October 29, 2021

If you’ve seen media reports or social media postings about beagle puppies and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, you might be wondering what’s going on.

Recent blog posts from a conservative watchdog group interested in animal research spending have prompted a wave of criticism aimed at the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, with lawmakers writing him over allegations that his government agency funded research that put beagles through cruel experiments.

The group, the White Coat Waste Project, founded in 2013 by former Republican strategist Anthony Bellotti, has released three blog posts in recent months. The reports are based largely on public records and documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Collectively, the posts accuse the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci directs, of allocating money for various studies that exposed beagles to harsh treatment, including sand fly bites, devocalization and euthanasia.

“Fauci wasted $1M+ to poison beagle puppies, cut out vocal cords,” read the headline on the group’s most recent report, posted Oct. 5.

Concern over the treatment of beagles in the studies has sparked blowback against Fauci from social media usersanimal rights groups like PETA, and those who have been skeptical of Fauci since his support of mask wearing and other pandemic safety precautions.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tweeted that Fauci and the NIAID were “torturing puppies.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called it “disgusting” and is emailing supporters a “stand up to Fauci” petition. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., said that “we should have de-barked Fauci.” Donald Trump Jr. started advertising merchandise calling Fauci a “puppy killer.” And in a bipartisan letter led by Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., several lawmakers expressed “grave concerns about reports of costly, cruel and unnecessary taxpayer-funded experiments on dogs commissioned by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.”

But amid the backlash, there’s been some confusion about the studies covered by the White Coat Waste Project’s allegations. Some reports and social media postings have jumbled details and conflated the different studies. Others have accused Fauci, who has not yet spoken publicly on the matter, of personal involvement.

The White Coat Waste Project told PolitiFact that it does not know if Fauci personally ordered the studies, but that “it is 100% confirmed that Fauci’s NIH division funded” them. The NIAID, however, said one project — out of which came the widely circulated, graphic photo of beagles with their heads in mesh cages — was wrongly listed as receiving funding from the agency.

“All animals used in NIH-funded research are protected by laws, regulations, and policies to ensure the smallest possible number of subjects and the greatest commitment to their welfare,” the agency said, adding that institutions that receive funds in the U.S. and abroad for animal research must abide by various rules and regulations.

PolitiFact looked at all three blog posts the White Coat Waste Project published between July and October claiming that Fauci’s division of the NIH, the NIAID, provided money to studies that ran tests on beagles, a popular small-to-mid-sized hound breed.

Tunisia study

This photo is from a study in Tunisia, published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, that erroneously listed the National Institutes of Health as a source of its funding. The journal has published a correction.

What the White Coat Waste Project claimed: 

The group alleged that the NIAID approved an over $375,000 grant to a study in Tunisia that “drug(ged) beagles and lock(ed) their heads in mesh cages filled with hundreds of infected sand flies,” put them “alone in cages in the desert overnight for nine consecutive nights to use them as bait to attract infectious sand flies,” and published photos of both experiments.

What PolitiFact found: 

The NIAID rejected the White Coat Waste Project’s claim that the agency provided money to the study in Tunisia that produced the widely circulated photo of beagles’ heads in mesh cages.

“The manuscript mistakenly cited support from NIAID, when in fact NIAID did not support this specific research shown in the images of the beagles being circulated,” the agency said.

The journal that published the study, PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, confirmed its mistake to MedPage Today. It also posted a correction online, writing that the NIH “did not provide any funding for this research and any such claim was made in error.”

The NIAID said corrections will also be made to a database of NIH-funded research, which appeared to link the agency to the study and which the White Coat Waste Project cited.

Through July 2021, the NIAID did fund a separate project in Tunisia to test a potential vaccine for leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease transmitted to sand flies, the agency said. But the study involved immunizing 12 dogs and letting them roam around in an enclosed open space set up to mimic natural settings. The dogs were not sedated, trapped in cages, or fed to the flies.

University of Georgia study

What the White Coat Waste Project claimed: 

The group alleged that the NIAID approved more than $424,000 for a University of Georgia study “in which healthy beagles are given an experimental drug and then intentionally infested with flies that carry a disease-causing parasite that affects humans.” The group said some dogs “vocalized in pain” during the trial, and that they would be euthanized after the study.

What PolitiFact found: 

This study was designed to test a potential vaccine for a parasitic disease called lymphatic filariasis, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists as the world’s second leading cause of permanent and long-term disability in humans, the NIAID said.

The NIAID told PolitiFact that dogs were the best model for testing the vaccine because they are a natural host for the mosquito-transmitted parasite, and because they respond to the infections in a similar way to humans. In addition to protecting humans from the disease, a successful vaccine could also prevent filarial infections in dogs, the agency said.

The study began in November 2020 and is set to run through January 2022, according to the documents the White Coat Waste Project shared with PolitiFact. PolitiFact asked the NIAID about the documents’ authenticity but did not hear back. They are redacted, but show 28 “healthy, adult beagle dogs” were used in the study, and that at certain points, dogs in one group “vocalized in pain.” At the end of the study, the dogs would be euthanized.

Lisa Moses, a veterinarian at Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics, told PolitiFact that such a practice is common at the end of research studies involving animals.

“Beagles are the standard dog model used in this type of research,” added University of Georgia spokesperson Greg Trevor, in a statement to PolitiFact. “Because this disease currently has no cure, unfortunately the animals that are part of this trial must be euthanized. We do not take lightly the decision to use such animals in some of our research.”

Trevor said the university has advanced several treatments over the years through the use of animal trials, including for cancers and infectious diseases like the Zika virus.

SRI International study

What the White Coat Waste Project claimed:

The group alleged that the NIAID “ordered cruel and unnecessary drug toxicity tests on dogs and other animals that cost taxpayers $1.68 million,” meaning Fauci “paid to poison puppies.” The group claimed 44 beagles between 6 and 8 months old were injected with “an experimental drug for weeks, and then killed and dissected,” with some having their vocal cords cut.

What PolitiFact found: 

This study involved a contract with SRI International, a nonprofit research institute. MedPage Today reported that “Fauci himself did not sign off on the research contract.”

SRI International did not respond to a request for comment. But the NIAID said the tests were to assess the pharmacology and toxicology of potential therapeutics targeting HIV/AIDS, which lines up with the Washington Post’s reporting about the purpose of the study.

Redacted documents, obtained by the White Coat Waste Project via FOIA requests and shared with PolitiFact, show that the experiments involved 44 beagle puppies that were euthanized and had their vocal cords cut, a procedure called a cordectomy. The documents, which also have not been verified by the NIAID, said that “every effort will be made to minimize, if not eliminate, pain and suffering in all animals in this study.”

The NIAID said the testing was conducted “as required in animal models by the FDA, in compliance with Good Laboratory Practice guidelines and in a facility accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care or its equivalent.”

“Vocal cordectomies, conducted humanely under anesthesia, may be used in research facilities where numerous dogs are present,” the agency added. “This is to reduce noise, which is not only stressful to the animals but can also … lead to hearing loss (in humans).”

The American Veterinary Association says that such devocalization “should not be used as an alternative to appropriate animal management and facility design” in laboratory settings.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for these fact checks here and more of their fact checks here.

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Bill McCarthy is a staff writer for PolitiFact and PunditFact. Previously, he worked as a reporter for PolitiFact North Carolina, and before that as an…
Bill McCarthy

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