If you've been driving along I-45 just north of West Mount Houston Road and spotted a billboard with a sad, drooling dog in a cage, and wondered, "Gee, why does that dog look so sad?" the answer is: because he's part of weird, decades-long medical experiments involving a colony of dogs at Texas A&M.
Not freaked out enough? Here's the deal. A&M veterinary researcher Joseph Kornegay has for three decades conducted experiments on golden retrievers and other dogs in a quest to find a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which affects mostly males, at a rate of about one in 5,000 male births. It's a horrible, tragic disease.
But animal welfare group PETA, which put up the billboard, has been campaigning against the experiments which, in many cases, are painful — like hooking dogs up to motorized muscle-extenders. In December 2016, PETA released footage from an undercover investigation showing dogs living in poor conditions. As we previously reported, the footage showed dogs
"living in slat-floor cages furnished only with buckets of water, rapidly pacing and chewing on the cage bars out of frustration. Many of the dogs have weakened jaw muscles and swollen tongues, which makes it difficult to digest anything other than mushy gruel."
In announcing the billboard, which will be up through October 1, PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo stated in a press release:
"For 35 years, dogs have suffered in cruel muscular dystrophy experiments, most recently at Texas A&M, which haven't resulted in a cure or treatment for reversing the course of muscular dystrophy in humans. PETA is calling on the college to redirect its resources into humane research methods that don't leave suffering and dead dogs in their wake."
The group also posted ads in Memorial City Mall and The Woodlands Mall.
Texas A&M has been less than transparent about the research, and in some cases has denied that the dogs experience pain or discomfort.
In a December 2016 statement, the university said:
"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."
But according to PETA's investigation, workers at the dog colony said the dogs "couldn't even escape their misery when being bathed. Employees claimed that there was no way to adjust the water temperature, so the dogs were hosed down with cold water."
The animal welfare group has also outlined a biography of one of the research dogs, Peony. The undercover workers said Peony "had little fat on her body [and] would have had difficulty regulating her body temperature to keep warm, making a cold bath torture for her."
Peony had an enlarged tongue that, according to PETA:
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"made it difficult for her to swallow, breathe, and eat. She regularly had excessive saliva hanging in long strings of 8 inches or more from her mouth, which was noted as normal by experimenters. The drool soaked the fur on her chest and caused a moist skin infection and hair loss. She often accumulated foamy saliva in and around her mouth, which she desperately tried to swallow, ultimately coughing it back up."
Peony's end was brutal, according to PETA:
"In early November 2012, experimenters discovered Peony lying on her side and unwilling to get up. She was crying out and salivating more than usual. She got up after being coaxed during an examination, but she was only able to walk around for about one minute, before returning to lie down. At this point, Joe Kornegay, the lead experimenter, suggested that she could be experiencing heart problems, which GRMD can also cause. But Peony appears to have received no further testing or treatment to address her lethargy and collapse.
Sadly, Peony spent much of her time in her cage suffering without even a blanket for bedding before she was euthanized on March 5, 2013, two months shy of her second birthday."
It'd be great if Texas A&M announces soon that a cure for Duchenne MS has been discovered. Likewise, it'd be great if the university announced it's putting an end to these painful experiments.