8 Investigates

McGuire VA continuing to buy canines for deadly dog research

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) -- Despite public criticism, protests and state and federal legislation, McGuire VA Medical Center is still purchasing dogs for its experiments.

For more than a year, 8News has reported on deadly dog research at McGuire VA Medical Center. 

Records of sale and disposition obtained by 8News show 8 hounds were purchased in the last 8 months for research at McGuire. Two of the hounds were puppies. Four of the dogs are already dead -- some euthanized within weeks of their arrival.

Todd Woodson, Administrator of the RVA Animal Advocacy Alliance and district leader with the Humane Society says, "It is utterly heartbreaking."

Woodson was one of dozens who stood in front of McGuire last year protesting the deadly dog experiments.

"I am overwhelmed with grief that these animals were killed, they were not euthanized, they were killed,” he said.

As part of the research into heart disease, the dogs are surgically implanted with pacemakers and put on treadmills to test cardiac function. They're forced to run until they collapse.

At the end to the experiments, all of the dogs are put down.

Woodson says it's disturbing since local animal groups have reached out to the VA offering to save the dogs after the testing.

"They could have gone to the Richmond SPCA, who has very graciously offered to take them to give them medical attention and find them homes," he added.

McGuire has yet to take them up on the offer.

Meanwhile, in a letter shared with 8News, the VA confirms across the agency there are still nine ongoing studies and another new one in review.  

8News has confirmed four are active at McGuire. The VA maintains these are experiments that could lead to discoveries that can help veterans with heart conditions.

Some might be wondering did the studies get approved?  As 8News has reported in the past, there’s new federal law aimed to defunding the deadly experiments.

However, there’s a sort of loophole that allows the research to continue if there is direct approval from the VA Secretary.

8News has been told former Secretary David Shulkin gave verbal approval for the continued research on March 28th, the very same day President Donald Trump fired him.

VA Spokesman Curt Cashour tells 8News it happened “during an early afternoon March 28, 2018, in-person meeting on his last day at VA that was attended by then-VHA Executive in Charge Carolyn Clancy, then-VHA Acting Chief of Staff Lisa Pape, VHA Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Officer for Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Services Lu Beck and VA Chief Research and Development Officer Rachel Ramoni.”

Although, Shulkin denies that in published reports.

Justin Goodman with White Coat Waste Project, a taxpayer watchdog group that has led a campaign to end the experiments, tells 8News, "if former Secretary Shulkin didn’t personally approve the existing dog testing to continue, all of the Richmond VA’s dog experiments are apparently violating federal law.”

8News has uncovered VCU, as a public university, is still funding the canine research at McGuire, although they are contributing less than in the past.

 The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation this year prohibiting the use of taxpayer money for what the USDA defines at category E experiments. That’s when no anesthesia is given to the animals.

VCU is within the law in that it is funding category D experiments. While many say they are still painful studies, the dogs do get drugs.

8News reached out to Republican Senator Bill Stanley from the Commonwealth’s 20th District. He sponsored the legislation and he is now talking about broadening the restrictions.

"The fact that McGuire is still conducting these painful and inhumane experiments on dogs in the Commonwealth is both shocking and unbelievable. I’m not going to let the Richmond VA continue to abuse and kill dogs in crude experiments with taxpayers’ money.

Last General Assembly session we passed the nation’s first law banning public funding for the most painful category of dog testing at the Richmond VA and other laboratories in the Commonwealth. The continued actions of the VA to harm man’s best friend may just mean that we will need to broaden these restrictions next year. 

If McGuire has purchased puppies in order to torture them unnecessarily with useless painful experiments, then I want the VA to give me the opportunity to buy them back so they can have a life free from suffering.” -- Republican Senator Bill Stanley
 

Other leaders across the country are weighing in. Congressman Brian Mast (R-FL) has this to say:

“As an Army veteran and a dog owner, the VA's practice of conducting painful and deadly experiments on dogs is especially alarming to me. Having sustained catastrophic injuries on the battlefield, which included the loss of both my legs, I am acutely aware of the vital role dogs play in helping troops recover from war's physical and psychological tolls. The VA has not executed what we wanted as intent, which is to bring this to an end in its entirety, so we will keep up the pressure until these invasive, painful and deadly experiments on dogs stop completely!”

Overall, 8News can see McGuire reports it’s using fewer dogs than in the past. We’re told 25 dogs were used in fiscal year 2018. The lowest number of dogs used in the research since 2013.

Still, it's little comfort to those who call the experiments abuse.

"One dog is too many,” says Woodson.

“Over the past 18 months, there’s been historic progress toward ending VA’s fiscally reckless and morally repugnant dog testing—projects have been canceled, new restrictions enacted, less money spent, fewer dogs used—and there would’ve been more if not for a few entrenched bureaucrats at the VA defying Congress, veterans and taxpayers," Goodman added.

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