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Has Texas A&M Ended Its Controversial Dog Experiments?

Texas A&M would prefer that you not look at this.
Texas A&M would prefer that you not look at this.
Courtesy PETA
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In the wake of widespread publicity and protests over medical research on a colony of dogs at Texas A&M, the animal welfare group PETA says a university representative has indicated the research has ended.

For years, A&M veterinary researcher Joseph Kornegay has quietly conducted research on golden retrievers and other dogs, in the hopes of finding a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which affects mostly boys and men, at a rate of about one in 5,000 male births.

In many cases, the dogs are subject to painful experiments and a life of general misery.This became shockingly clear last December, when, as we reported, PETA released undercover footage showing 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.

The tradeoff here is that Kornegay's work is supposed to lead to the alleviation of human suffering, and especially the horrible suffering of children. But instead of focusing on that aspect, and trumpeting any advances (if they occurred), A&M's publicity machine has preferred to bury the unpleasant research, or, as it did after the footage was released, actually suggest that the dogs are happy.

In the past few weeks, PETA has organized protests and urged critics to lodge their complaints with the office of A&M President Michael Young. One man sympathetic to the cause even interrupted a panel discussion at South By Southwest featuring Young. But last week, according to PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo, someone in Young's office identifying himself as "Tyler" told callers that, "To my knowledge, these experiments have stopped."

But when we reached out to Young, Kornegay and Megan Palsa, the vet department's executive director of communications — as well as other A&M representatives —  we got no response. Instead, Keith Randall, associate director of A&M's "news team," called and asked for our email address — he said he had a statement to send. We asked if the statement answered our questions, but he said he didn't know.

According to Texas Tribune's government salaries database, taxpayers float Randall $74,402 a year, which is not obscene, but might be considered insulting to a public that is paying him to respond to questions with non sequiturs that weren't even written in the same year as the question that was asked. If you're going to do that, why limit yourself to just statements from 2016? Why not reach back to a golden oldie, like October 2012's "When Teachers Teach Each Other, Everybody Benefits," or go with a deep-deep cut like July 2007's "Texas A&M Prof Pens New Book About Armadillos"?

The December statement is this:

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.

This suggests to us that whatever "Tyler" told callers last week was bunk. Here's what PETA's Guillermo told us in an emailed statement:

Texas A&M is a public university that receives tens of millions of dollars in state and federal funds. President Michael K. Young owes it to the public to stop evading direct questions and tell the whole truth as to whether the school is still breeding and experimenting on dogs with muscular dystrophy or not. A staffer in his office told multiple callers on Friday that the laboratory had closed and the experiments had ended. Was it true? Now, the university won't confirm this on the phone or in writing, even to the media. PETA's campaign to end these horribly cruel studies will only intensify until the university stops breeding dogs to be crippled and switches to superior non-animal test methods that are relevant to humans.

In addition to being rigged to motorized muscle-extenders that would make the Marquis de Sade blush, some of the colony dogs were allegedly denied a modicum of relief between experiments. 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." One of these, a female named 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, a golden retriever bred with muscular dystrophy, started off at Kornegay's former research home, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill:

As a puppy, she suffered from bouts of intestinal parasites that caused vomiting, nausea, an uncomfortably bloated abdomen, and painful, often bloody diarrhea. At just 2 months of age, she was diagnosed with coccidiosis, which is caused by a parasite that's spread through contaminated fecal matter. It is often found in puppy mills and is associated with poor sanitation and severe crowding. This suggests that UNC–Chapel Hill kept her in squalid and crowded living conditions. Only three months after this diagnosis, she tested positive for giardiasis, caused by another parasite that's associated with severe crowding, stressful conditions, and an unclean environment.

The dog had an enlarged tongue that, according to PETA:

"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."

Here's how Peony went out, 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.

Presumably, Kornegay takes pride in his research, and has noble motivations. He, or another A&M representative, should consider respecting the public that funds the research enough to discuss it. No one in his right mind would equate a dog's suffering with a child's. But no one in his right mind should tolerate the university's callous disregard for honesty, either.

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