National Organization Aims to End Dog Testing at VA Facilities for Good
Written by Alana Whelan
This tax season, the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center was called out for using taxpayers’ money to fund painful tests on dogs. The group that brought attention to these harmful experiments was the White Coat Waste Project: a bipartisan watchdog organization that advocates for animals who are being experimented on and the taxpayers who are, mostly unknowingly, paying for it.
During the month of April, the organization ran a 30–second television ad and put up a billboard near the Cleveland VA to inform the public that some of their missing tax refunds are being used to perform damaging and deadly tests on dogs.
“At Cleveland, the facility purchases puppies as young as nine months old, and within days of them arriving, it severs their spinal chords, collapses their lungs and performs invasive experiments before killing them,” said Justin Goodman, Vice President of the White Coat Waste Project. “Those experiments have used about half a million dollars the last couple years.”
That half a million dollars comes from taxpayers who are largely unaware that these practices are happening, but Justin Goodman and the White Coat Waste Project have been working tirelessly to expose these cruel practices and put an end to them once and for all.
“We first exposed the dog experiments at the Cleveland VA in late 2016,” said Goodman. “Soon after that [we] launched a national campaign working closely with congress and veterans to cut the funding for these experiments that have wasted a lot of money and not helped veterans, despite the misleading claims by the VA.”
The White Coat Waste Project has helped put an end to harmful experiments at VA facilities in Milwaukee and Los Angeles over the last few years by exposing them to the public. As a result of the group’s campaigns, the president has enacted and Congress has passed legislation that dramatically restricts the use of dogs in painful tests at the VA, which is one of the fundamental reasons dog experimentation has substantially decreased, as Goodman said. Currently, the facility in Cleveland and one in Richmond, VA, are the only two facilities out of over 70 in the country that are still conducting these deadly experiments on dogs.
“When we first started this campaign in 2017, the VA had 15 different dog experiments going on across its different facilities,” said Goodman. “Now, after two years of campaigning and pressure from veterans and Congress, there are only five active projects involving dog experiments at the VA, so there’s been an enormous amount of progress that we’re very proud of, and we’re excited to put the final nails in the coffin of this program.”
In just two years, the White Coat Waste Project, along with its two million supporters across the country, have been able to drastically reduce the amount of dog testing at VA centers throughout the U.S. The organization hopes that the PUPPERS Act of 2019, bipartisan bill H.R. 1155, will finally put an end to these experiments for good.
The PUPPERS Act of 2019 was introduced by Rep. Dina Titus (D–Nev), in February of this year, and according to the bill’s original text, if enacted it will “prohibit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from conducting medical research causing significant pain or distress to dogs.” This means that federal funding for all harmful experiments on dogs at the VA will be permanently cut.
The Cleveland Animal Protective League has been a voice of authority on this issue, expressing its opposition to the Cleveland VA’s use of dogs in experiments, as well as its support for the PUPPERS Act.
“I think as the local humane society here in Cleveland, an advocate for treating every animal with kindness, and giving them the quality of life that they, as living beings and members of our family, deserve, our goal is to try to be their voice and help educate folks in the community that this type of research really shouldn’t be necessary anymore,” said Sharon Harvey, President and CEO of the Cleveland APL. “[Because] there are other options that exist now, we, as a society, need to do a better job to use those options and try to end this era of testing on dogs that we should be able to accomplish in another way.”
Considering that so many VA facilities have moved away from experimentation on dogs, it is clear that other, even more effective methods for conducting tests exists. Other forms of research, such as in–vitro methods—which use human cells and tissues—computer models, petri dish experiments and even ethical research involving humans, are all potential alternatives to using dogs, as Justin Goodman explained.
“The federal government acknowledges that 95 percent of treatments and drugs that pass animal tests fail on humans because they’re ineffective or they’re dangerous, yet at the same time the government is spending $15 billion a year on animal tests,” said Goodman.
In the Spring 2018 issue of Good Medicine, an article titled, “A New Roadmap for Replacing Animal Testing,” the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) agreed that if the focus is put on alternative methods, such as safely testing on humans instead of animals who have a totally different physiology, research will move forward much faster, and progress in finding cures and solutions will be made in more safe and humane ways.
If safety, cost and humaneness are not enough to stop these experiments, the amount of people who are against animal testing could be. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll, the majority of Americans oppose the use of animals in scientific research, and an even greater number—about 75 percent, as Goodman said—oppose the use of dogs in experiments.
Veteran and Rep. Brian Mast (R–Fla), has been a leading voice of opposition to the experiments at the VA. The Florida congressman also helped Dina Titus introduce the PUPPERS Act, and has been rallying both Republicans and Democrats to get behind the issue. On May 9, 2019, the House Appropriations Committee passed its 2020 spending bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which includes language to stop all taxpayer funding for dog experimentation at the VA. Mast recently commended the House committee’s motion to defund the harmful tests at the VA in a statement to the Independent Journal Review (IJR). He and Titus had gotten over 50 Republicans and Democrats together to insist that the language be included in the bill.
“It’s time to end dog testing at the VA once and for all,” said Titus in a statement. “There are proven alternatives to this unnecessary testing that inflicts severe pain on puppies and dogs while producing no discernible medical advances. I’m grateful for the support of Congressman Mast and the many animal welfare and veterans’ organizations that are helping advance this legislation to put an end to this barbaric practice.”