As an Army Sergeant and veteran with a service dog, I was absolutely shocked and sickened by the recent revelations that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been abusing and killing dogs in nightmarish experiments. This horrendous practice is a betrayal of man’s best friend and violates the values, spirit and mission of the VA.
According to news reports and ongoing investigations by the non-profit White Coat Waste Project, four VA facilities have been spending taxpayers’ money on what can only be described as torturing dogs in laboratories.
At the McGuire VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Richmond, Virginia, experimenters are inducing heart attacks and other cardiac ailments in more than 100 puppies and forcing them to run on treadmills to stress their hearts, after which they’re killed.
A seven-year-old male hound-mix identified only as “339623” who has been confined in one of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs labs since 2011.
Reports show that some of the dogs have been killed by incompetent surgeries. Troublingly, the “reckless” VA doctor guilty of these botched procedures was banned from the dog experiments, but is still on staff and being allowed to treat veterans at McGuire.
The Stokes VAMC in Cleveland spent more than $23,000 of taxpayers’ money since 2016 to purchase dogs for experiments in which their spinal cords will be intentionally damaged.
And, until recently, for more than 20 years the Los Angeles VA was operating a secretive facility that bred dobermans to suffer from narcolepsy, injected them with methamphetamines and in some cases killed and dissected them.
Thanks to a brave whistleblower, members of Congress and pressure from the White Coat Waste Project, the Los Angeles VA has announced its discontinuing these experiments and closing the breeding program.
For me, ending this abuse is personal and my duty as a veteran.
My dog Duke is the reason I’ve been able to get past some of the major hurdles in my life since leaving the service. Dogs are often described as man’s best friend, but they are often much more than that for veterans like myself who struggled to readjust to civilian life after experiencing combat scenarios that few outside of the service can relate to.
After coming back from Iraq, I experienced a severe disconnect with every emotion except anger and frequently suffered from nightmares that never allowed me forget the horrors that people are capable of inflicting upon each other. Science has proven that an emotional connection with a dog causes the release of oxytocin in our brains, in turn, allowing you to love and feel loved. If it weren’t for the love of my dog, Duke, I would still be lost.
The author’s service dog, Duke.
In the Army, we use the acronym LDRSHP to describe our values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. There is a reason that loyalty comes first. Loyalty is the thread the binds us and our fellow soldiers together. It binds us to our units, our Country, and our Constitution. Most soldiers would do anything for the good of the Army.
The loyalty that I and my fellow veterans feel toward the military is only superseded by one thing: the loyalty dogs provide to their humans. Although many Americans can’t personally relate to the impact of war, what they can relate to is the love and loyalty of a canine campion. In fact, although there are approximately 21.8 million veterans in the U.S., there are 89.7 million dogs. Sixty million American households report at least one dog as a member of the family.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, loyalty means having a faithful allegiance to another person or institution. Whether it is through service to the military or through the companionship of a dog, most of us understand the importance of loyalty and the painful emotions that can result when that loyalty is betrayed.
The VA’s painful and deadly experiments on dogs are a betrayal of not only these loyal animals who literally save soldiers’ lives on and off the battlefield, but also a betrayal of the agency’s mission: “to care for [s]he who has borne the battle, his [sic] widow, and his [sic] orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans. Veterans like myself are in no way honored by secretive and deadly experiments on dogs. Quite the opposite—veterans are suffering and dying while waiting for basic care and services because the VA wastes scarce resources on unnecessary projects like these dog experiments.
Thankfully, this is an issue that’s uniting Republicans and Democrats to take bipartisan action.
Las Vegas-area Congresswoman Dina Titus (D-NV), recently stated, “I will continue to work with my colleagues to end these cruel and outdated experiments in Virginia and elsewhere across the country. Doing so benefits veterans and animals.”
Likewise, Freedom Caucus member Dave Brat (R-VA), who represents areas of Richmond, VA near the McGuire VAMC, told the press, “if these fatal experiments on healthy puppies are in fact taking place with poorly documented medical benefits for veterans, taxpayers should not have to foot the bill.”
Please join me in urging VA Secretary David Shulkin to end this abuse immediately as he works to reform the scandal-plagued VA system. Fellow veterans and I have started a Change.org petition that you can sign to make your voice heard. After all, taxpayers like us are the ones footing the bill for the VA’s deadly dog experiments.