A bipartisan group of U.S. representatives wants federal agencies to disclose information on experiments conducted on dogs, including research performed at the Army's Fort Sam Houston base in San Antonio.
The interest in pulling back the curtain on the taxpayer-funded research was spurred by the White Coat Waste Project, an animal welfare group that claimed in a November report that more than 1,100 "beagles, hounds, and mixed-breed dogs — even puppies — are subjected to painful, bizarre, and wasteful experiments" each year. This includes "exposing dogs to anthrax, forcing them to suffer heart attacks, and drilling into their skulls."
Earlier this month, 13 legislators sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office, requesting public disclosure of animal research conducted by the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.
The letter states in part:
"We have discovered it is impossible to determine what federal animal research programs currently entail, what they cost, and if they meet federal standards... Federal agencies are not currently required to publicly report their total use of animals in research, do not publish noncompliance reports, and generally do not maintain searchable databases of animal research projects..."
Those records show that 81 dogs were used for experiments involving "pain or distress" at Fort Sam Houston's Academy of Health Sciences facility in 2015. Forty dogs were used in 2014.
While some federal agencies, like the Department of Defense, have integrated upbeat military dog stories into public relations opportunities, information about these dogs' less fortunate counterparts is scant, according to the White Coat Waste Project report.
In 1998, the Government Accountability Office issued a report calling the DoD's database "inaccurate, incomplete, and inconsistent, resulting in inadequate public disclosure." (While a database of research from 1998 to 2007 was once available online, the database is currently defunct.)
A DoD spokesperson was unable to state when the database was shut down, and why, but told the Houston Press in an email, "Broadly speaking, the Defense Department’s goal is to reduce the use of live animals in medical training and to increase the use of validated simulation training platforms."
What little is known of the research is not for the faint of heart. Citing the NIH's database, the White Coat Waste Project's report notes that current research includes:
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- Infecting beagles with pneumonia to induce septic shock in order to "assess transfusion techniques."
- Implanting and tightening "snares" around mixed-breed dogs' arteries to induce heart attacks.
- Exposing beagles to anthrax in order to test a vaccine "already approved by [the] FDA since 2012."
- Strapping capsules full of sand flies infected with the deadly virus Leishmaniasis to beagles' bare skin, to better understand how the pathogen is spread.
The costs for research dogs vary widely; the National Institutes of Health paid $13,795 for a two-year-old beagle in 2015, while the Department of Veterans Affairs got "three male mongrels" for $4,207 this year — a comparative steal. (As we wrote in 2015, beagles are one of the most popular breeds for research, based largely on size and temperament.)
In their letter to the Government Accountability Office, the lawmakers asked for an audit and disclosure of total annual spending among the agencies. (It's bound to be a pretty big number; the NIH has spent nearly $6 million in 2011 on heart attack experiments alone, according to the report, which cites the NIH's own database.)
We reached out to a spokesperson for Fort Sam Houston and will update if we hear back.