Rachel Richardson, Contributing Writer
A bill that would require animal testing facilities to release animals for adoption instead of euthanizing them was killed in the General Assembly earlier this month after opposition from VCU.
The bill would have required testing facilities offer dogs or cats that “do not pose a health or safety risk” to an adoption agency release the animal through private placement. Most of these testing facilities are sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Ashley Hood, VCU’s senior director of state government relations, testified against the bill, saying the legislation was not in the best interest of the animals.
“The veterinarian’s professional discretion would have been constrained by the bill,” Hood stated in an email. “[This] may result in caring pet families adopting an animal who may not be healthy enough to survive or thrive.”
The bill, sponsored by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, was placed in the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources subcommittee. Todd Woodson, manager of RVA Animal Advocacy Alliance, testified in favor. The Humane Society and the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also testified.
Woodson said the Virginia university system holds a lot of weight in the General Assembly and university opposition caused the bill to fail.
“Virginia Tech stood up and said, ‘We’re against it,’” Woodson said. “Then VCU’s representative stood up and opposed. And when VCU opposed it, [the committee] decided to table it.”
Woodson suggested training the dogs as service animals once they are released from experimental programs.
“Dogs do so much for the military,” Woodson said. “Why not give these dogs to veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder? These animals can do so much good, and they’re just being wasted.”
One of the testing facilities targeted by animal activist groups is Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, which came under fire in December. Records of Richmond’s McGuire Center show the purchase of eight canines in 2018, four of whom died within eight months. The center researches heart disease and is reported to have tested dogs with pacemakers and treadmills.
Although VCU does not test on canines, the university lists McGuire as a NCORP-MU, or National Cancer Institution Community Oncology Research Program – Minority/Underserved, clinical partner institution and has staff associated with the center.
Cardiologist Dr. Alex Tan was banned from performing dog surgeries at McGuire after several canine deaths. Tan still works at the Center and recently was hired by VCU as an attending electrophysiologist for humans. Electrophysiologists study the heart’s electrical system.
VCU released a report to the Department of Agriculture in November listing no canines, but 54 pigs and 36 “non-human primates.” The university faced backlash in spring 2018 following reports of inhumane primate testing.
Tabitha Treloar of the Richmond SPCA also spoke on behalf of the bill. Treloar stated in an email that the SPCA made “repeated” offers to McGuire to rehabilitate and re-home dogs released from testing. McGuire replied to the SPCA in a 2017 email saying there were no dogs available for adoption, Treloar said.
Restrictions on animal testing facilities were extended through 2019. Facilities cannot be funded by tax dollars. Instead, they need direct approval from the VA secretary.
The VA is investigating the authorization of these animals by former VA Secretary David Shulkin. ABC 8News reported Shulkin was fired by President Donald Trump the same day the secretary gave verbal approval to the center.
“In his brief stint as VA secretary, David Shulkin made misleading statements to the media,” the VA said in a statement to ABC 8News. “We welcome oversight from the inspector general.”