The Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species (PUPPERS) Act, HR 3197, which would end research by the Veteran’s Administration using dogs where the research causes pain or distress to dogs, has come under fire from a surprising source: a coalition of veterans’ medical groups known as Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA).
In a letter to members of the House of Representatives, FOVA stated that, “we believe the policy included in the appropriations bill (PUPPERS Amendment) will impede scientific research and unnecessarily delay research advances for our nation’s veterans.”
It is surprising is that FOVA is opposing a reallocation of resources that can be used for 21st century medical advancement instead of relying on methods pioneered in the 1950s. In its letter, FOVA indicates that it “strongly supports efforts to reduce unnecessary use of animals in all scientific research.” It even cites the fact that dogs comprise only 0.05% of all research. So why is FOVA opposing an effort to end this minimally impactful and minimally effective research? Because it “impedes progress.”
But how can this research be considered in any way “progress?” The reliance on animal models, especially dogs as a model for human disease, is about as archaic as science can get. The argument against using dogs as models for humans in research is quite compelling. Not only do the vast majority of drugs that pass preclinical animal tests, including those in dogs, fail in people, these kinds of tests waste a great deal of time and money, as it takes over 13 years and $1 billion to develop a new drug. Are these preclinical animal tests really “necessary” if they don’t work?
Moreover, are dogs scientifically suitable for this purpose? Scientific data suggests that they are not. Current statistics indicate that over 90% of drugs that pass through preclinical testing—including tests on dogs—ultimately fail in human clinical trials, often due to toxicities not predicted in the preclinical tests. And when looking at the contribution of data obtained from dogs specifically, it has been shown that “92% of dog toxicity studies did not provide relevant information in addition to that provided by the rat.”
Dogs (and other animals) did not evolve to be models of humans. As a result, there are important differences between us—differences that are directly related to the kinds of laboratory tests for which dogs are commonly used. For example, there are differences between dogs and humans related to the enzymes in our bodies that are directly involved in drug metabolism, as well as in the way we absorb drugs. This may help explain why dogs are poor predictors of drug effects in the human body.
Several recent studies have looked at the effects of more than 3,000 drugs on humans, dogs and other animals, including nonhuman primates and rodents, and concluded that “tests in one species are not reliably and consistently able to provide significant evidential weight with regard to toxicity or lack of toxicity for any other species.”
Aside from the question of scientific merit, the conditions under which dogs—and many other laboratory animals—are kept result in a great deal of stress. Dogs exhibiting signs of short term stress may shake, crouch, display signs of restlessness or oral behaviors (tongue out, licking muzzle, swallowing). Dogs displaying signs of long term or chronic stress may be vocal, exhibit repetitive behaviors, have low posture, increased autogrooming and fecal eating. It has been noted that dogs often stop such behaviors when their handlers enter the room, resulting in a serious underestimation of the true mental and physical condition of dogs in laboratory settings.
Numerous studies have been conducted over the past few years that question the validity of tests conducted when the animal subjects are under stress. Stress results in abnormal hormonal levels, compromising the results of carefully designed research protocols.
While many veterans care for their dogs, and may even owe their lives to the work of dogs in the military, the inability of veteran groups—especially veteran medical groups—to expand their circle of compassion to include all dogs is inexplicable. A dog is not a piece of laboratory equipment and deserves serious consideration before he or she is subjected to any type of research protocol, especially a protocol that will cause pain or distress. The efficacy of continued research using an ill-suited model for human health issue is one of those issues that deserves such consideration.
So why does FOVA think that veterans deserve anything less than the best, most innovative and effective means of research available to aid in the treatment and recovery of injury and disease? That is the mystery behind their opposition to this bill. Why would FOVA want anything less than the best for the men and women it purportedly serves?
You can let your legislators know that YOU support the PUPPERS Act by sending a letter through the NAVS Advocacy Center.