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New VA policy endorses animal adoption but may not save McGuire dogs

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(WRIC) — A new policy says animals used in VA research projects will no longer have to live out their lives in a lab but 8News finds it still might not save those dogs at McGuire VA Hospital.

The VA’s policy recently published and shared with the USDA is the first-ever federal policy encouraging the adoption of animals no longer needed in medical research.

It states in part, “VA has an ethical obligation to arrange for placement of healthy and socially adjusted animals with suitable adoptive families.” 

“It certainly is a promising development,” said Tabitha Treloar, the Director of Communications with the Richmond SPCA, who stops short of calling it a victory for the dogs at McGuire VA Hospital in Richmond.

Congressman Dave Brat of Virginia’s 7th District agrees. He’s been fighting to put an end to the painful and taxpayer-funded experiments agrees.

“I don’t think it is strong enough yet,” says Brat.

While McGuire told 8News, “The new guidance formalizes VA’s longstanding position that animals retired be adopted into loving homes.”

When we asked specifically about the dogs inside McGuire undergoing surgery, implanted with pacemakers and run on treadmills until they collapse to study cardiovascular disease, we were told:

“The research with canines at Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center is focused on finding new and improved treatments that Veterans with heart disease need. Because of the nature of that research, the guidance generally does not apply to the animals at McGuire. Occasionally, a canine may turn out to be unsuitable for the research that is needed.  In these cases, McGuire, like all other VA animal research programs, will follow the VA guidance to place those canines with loving adoptive families.” 

“The reason is probably because of the excruciating pain and some of the procedures were in total different agreement with them on,” said the Congressman.

Under Brat’s leadership, a bipartisan group overwhelmingly passed an appropriations act slashing taxpayer funding on canine testing, unless the secretary of the VA personally signs off on it.  

Yet, Brat says if the McGuire dogs can’t be freed there’s still more work to do.

“The government works for us right? This is what they want, it’s overwhelming. So we are asking the VA to comply with the will of the people,” Brat told 8News.

The Richmond SPCA, which has made offers to adopt and rehabilitate the dogs, also takes issue with the use of the word “healthy” in this new adoption policy.

“The Richmond community, for example, is already no kill for not only for healthy animals but also those who have treatable conditions and manageable chronic conditions,” said Treloar.

Yet, she adds,  “Maybe they will reconsider at some point.”

“The VA, I want to applaud them for the work they do for the veterans but on this one we got to do better,” Congressman Brat added. 

Justin Goodman, Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy for the taxpayer watchdog group White Coat Waste Project, which has been working with congressional members to put a stop to these taxpayer-funded experiments, told 8News in a statement: 

“Taxpayers bought the dogs, cats and other animals locked in VA’s nightmarish labs, and we want Uncle Sam to give them back. Thanks to Congressman Brat’s leadership, the VA’s expensive, widely-opposed puppy testing has been slashed and animals who survived these and other abusive experiments can be freed.”

McGuire officials say the research is critical to finding new and improved treatments for veterans with heart disease.

Stay with 8News for updates. 

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