Animal research continues at Cleveland VA Medical Center, reportedly on cats

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — Controversial animal testing remains in the spotlight at the Cleveland VA Medical Center, this time apparently on cats.

A recent billboard depicting a cat sitting on a toilet reading the newspaper in Cleveland caught the attention of FOX 8.

“The billboards basically tell the VA to cut the crap and stop wasting tax dollars on constipation experiments on cats,” said Justin Goodman of the White Coat Waste Project, a taxpayer watchdog advocacy group who paid for the billboard.

Goodman encouraged everyone who noticed the billboard to inquire about animal research at the Cleveland VA Medical Center.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Research and Development reports two types of cat research approved at the Cleveland VA.

Documents describe how it’s aimed at treating health issues related to the bladder and colon, including research involving electronic stimulation of the colon.

Kittens between the ages of six to 12 months were used in a series of procedures and surgeries called electrode implantation, spinal cord transection, a spinal cord injury and some cats ultimately died in a terminal procedure according to records from 2015.

“When I heard that Cleveland VA was continuing with animal testing and its research it is surprising,” said Sherman Gillums Jr. of AMVETS.

Gillums Jr. said he served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 12 years before a car accident resulted in paralysis. He is currently the Chief Advocacy officer for AMVETS, a national veterans organization.

“Our official stance has been through my work that unless the VA can provide more evidence that animal testing is both necessary and productive we oppose it,” said Gillums Jr.

 A VA spokesperson said, “The cat research in Cleveland is directed at finding better ways to manage and avoid potentially life-threatening complications that veterans who have sustained spinal cord injures otherwise face.”

The Cleveland VA Medical Center spokesperson said its supported animal research for decades and called it “absolutely necessary.”

FOX 8 reported on canine research at the facility last year. At the time, the goal of research was to help veterans with paralysis cough effectively reducing a potential deadly buildup of fluids in their body. A goal Vietnam veteran Bill Overton of Columbia Station supports.

“To sacrifice an animal, a cat, or a dog that might save a veterans life, I’m all for it,” he said. “If you can help veterans, can help these guys get through their life and give them a little more life, I’m all for it.”

The Cleveland Animal Protective League President and CEO Sharon Harvey continues to voice opposition to animal research at the facility.

“I was aware that about a year ago there were experiments going on with dogs, but was unaware they were also experimentation on cats,” she said. “I was surprised and quite frankly really disappointed.”

In June of 2019, a Cleveland VA spokesperson said they were conducting one active canine study although they were not performing experiments at the time and said “The VA will continue conducting canine research, as it is absolutely necessary to better treat life-threatening health conditions in our veterans.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Research and Development does not currently list the Cleveland Medical center among those with approval for dog research, meaning there is no canine research underway at the Cleveland facility.

“As the person on the front line of advocacy I’m not there to stop the research, I’m asking the VA to justify the research,” said Gillums Jr.

Canine research at VA hospitals is the focus of a report called the Necessity, Use and Care of Laboratory Dogs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs conducted at the VA’s request and released this year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The report concluded laboratory dog research is “scientifically necessary for only a few areas of current U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) biomedical research.”

It includes the “development and testing of implantable devices to stimulate respiration and cough in spinal cord injury.” The canine research the Cleveland VA conducted last year. The report is a review of VA canine research nationwide it is not a review of any one particular VA hospital.

The report also notes “Research protocol (ACORP) forms revealed deficiencies in the justification for using dogs instead of other species and for the number of dogs used … analysis also revealed instances where the investigators did not adequately explain the relevance of the study to veterans’ health.”

“Veterans are hurting for resources to protect them from COVID and other diseases, and the VA is flushing money down the toilet torturing animals and it’s got to stop,” said Goodman.

The report goes on to state “certain protocols would have benefited from consultation with veterinary specialists (cardiologists, anesthesiologists, and animal behaviorists) to address animal welfare issues stemming from the performance of multiple surgeries…”

“This country needs to do everything we can to help our veterans and to recognize their service and take care of them after service and yet I don’t think we need to necessarily use animals in research to serve that purpose,” Harvey said.

For those who served there’s a stark divide in opinion on what type of animal research is necessary at the Cleveland VA for the betterment of veterans. Gillums Jr. stated he once supported animal testing before learning more about the process.

“How are you, can you see value in an animal every day as a pet or companion animal that helps you overcome a disabled condition while fully understanding what this research entails,” said Gillums Jr.

“I don’t think there’s any comparison between a dog and a cat and a veteran,” said Overton who was recently diagnosed with heart disease.

A Cleveland VA Medical Center spokesperson said the White Coat Waste Project puts animal rights ahead of veteran’s health.

In a statement, the spokesperson said, “Attempts to ban VA animal research are rooted in emotion, ignoring the science. And if they succeed, Veterans will be deprived of the hope of a better future.”

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