We've all seen the ads from PETA and the Humane Society of the United States of heartbreaking images of dogs used in what appear to be cruel and inhumane lab experiments. Well, now a bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to make sure dogs aren't suffering in taxpayer-funded studies.
Virginia Republican Rep. Dave Brat has sponsored the PUPPERS Act, which would ban the Department of Veterans Affairs from conducting medical studies that cause significant pain or stress to dogs.
Reps. Diana Titus (D-Nevada), Brian Mast (R-Florida), Ted Lieu (D-California), Daniel Donovan (R-N.Y.), and Brendan Boyle (D-Pennsylvania) are co-sponsoring the bill.
"There's less invasive ways of doing research on maybe other animals like lab rats, etcetera, not the household pet," Brat said in an interview.
The bill bans the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from authorizing the purchase, breeding, transportation, housing, feeding, maintaining, disposal of, or experimentation on dogs as part of the conduct of any study that causes significant pain or distress.
Brat says he felt compelled to sponsor the bill after seeing a local news report in March detailing inhumane experiments using dogs at a VA facility in his congressional district.
The White Coat Waste Project, an animal rights group, obtained documents under a Freedom of Information Act request detailing what they claimed were cruel medical tests on dogs at the McGuire Veterans Hospital in Richmond.
Dogs as young as one-year-old endured induced heart attacks, botched surgeries and some were killed, according to the report from local ABC affiliate WRIC.
In April, the VA's Office of Research Oversight investigated the McGuire facility and found evidence of violations of federal animal welfare regulations.
“The revelations regarding the dog laboratory testing at McGuire VAMC are disturbing and the descriptions are almost on the scale of torture," Brat said in a statement.
A representative for the VA told Circa in a statement that the agency has not taken a position on the PUPPERS Act, but said the department's animal research program "has saved lives and will save lives in the future."
The VA also said that almost all of its animal studies were done using other animals like rats and that canines accounted for fewer than 0.05 percent of animals used in VA research in 2016.
The VA and other medical researchers say canine research is essential to developing crucial medical advancements.
Dogs can help scientists better understand and treat diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer's, which affect both humans and dogs.
"It turns out that dogs may be actually one of the most powerful models for the study of biological disease," said Cindy Buckmaster, chair of the Board of Directors for Americans for Medical Progress.
In fact, the VA says its canine research has led to the development of the pacemaker, the nicotine patch, the discovery of insulin and other medical devices and breakthroughs that have saved countless human and canine lives.
Buckmaster, who is also the director of the Center for Comparative Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said the public and lawmakers like Brat have been misled by animal rights groups like White Coat Waste Project and PETA and removing dogs from research based on these claims could be devestating to both humans and dogs.
"We're talking about the beginning of a public health crisis at the hands of our lawmakers who are being duped by ideologues and they don't even know it," she said.
Buckmaster explained that medical researchers, go through extensive training on humane and ethical treatment for animals in research studies are required to report malpractice to the government, just like any doctor treating humans in a hospital is required to do.
She said the studies are overseen by highly trained veterinarians who are there to make sure the dogs are well cared for.
"The public is walking around with broken hearts and they don't have to be," Buckmaster said. "They're walking around with broken hearts because they've been lied to, and when they know the truth they're going to feel so much better."