It’s no secret that U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis is a fan of dogs. Prior to the 2016 election, he interviewed his dog, Ike, a 10-year-old boxer, about his thoughts on Obamacare, Isis, and the national deficit. He campaigned more fiercely for Tilly, one of his office dogs, to win the “Cutest Dog on the Hill” contest than he did for his own U.S. Senate seat. And, while many of his colleagues in the Senate were engaged in partisan bickering, he sponsored a resolution to designate May 1 as “National Purebred Dog Day.”
Tillis’s affinity for dogs and position on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee should serve to guide him in standing up for his constituents and man’s best friend on another issue – limiting federal funding of painful and unnecessary dog testing in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs laboratories.
As NBC Charlotte recently highlighted in a story that went national titled, “Charlotte pup lobbies U.S. lawmakers to end ‘horrifying’ animal experiments,” the VA is reportedly “drilling into puppies’ skulls” and “performing heart attack experiments” on other dogs. As a Navy Veteran who even volunteered for local animal rescues while stationed in Italy, this infuriates me.
Thankfully, the U.S. House of Representatives has unanimously voted to cut next year’s funding for this abuse. And North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones – himself an Army veteran – is among those working to cut this funding permanently with bipartisan legislation called the PUPPERS Act. There’s only three remaining VA research facilities – out of nearly 80 – still performing painful research on dogs at taxpayer expense, so this should be an easy problem to solve.
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Now, we need action in the Senate and Tillis, a champion for canines and VA accountability, is the right man for the job.
Despite overwhelming support from Congress and most American voters, I have been appalled that the VA is now doubling down on this unnecessary publicly-financed canine cruelty. To keep the money flowing, the VA is trying to mislead veterans like me into thinking that we’ll suffer if it doesn’t give puppies heart attacks. It’s not true, and it’s shameful for the VA to exploit veterans to perpetuate this waste and abuse.
The VA’s sensational claims about the hypothetical benefits of its dog experiments are ironic because its own researchers have criticized the scientific community for promoting exaggerated claims about animal research’s relevance. They stressed that this is especially troublesome because most animal studies fail in human patients.
Other federal agencies like NIH, FDA, EPA and DOD are openly critical of the wastefulness of animal tests. The Pentagon is literally winning awards for its high-tech alternatives to animal testing while the VA is wasting money torturing dogs and staunchly defending it.
Sadly, the VA is using outdated information and fearmongering to get some entrenched veterans groups on its side to rehash its talking points.
To me, this is yet another example of how these organizations are out of touch with veterans beyond the beltway in Washington, a majority of whom support Congress’s effort to end the VA’s dog abuse. Most veterans – and N.C. has one of the largest veteran populations nationwide – do not belong to major national veterans groups. As a female veteran, I don’t either because their political agendas are not in line with my needs. For instance, the American Legion – in addition to using its members’ resources to prop up the VA’s dog abuse – is spending its time and money lobbying in D.C. for the creation of a commemorative coin recognizing itself. Local veterans organizations provide much more tangible assistance to veterans.
Our other U.S. Senator, Richard Burr, hit the nail on the head when he wrote that most of these national organizations “appear to be more interested in defending the status quo within the VA, protecting their relationships with the agency, and securing access to the Secretary and his inner circle.” Why else would they go out on a limb to defend a small, wasteful VA program that they’ve never commented on and most people oppose?
In his Senate resolution introduced “in celebration of purebred dogs and the many service and companion benefits purebred dogs have and continue to provide to the United States,” Tillis wrote that “individuals value all dogs, regardless of the ancestry of the dogs, and especially cherish a purpose-bred dog.” He will likely be shocked to read that, on the contrary, the VA’s position is that “purposely bred” beagles, hounds, Dobermans and other dogs can and should be sickened, mutilated, killed and discarded like so much trash.
North Carolina’s state motto is “esse quam videri” – or, “to be, rather than to seem.” Tillis can once again be – rather than just seem like – a true advocate for dogs and the veterans of North Carolina by speaking out against the VA’s needless dog experiments.
Sabrina Lewis is a U.S. Navy veteran who currently owns and operates a Doggie Daycare/Pet Services business with her family in Charlotte.