PUPPERS Act to End ‘Barbaric’ VA Dog Experiments Reintroduced to Congress

Feb 26, 2019
In The News

Many people—including Democrats and Republicans in Congress and plenty of veterans themselves—oppose the horrific, taxpayer-funded experiments that some Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities perform on dogs.

How terrible are these experiments? Dogs have undergone surgeries that forced them to have heart attacks or vomit repeatedly. Portions of their brains have been removed to test the neurons that control their breathing. After enduring this torture, the dogs are euthanized.

To put a much-needed end to this cruelty, Rep. Dave Brat, a Republican, and Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat, introduced the bipartisan Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species (PUPPERS) Act in Congress two years ago.

The PUPPERS Act would prohibit the VA from purchasing, breeding, transporting, housing, feeding, maintaining, disposing of or experimenting on dogs for any study that causes significant pain or distress. The House unanimously passed the 2017 bill, but then it stalled in the Senate, thanks in large part to the VA’s efforts to kill it.

On the day before Valentine’s Day this year, Titus and other members of Congress reintroduced the PUPPERS Act (H.R. 1155). Hopefully it will be more successful this time around.

“There are proven alternatives to this unnecessary testing that inflicts severe pain on puppies and dogs while producing no discernible medical advances,” Titus said in a press release. She called the experiments a “barbaric practice.”

VA Inspector General Michael Missal is currently reviewing the department’s K-9 research program. An independent formal review of whether the dogs are mistreated and are necessary in these experiments is also underway by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) and is expected to be completed in mid-2020. Eleven congressmembers sent a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie on February 11 asking for the VA to suspend dog experiments until the completion of the NASEM study.

Unfortunately, researchers at the VA are still conducting experiments on dogs. Doomed dogs are arriving at the Cleveland VA Medical Center in Ohio, where their spinal cords will be severed and their lungs collapsed to test their coughing reflexes. The purpose of this sadistic torture is to “help veterans with ALS, paralysis and stroke cough effectively in order to eliminate a potentially deadly build-up of fluids,” according to a VA spokesperson.

Among the many veterans opposed to using dogs in horrific experiments like this is one of the PUPPER Bill’s 60 co-sponsors. Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) lost his legs while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. “While I was recovering from my injuries, I saw firsthand the important role that dogs play in helping veterans recover from war’s physical and psychological tolls,” he said in the press release. He said subjecting dogs to painful experiments is “abusive, waste[s] taxpayers’ dollars and must be stopped.”

Things seemed to be looking up a year ago, when Donald Trump signed the Omnibus Bill into law. That bill included a section requiring the VA secretary to directly approve dog experiments in order to receive funding from Congress. A few days later, Trump fired VA Secretary David Shulkin, who had allegedly approved dozens of dogs to be used in research. Shulkin denied doing this and said he has had a change of heart about these experiments.

Wilkie, unfortunately, supports the experiments and has insisted they could lead to breakthroughs in medical treatment for veterans. Apparently he’s not aware of any of the many humane alternatives to using live animals in this research.

As American Veterans Chief Advocacy Officer Sherman Gillums Jr. stated in the press release, the PUPPERS Act, which has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, “embodies the conscience of our society, and it’s time to let conscience guide our actions by passing this important bill.”