Story highlights a painful choice for dog lovers

6:00 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017 Local

What do you say to people who subject helpless dogs to pain and death in the name of medical research? Do you say “stop it?” “Find another way?” “You’re horrible people?”

The question arises as a result a recent story in the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer about controversial animal testing practiced at Veterans Administration medical centers that “involve inflicting significant pain and distress” on dogs.

In a Richmond, Va., facility, the story reported, heart attacks are being induced in puppies. In a Cleveland VA center, 30 dogs were purchased in a year at a cost of $38,000. Twenty-seven of them wound up being killed in the experiments.

“They are wasting money on torturing dogs in experiments that are not helping anybody and are resisting being transparent about what they’re doing, why and what it costs,” declared an official of an organization that is urging Congress to defund the research on dogs; a bipartisan group in Congress supports the effort.

As a lover of virtually any dog that isn’t sinking its teeth into my leg, stories like that horrify me. I can’t even bear to watch those public service announcements that show sad-eyed puppies in cages that will have to be euthanized if they aren’t adopted. I actually had trouble getting past the first few paragraphs of that story when it appeared last week in the Dayton Daily News.

But I forced myself to read the rest of it.

“Cleveland’s experiments on dogs examine ways to prevent potentially fatal lung infections in veterans living with spinal cord injuries, paralysis from stroke, or amytrophic sclerosis (ALS),” a spokeswoman for the Northeast Ohio VA Healthcare System declared. Because those veterans have a weak cough, they can develop severe respiratory complications, leading to disability and death. She said the research requires “study of living animals in which the spinal cord is similar in size to a human spinal cord” and that “This means species other than canines (cute little mice, for instance) will not do.”

I don’t know enough about medical research to know if there is, perhaps, another way. And I can only assume that the researchers who say there isn’t an alternative aren’t horrible people and would take it if there were. Until there is an option, though, I have to accept that the current research is the only hope for easing the suffering or saving the life of a grandfather who is a Vietnam vet. A father who fought in Iraq. A son or daughter coming home from Afghanistan.

And if funding is, indeed, discontinued, what do you say to them?