Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Tuesday asked the Senate on Tuesday to remove language in a House-passed funding bill that would ban most medical testing on dogs at the VA.
"If this legislation passes the Senate, it would stop potential VA canine research-related medical advancements that offer seriously disabled veterans the hope of a better future," Shuklin wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.
The VA's website defends the medical testing done on dogs as a key part of the agency's research aimed at helping veterans. But Shulkin's op-ed is the first new response from the VA to a House vote in July to add language banning these tests to a bill funding the VA in 2018.
While most of the VA's testing is done on rats or mice, Shulkin mirrored other medical professionals who say some tests require the use of dogs because they have similar hearts.
"Canine research works because of the distinct physical and biological characteristics humans and dogs share that other species do not," he wrote. "This, together with dogs being similar in size to humans, is what made it possible for VA researchers to develop the implantable cardiac pacemaker, which millions of people today depend on."
He also rejected arguments from Republican and Democratic supporters of the House language that computer simulations can be used instead of dogs for the VA's research.
"While new technology, such as sophisticated computer models, has replaced animal research in some limited cases, we can't build accurate computer models until we have a thorough understanding of the actual biology and physiology in the first place," he wrote. "Much of this understanding is still only available through canine research since dog physiology in many cases resembles human physiology with respect to some medical conditions."
"The Senate should take a stand and preserve humane and carefully supervised canine research at VA," he concluded.
The Senate has yet to pass the House package of spending bills, but could in the coming weeks. Language banning most dog testing at the VA passed in an easy voice vote in the House, but opposition to it has grown since then.
The American Legion came out against the language this month, and Paralyzed Veterans of America also argued against it in August.