RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) appears to be ending its dog testing practices, based on new documents obtained by 8News and advocacy group White Coat Waste Project, the last of which was taking place at Richmond’s own Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center.
Those documents reference currently approved VA protocols for research with canines, felines and non-human primates.
According to the VA’s Office of Research & Development, there are three research projects with current approval for work with dogs, two of which are based at the Richmond VA Medical Center. The third is based out of Madison, Wis.
“The only remaining dog experiment the VA has on the books, as far as we know, involves studies with people’s pets who have naturally occurring cancers,” White Coat Waste Project Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy Justin Goodman said. “These are dogs who are enrolled in studies in their best interest, just like a human might enroll to participate in research. They’re not being intentionally harmed or given a disease or hurt in any way.”
But Goodman, whose advocacy group has been working to expose dog experiments at McGuire, said that the other two research projects are far less humane.
According to protocol documents from the VA’s Office of Research & Development, one study, Mechanistic Insight of Premature Ventricular Contractions-induced Cardiomyopathy, involved giving dogs general anesthesia and performing open heart surgery to implant a pacemaker system, and inserting catheters in the heart chambers via small veins. The dogs would then be subject to workouts on a canine treadmill. The experimental design document noted, “The true definition of heart failure states that symptoms are present at extreme or high levels of exertion.”
The other study based out of Richmond is entitled Autonomic Nerve Activity and Cardiac Arrhythmias. Research documents noted similar processes to the aforementioned project, but with the following addition: “A final terminal surgery will be performed to determine the induction of heart irregularities.”
However, documents obtained by 8News and White Coat Waste Project stated of the two Richmond-based studies, “[n]o work is currently being done or planned to be done with animals, but approvals remain in place in case reviewers of the manuscripts submitted for publication of the results require additional data.”
Goodman said it’s a win for taxpayers and dogs alike.
“Following our investigations and lobbying, we helped enact historic legislation a few years ago, directing the VA to phase out the use of dogs, cats and primates in experimentation by 2025,” he said. “After doubling down originally on the use of these animals in experimentation, the VA fully embraced the plan and, as far as we can tell, now has completely ended the use of dogs and is about to end the use of cats in experimentation.”
8News reached out to the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs for comment. A spokesperson noted that some approved dog studies are still active, but has yet to provide an official statement.
“Historically, this is the way the VA has wiggled out of admitting that it has ended experimentation on animals, by saying that, technically, the project is still open, even if they’re not actively using animals,” Goodman said. “There’s been a culture there that has been hesitant to move away from animal testing because they’re just so entrenched, and, to be frank, there’s a lot of money involved.”
Back in June of 2021, 8News reported that the VA had submitted its five-year plan to Congress to phase out the use of dogs and other animals in its research experiments. But, at the time, 8News also learned that McGuire had renewed its experiments and purchased at least another 27 dogs.
“According to documents we’ve obtained through FOIA [Freedom of Information Act], the Richmond VA has not had dogs basically all year,” Goodman said. “The VA has not banned the use of dogs, but Congress has put protections in place, with bipartisan support, setting a very high bar for any future experimentation on dogs, making it virtually impossible to get permission.”
Goodman also noted that the VA’s primate projects are active, but that its cat projects are inactive.