Biden administration seeks to revive cat experiments curbed by Congress

By: - July 12, 2023 2:09 pm

This cat was described as a “friendly” and “playful.” The VA implanted electrodes into Copper’s bladder and forced him to urinate with a remote control, according to documents obtained by the White Coat Waste Project (Photo via WCW).

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough is asking Congress to approve his request to obtain seven cats for research at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, despite a change in federal law prohibiting the research.  

McDonough said in the letter the VA intends to implant an experimental device in the cats.  

“This research will study promising technology that could benefit Veteran stroke survivors, as well as those who have experienced a lower limb or hand amputation,” McDonough wrote in June 2022  to Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veteran Affairs and Related Agencies. 

The letter was obtained via a public records request by the White Coat Waste Project (WCW), an animal welfare organization working to eliminate government funding of painful research on cats, dogs, and non-human primates.  

No cats have been purchased for the experiments, according to WCW.

“Currently, no lab at the VA or other federal agency is abusing cats in painful experiments,” says WCW in a news release. Federal records confirm the federal government conducted no experiments on cats in 2022. 

Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, an opponent of federally-funded animal testing, wrote in an April 2023 letter to McDonough that the “decision appears to be at odds with Congressional intent, federal law, and the VA’s own animal research policy and agency efforts to eliminate the use of cats.”

“In your letter to Congress, you justified the study by writing that, ‘FDA requires that the [device] be tested in living animals before being further studied in human patients.’ However, as you are aware, federal law was recently amended to remove the FDA’s outdated, burdensome, and unnecessary animal testing requirements,” Titus wrote, referencing the Reduce Animal Testing Act.

“The painful cat tests Sec. McDonough is trying to ram through are wasteful, unnecessary and would violate federal law that restricts funding for VA cat tests because they are not legally required and because alternatives that don’t use cats, or animals at all, are available,” says Justin Goodman of WCW.

WCW has worked with Titus and lawmakers from both parties to defund the VA’s animal tests, “save for specific instances where the Secretary determines it is necessary and unavoidable and personally approves it in writing,” says Goodman.

The VA did not immediately respond to requests for the status of the effort to revive testing on cats.   

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.