“I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person.” Those words, ostensibly attributed to comedian Bill Murray, may never have been truer in my life than right now. I’m suspicious of researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs, an organization tasked with caring for me as a combat-disabled veteran, who view dogs merely as disposable furry test tubes, not loyal companions. This is hard for me to understand, because I worked alongside life-saving bomb-sniffing dogs in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I never doubt the loyalty of my dog Tucker, who constantly reminds me why the light inside me still burns brighter than any darkness I’ve withstood.
That’s why I am proud to join the majority of my fellow veterans and other Americans who support Congress’s bipartisan work to defund painful and inefficient dog experiments at the VA. This legislation is truly a light among the gloomy partisan clouds surrounding D.C. these days.
With all of D.C.’s political gridlock, my dear friend and fellow double amputee and bomb technician Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., and other House members deserve applause for unanimously passing legislation this summer to prohibit taxpayer funding for questionable VA research that causes dogs significant pain and distress.
They’ve also introduced a bill, the PUPPERS Act, to prohibit federal funding for these experiments permanently. As a Georgian, I’m urging my Senator, Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, to also get behind this effort in the Senate.
To be absolutely clear—I am not opposed to all animal research. Congress isn’t either.
We’re just trying to prevent Americans from being forced to pay for the worst, needless dog abuses in VA laboratories, like injecting latex into the arteries of five-month-old hound puppies to induce heart attacks, and cutting up nine-month-old hounds. Some of the research involves causing dogs excruciating pain without any relief. The VA is apparently the only federal agency doing this category of extreme tests on dogs. The PUPPERS Act doesn’t apply to any other species, doesn’t affect non-painful dog research and has an exemption for anything related to training service dogs and working dogs.
Contrary to the misleading claims of the VA and some veterans groups, ending the use of dogs in painful experiments at the VA won’t stop life-saving research. Since the 1980s the Pentagon has banned the use of dogs for live tissue training, a course used to teach Marines and other soldiers how to treat traumatic injuries on the battlefield. This restriction didn’t halt the important program—pigs are still used alongside tools like high-tech simulators. This goes to show that we can provide special considerations for dogs and continue to save lives.
From a scientific and resource standpoint, experts report that the best way for VA to help veterans is not by spending Americans’ money torturing dogs. As one retired Naval Medical Corps Rear Admiral writes, dog testing is “slow, expensive and very rarely applies to humans” which “translates into billions of wasted tax dollars each year.” Spinal cord injury—one of the flags VA is waving to defend its dog abuse—is one of countless areas where decades of dog testing has failed to produce an effective treatment or cure.
It’s especially shameful that VA is defending spending millions of tax dollars to buy and cut up dogs for its dubious research but refuses to provide service dogs to support veterans suffering from the devastating effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and who are committing suicide at alarming rates.
Much of the work I did while deployed was performed with the assistance of bomb-sniffing dogs. The true effect of these dogs when fully integrated into combat units is hard to describe. Yes, they are there to work, but they also serve a greater purpose – to remind us of the innocence we’re fighting for while enduring the harshest throes of chaos.
Despite the pain and suffering I endured while serving my country, I strongly believe that we, as a free nation, stand for lessening the pain and suffering felt in the world. This especially applies to dogs. No other species will put its talents to work protecting us for nothing more than a chance to lay beside us. We, in turn have a duty to dogs, as they have proven time and time again the phrase “man’s best friend” is true in every sense. We cannot sustain a society that answers their selfless love with selfish torture.
Some at the VA and veterans’ groups that want taxpayers to keep paying for abusive and unnecessary dog research have asked the public to look at things from the perspective of a disabled veteran. So here it is: As a combat wounded Marine who’s given both legs for an idea of security and a pursuit of happiness – and as a human being who’s experienced the horrific suffering of war — I believe our government can and should do better for veterans, taxpayers and dogs.
Johnny “Joey” Jones is a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a bomb technician and lost both of his legs during his final deployment. Since his medical retirement from the Marines, Jones has piloted a fellowship at the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, finished his BA at Georgetown University.