In Bill Hearing, Lily Tomlin, Physicians, Scientists Urge Legislators to Outlaw Painful, Taxpayer-Funded Dog Experiments in Michigan
Concerns About Deadly Studies at Wayne State Spurred Introduction of HB 4849
LANSING, MICH.—Wednesday morning, the Michigan House Agriculture Committee heard testimony from experts supporting House Bill 4849, which would outlaw painful dog experiments at public institutions in Michigan. They also received written testimony from acclaimed actress and comedian Lily Tomlin, who grew up in Detroit and attended Wayne State University. The bill was introduced by Rep. Matt Koleszar, D-Livonia, who was concerned about the heart failure studies conducted since 1991 on dogs at Wayne State University. During the hearing, a representative from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a national medical ethics group, detailed the organization’s findings from more than 10,000 pages of public records obtained from Wayne State. Joining him was a Michigan scientist, an Ann Arbor-based physician, a veterinarian who is an expert in pain, and representatives of animal advocacy groups.
Tomlin’s letter, which was shared with the committee, reads, in part, “This legislation reflects the values I have always seen in the compassionate people of Michigan. There can be no doubt that the public is opposed to the use of dogs in painful, taxpayer-funded experiments.”
HB 4849, which was recently amended, would prohibit a “public body” from using dogs “in a manner that causes pain or distress.” It follows recent efforts in other states to increase oversight of animal experiments. In 2022, Virginia signed into law five bills that regulate the use and sale of dogs and cats “for experimental purposes.” That same year, California passed a law that prohibits the use of dogs and cats in the testing of chemicals, toxic substances, and food additives. In 2023, a Pennsylvania legislator introduced a bill that would prohibit the use of public funds for painful experiments on dogs and cats.
Legal experts and animal advocates point out that the federal Animal Welfare Act does not prohibit painful experiments. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has failed to adequately enforce the law, a criticism repeatedly made by the agency’s own Office of the Inspector General. In addition, the USDA has come under fire in recent years for secretly handing over many laboratory inspections to a private industry trade group and failing to fine violators.
According to public records, Wayne State staff surgically open the chest cavities and sides of healthy dogs, implant medical devices and catheters in and around major arteries, and “tunnel” cables and wires under the animals’ skin and out through incisions between their shoulder blades. Many dogs die soon after the surgeries due to internal bleeding caused by implanted devices. Every dog who survives the initial surgeries will die during the experiment, in which a device triggers the animals’ hearts to beat at two to three times the normal rate while they run on treadmills. This is by design—Wayne State experimenters use each dog until his or her body gives out or a device breaks or malfunctions. Some dogs have been found dead in their cages.
“Michigan owes it to dogs and patients in need of treatments to prohibit painful, dead-end experiments like those at Wayne State,” said Ryan Merkley, director of research advocacy for the Physicians Committee. “We are grateful Rep. Koleszar is leading this effort, and we hope the Agriculture Committee will vote to advance the bill.”
Since 1991, the lead experimenter at Wayne State has received $17 million in public funds for the experiments and related projects. The experiments have been criticized by experts, including Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic, who conducts heart failure studies with human patients. In addition, population studies like the Framingham Heart Study, cell-based methods, and the use of diseased hearts from patients undergoing transplants are producing useful information. The Texas Heart Institute, which is dedicated solely to addressing cardiovascular disease, stopped using dogs in studies in 2015.
To see a copy of Tomlin’s written testimony or to interview Ryan Merkley, please contact Reina Pohl at 202-527-7326 or rpohl [at] pcrm.org (rpohl[at]pcrm[dot]org).
Reina Pohl, MPH
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.