Politics & Government

Stop taxpayer-funded research on kittens, congressman says

Rep. Walter Jones and "The Kitten Lady" Hannah Shaw meet in his office on Thursday, June 8, 2018 to discuss a bill to stop the Agriculture Department from conducting tests on cats and kittens.
Rep. Walter Jones and "The Kitten Lady" Hannah Shaw meet in his office on Thursday, June 8, 2018 to discuss a bill to stop the Agriculture Department from conducting tests on cats and kittens. Rep. Walter Jones office

Rep. Walter Jones has sibling Siamese 7-year-old cats — Buddha and Sadat. The cats are known for their jumping abilities, considered extraordinary even by cat standards, though that could just be boastful talk from their owner.

Now Jones wants to protect other cats and kittens from being the subjects of government testing.

Jones, who represents much of Eastern North Carolina, is one of 20 co-sponsors of new legislation that would ban the Department of Agriculture from painful or stressful testing. The Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now Act (KITTEN Act) was introduced in May and referred to the agriculture committee.

"I was alarmed that the federal government has been secretively spending American’s tax dollars for archaic experiments on kittens, and then needlessly killing the healthy animals at the end of the project,” Jones said in a statement. "Abusing pets in government labs with taxpayers’ money has to stop and I’ll continue to fight until it does."

The USDA has been experimenting on cats since 1982 in a program that "involves breeding hundreds of kittens, feeding them Toxoplasma-infected raw meat for 2-3 weeks, collecting their feces during this time to harvest parasites and then killing the kittens and discarding them by "incineration,'" according to a letter from Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Mich., to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The program involves 100 cats per year, according to Bishop.

Toxoplasmosis can cause serious health problems for pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems; one reason pregnant women are encouraged not to have contact with cat litter.

Toxoplasmosis, which can be obtained through animals eating contaminated meat, is a treatable condition for cats.

"The Agricultural Research Service-USDA (ARS) makes every effort to minimize the number of cats used to produce eggs required to research one of the most widespread parasites in the world. The cats are essential to the success of this critical research," a spokesperson for the agency told CNN this week, adding that the estimate of 100 cats is too high and that the cats are not put up for adoption because of potential risks.

Jones met with Hannah Shaw, known as "the kitten lady" and an expert on Animal Planet's "My Cat from Hell," and activists from the White Coat Waste Project on Thursday. The White Coat Waste Project, which wants to end taxpayer-funded research and testing on animals, claims that $15 billion in taxpayer funds are used for animal testing each year.

Shaw and the White Coat Waste Project posted photos of representatives with kittens on Capitol Hill on Thursday.

The bill says that the agriculture secretary "may not purchase, breed, transport, house, feed, maintain, dispose of, or conduct experiments on cats as part of the conduct of any study that would subject cats to potentially painful or stressful procedures, including pain or stress that may be mitigated by anesthetics, analgesics, or tranquilizer drugs, except when such pain or stress is a result of a physical exam or training program."

In March, Congress introduced several measures to protect animals from being placed in overhead bins on airplanes after a dog died on United Airlines flight in March.

Jones co-sponsored legislation "to prohibit the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from conducting medical research causing significant pain or distress to dogs."

The Humane Society of the United States honored Jones in 2010 for his legislative work in protecting animals, including his legislation to allow the adoption of a military working dog by the family of a deceased or seriously wounded member of the Armed Forces. Jones has pictures and statues of service dogs throughout his office.

Jones won a three-way Republican primary in May and is running unopposed in November. Jones, who has been in the House since 1994, said his next term will be his final one.

After a video on Facebook showed Meko the cat rolling around at a Gaston County animal shelter, an adopter came forward to give him a home.

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; Twitter: @MurphinDC