPERS Act, echoed that sentiment, telling IJR, “The VA’s continued harming and killing of puppies in painful experiments is a slap in the face to every veteran who has relied on man’s best friend while recovering from the physical and mental wounds of war.”

“The good news is that we have made significant progress to hold the VA to a higher standard, but we can’t let up yet,” he continued. “It’s time to put an end to this abuse once and for all.”

White Coat Waste Project also celebrated the developments, thanking both the organization’s supporters and congressional leaders, and is looking forward to putting a final stop to the VA’s “canine cruelty.”

“We’ve made historic progress to curb the VA’s canine cruelty, and we’re now closer than ever to relegating this wasteful government program to the trash heap of history where it belongs,” Justin Goodman, Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy, told IJR.

As IJR Red reported, GOP legislators have been active players in mitigating taxpayer-funded animal tests across several federal agencies in addition to the VA and most recently helped convince the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to phase out its fatal tests on kittens.

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