Undercover footage of golden retrievers used for medical experiments at Texas A&M shows emaciated, crippled, and drooling dogs in barren cages, eating mushy gruel because their weakened jaw muscles and swollen tongues make swallowing difficult.
The disturbing footage, released Thursday by PETA, appears to be the first glimpse inside the university's golden retriever colony, where researcher Joseph Kornegay has been investigating treatment method for a an aggressive strain of muscular dystrophy for over 30 years. (The footage was obtained within the last three years, but only just made available, according to PETA).
In letters to A&M President Michael Young and officials at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, PETA called for an end to experimentation on dogs.
The video shows hobbling dogs having trouble eating, and living in slat-floor cages furnished only with buckets of water, rapidly pacing and chewing on the cage bars out of frustration. According to PETA, some dogs live for years in the cages.
Alka Chandna, PETA's laboratory oversight specialist, stated, "Three decades of painful experiments on generations of debilitated and suffering golden retrievers have failed to result in a cure or even a treatment that can reverse the course of muscular dystrophy in humans."
Citing medical journals, the letters to A&M and the National Institute describe some of the research, stating that Kornegay and his colleagues:
"repeatedly stretch the muscles of the dogs with levers to induce mechanical damage...By six weeks of age, the hind legs are shifted forward and some are unable to open their mouths or jaws. Eventually, muscles undergo hypertrophy and the dogs may develop aspiration pneumonia and cardiac failure."
As we wrote in 2015, one experiment involved levers attached to a tiny motor called a servomotor, which was used to repeatedly stretch muscles "to induce mechanical damage." The dogs underwent three sets of ten stretches with a five-second rest between stretches and a four-minute rest between sets.
The most common form of muscular dystrophy, Duchenne is caused by a protein deficiency affecting muscle strength, according to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Its toll is brutal:
"Onset is between 3 and 5 years and the disorder progresses rapidly. Most boys are unable to walk by age 12, and later need a respirator to breathe. Girls in these families have a 50 percent chance of inheriting and passing the defective gene to their children."
But, PETA claims in its letters, these suffering children "are receiving no benefits from canine research." Kornegay's own research shows that muscular dystrophy "in dogs is not analogous to MD in humans," according to the organization.
Chandna, said in the press release that :
"Cutting-edge techniques, such as utilizing unneeded cells from DMD patients to develop disease-specific cures, developing ways to grow healthy human muscle cells that could be transplanted into patients with MD, and creating human-relevant drug-screening platforms, have led to the development of more promising therapies."
Texas A&M, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Missouri-Columbia are the only three institutions where dog-related Duchenne research is conducted, according to PETA.
We reached out to A&M and the National Institute for comment and will update accordingly.
Update: Dec. 8, 4:13 pm: After more than 24 hours, Texas A&M's crack PR team has gotten back to us with a tone-deaf statement that, to us, seems worse than saying nothing at all. Keep in mind, we're judging this on its merits as a public relations dispatch, ostensibly written by adults with functional frontal lobes, and not as a treatise on animal testing itself.
“The dogs seen drooling (with tails wagging) have a genetic condition that also affects humans – boys primarily – called Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). Affected children develop profound, progressive muscle weakness and loss resulting in a range of symptoms, including difficulty or inability to stand unassisted, along with difficulty breathing. Prognosis is poor, with death by teens or twenties. Currently there is no cure."
OK — the "with tails wagging" parenthetical is weak and indicative of straw-grasping. There is no way an ordinary person can — regardless of their stance on animal-testing — look at the video and think that those dogs are actually happy. Anyone who has ever been to a city pound, which is essentially death row for dogs, understands that a caged dog will wag its tail and get excited upon seeing a person. It does not negate the otherwise miserable existence of said dog.
The rest of the paragraph just repeats what our story has already noted.
The dogs – who are already affected by this disease - are treated with the utmost respect and exceptional care on site by board-certified veterinarians and highly trained staff. The care team is further subject to scientific oversight by agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Muscular Dystrophy Association, among other regulatory bodies.
Yes, the dogs are "affected" by the disease because, in many cases, they've been bred that way. Essentially, whoever crafted this response went out of his or her way to add a half-truth. Lazy and ineffective.
We'll address the rest at the end.
“The facility built for this research is state-of-the-art. Our work is shared not only nationally but globally with the goal of finding a cure for this dreadful disease, DMD, in both children and dogs worldwide. We are proud of our care team, facility and work in support of this endeavor.”
It is disingenuous to state that your facility is "state-of-the-art" when the dogs are drinking from paint buckets and living in cages that look like something you could whip up on the cheap from Home Depot. The only thing this suggests is that the purchasing department at A&M is shelling out a lot of money for what they're told is some sort of space-age get-up, when, really, it's not.
The sub-mediocrity of this response would not be so offensive had there not been a video. From a PR standpoint, that video requires a more aggressive response. Why not release a video showing these dogs not drooling? Why not combat what A&M clearly believes is an emotionally manipulative video with an emotionally manipulative video of its own, showing the dogs outside of the cages and having fun? Because, surely, such footage is obtainable. Right?