By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Three years ago, Americans were stunned to learn that puppies and adult dogs were being subjected to gruesome surgeries, induced heart attacks and other invasive procedures, and then being euthanized, as part of taxpayer-funded medical experiments being carried out at the McGuire Medical Center in Richmond and other hospitals operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Today, a panel convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report concluding that such research is unnecessary in most cases.
The report states that there are only a few areas of current research for which dogs were determined to be scientifically necessary, adding that the VA should improve its process for determining the necessity of using dogs in a study before such a study is allowed to move forward.
It further recommends the careful clinical use of companion dogs when feasible (such as when people are getting their pet treated for cancer) instead of using dogs who spend their whole lives locked up in cages in laboratories. When dogs are kept in laboratories, their welfare should be enhanced, such as by providing outdoor access and by increasing dog-to-dog social interactions and exercise, the report says.
Most importantly, the committee urges the VA to move away from such research altogether by developing a road map to incorporate non-animal approaches into its biomedical research program.
The use of companion animals in taxpayer-funded research was first uncovered in 2017 by the White Coat Waste Project. Subsequently the VA’s Office of Research and Oversight, which investigated the findings, found extensive violations of federal animal welfare regulations, internal policies and research protocols at McGuire. Following a massive public outcry, the VA, in 2018, requested that the National Academies complete a study to review the care and use of dogs in research the VA funds or conducts.
The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund submitted extensive comments, urging the National Academies to recommend ending the use of dogs in VA research altogether. We argued that just because dogs have been used historically as a model of human disease does not sufficiently justify their continued use. Numerous non-animal alternative approaches are now available that are also faster, less expensive and more relevant to human health than animal studies.
The report released today is an important step away from invasive research and testing on dogs in laboratories. We urge the Department of Veterans Affairs to quickly adopt the National Academies’ recommendations, commit to ending the use of all dogs in research as soon as possible, and take immediate steps to embrace non-animal methods and strategies. Americans love dogs, and most do not want their taxpayer dollars used in research that hurts them.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.