Report finds most dog experiments at the VA unnecessary

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The National Academies of Sciences finds most of the research using dogs at the Department of Veterans Affairs to be unnecessary. 8News first exposed the deadly dog experiments happening at McGuire Medical Center back in 2017. 

Since then, lawmakers and animal advocates have raised concerns about the canine experimentation. Those concerns prompted this $1.2 million report, commissioned by the VA in December 2018.

The 18-month study of the VA’s dog research found not only was it unnecessary in most cases it states, “most protocols lacked a robust description of a serious attempt to exclude other species or explore alternatives to the laboratory dog.” The comprehensive study reviewed dog experiments at VA facilities across the country including McGuire.

It was conducted by a panel of 15 experts made up of scientists, doctors, professors and lawyers, like Chris Green. Green is with the Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School.

“We certainly did see with some of the protocols, some of the experiments that were done, some of the justifications that had been traditionally been done for using dogs in biomedical research, we did determine they were no longer valid in our opinion,” Green told 8News.

The panel concluded there are only a few limited areas where dogs can be considered necessary in research such as with spinal cord injuries and heart arrhythmia. In a statement to 8News the VA stressed the report’s findings that some dog experiments remain necessary.

The report clearly affirms that dogs are ‘scientifically necessary’ for certain areas of research, including all of the work currently being done with dogs at VA to improve the care of Veterans. Conclusion 3-1 specifically lists the cardiology studies in Richmond as being ones that scientifically must use dogs. This means that other species and non-animal alternatives such as computer simulations and organs on a chip cannot substitute for the use of dogs in these important studies. We also note that Conclusion 2-1 in the report affirms that VA programs adhere to all regulations and guidelines for human care of the dogs.”

Department of Veterans Affairs

Yet, Green told 8News the VA’s research fell outside of those limited areas. He also said, “Some interpretations of the study have said that means conversely that it is necessary for the VA to use dogs in these experiments. That’s not really what we found. We are not saying those experiments themselves are necessary. We’re just saying if the VA is going to do research in these areas, these are the limited areas where dogs are necessary.”

PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, urges the agency to review its Research Modernization Deal. PETA issued a statement regarding the report saying, “The Veterans Administration (VA) should address veterans’ needs by using the most advanced technology available, such as synthetically engineered human cardiac tissue and advanced computer models, not shamelessly wasting taxpayer dollars on abusing and killing dogs and other animals in misguided, flawed, and deadly experiments that don’t apply to humans because of significant physiological differences between species.”

Earlier this week and just a few days after the report was released, a House panel voted to completely cut funding for VA dog experiments. Representative Dina Titus (D-NV) had sponsored legislation to put a stop to taxpayer funding for painful dog experiments.

“I’ve long said that painful dog testing at the Department of Veterans Affairs is cruel and unnecessary,” Titus said in a statement. “There are several high-quality, innovative alternatives available to conduct this research. I’m proud that the Appropriations Committee passed the proposal I wrote with Army veteran Rep. Brian Mast to eliminate taxpayer funding for this horrendous practice by the VA.”

Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), who also supports the measure, said in a statement: “These painful experiments on dogs are cruel and an unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars. We’ve worked hard to put a stop to them, and this is another great milestone in our fight. It’s 2020, and there should be no more dog testing by the federal government, period.”

The taxpayer watchdog group White Coat Waste Project has lobbied to put end to the dog experiments at the VA.

“Congress has just made clear that taxpayers should not be forced to foot the bill for heart attack tests on puppies and other wasteful, cruel and secretive VA dog tests that are opposed by veterans, scientists and a majority of other Americans,” said Justin Goodman, White Coat’s vice president of advocacy and public policy.

Regardless, the VA told 8News the experiments at McGuire will continue, stating that the “VA has supported this type of research for decades and will continue to do so because it is absolutely necessary to better treat life-threatening health conditions in our Veterans.”

The National Academies of Sciences report suggests the VA create a strategic road map for using more experimentation methods not involving animals.

“I think the overall takeaway is we would like to see the VA institute a very rigorous set of criteria for evaluating any future research experiments there both from a scientific and ethical point of view,” Green told 8News. “And we believe a lot of the research that has gone on in the past may no longer be necessary to use dogs specifically.”

Another recommendation from the panel is a centralized database for any dog used in research. They say it would avoid the duplication of failed studies and limit animal use. A similar registry exists for human clinical trials.

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