Group protests dog research at McGuire VA while national veterans group rallies behind it

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Protesters rallied outside McGuire VA Medical Center Wednesday night demanding the hospital stop using dogs in deadly medical research.

Meanwhile, a national veterans organization has come out in support of the animal experiments.

The group of protesters gathered in front of McGuire’s gates and held signs that read, “McGuire is killing dogs” and “Man’s best friend is not a specimen.” They’re fighting to stop the dog research at McGuire and they want to adopt these dogs.

“We have a list of people who already want to adopt these dogs,” protester Phillip Ramirez said. “We’re outraged.”

Ramirez founded the Guardians of Animal Welfare group after learning the VA was using dogs in medical research.

“It needs to stop today, in 2017, and we’re asking McGuire to turn these dogs over to us,” Ramirez explained.

The experiments at McGuire examine heart disease in humans. As part of the testing, the dogs undergo chest surgery, are implanted with pacemakers and run on treadmills.  At the end of the testing, the dogs — many of them puppies — are euthanized, according to research records.

“Euthanize is not the right word, that’s a mercy killing,” said Charles Todd Woodson, the District Volunteer Leader U.S. Humane Society. “This could be healthy animals that are exterminated.”

But some veterans groups disagree.

“The number one cause of death around the globe is heart disease and stroke,” says Sherman Gillums Junior, Executive Director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

He says the dog research could lead to medical breakthroughs that could advance the lives of veterans.

“Paraplegics are likely to die from heart disease more than any other cause,” he said. “Amputees are likely to incur some form of cardiovascular disease including diabetes.”

The Paralyzed Veterans of America is one of dozens of service and medical groups that recently fired off a letter to the House Committee on Appropriations, arguing that, “animal models play an essential role in advancing our understanding of human health and disease.”

The House recently voted unanimously to defund dog research at the VA.

“It happened by voice vote,” Gillums said. “No debate, no regard for what the stakeholders might feel about this.”

When 8News asked Gillums what he would say to those don’t want their tax dollars funding research that kills dogs, he told us, “let’s talk about the trade off and then we can have an honest discussion of where we go from there.”

Some opposed to the animal testing have suggested science has come a long way and computer simulation can be used in place of the dogs.

“I’d like to see the evidence that computer modeling is the only way forward,” Gillums said. “I would like to see some researchers, stakeholders and maybe animal rights folks all at the table; let’s talk all about it.”

Still, the protesters believe there are viable alternatives and they don’t plan to go away.

“We’re asking the public to please get involved, make telephone calls, help us stop this,” Ramirez said.

The Senate still needs to vote on that measure that would cut funding for research involving dogs at the VA.

Click here for 8News’ complete coverage of deadly VA dog experiments.

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