WASHINGTON — It’s not just curiosity killing the cat anymore — it could be the Army.
The Army Medical Research and Development Command has quietly allowed shooting cats and dogs for wound experiments despite a 1983 Defense Department ban on the practice, according to a policy update obtained by The Post.
While the change was made as early as 2020, it’s being publicized for the first time after the Army command turned aside a bid by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to find out how many such experiments had been conducted since the switch.
“This new policy wasn’t highlighted or publicly announced in great fanfare,” said PETA vice president Shalin Gala. “They most likely would not want the PR nightmare that would ensue should this information be released.”
In addition to house pets, the policy tweak allows the Army to use military weapons on “nonhuman primates and marine mammals” — like chimpanzees and dolphins — for research purposes with approval from the service’s animal care and use review office. The military also has been known to injure and use live pigs to train both the rank-and-file and medical personnel on treating battlefield wounds.
The Army command confirmed to PETA that at least one such test had been conducted — though the service added that details could not be released, according to a letter to the animal rights group that was shared with The Post.
“Taxpayers deserve to know what the US Army is hiding by refusing to release details of its horrific weapon-wounding experiments on animals,” Gala said.
The Defense Department banned the practice on dogs and cats in 1983 after a whistleblower told PETA of a secret Pentagon plan to purchase dozens of dogs from animal shelters and shoot them with military weapons on a Bethesda, Md., firing range so scientists could study the effects, Gala said.
“For decades, the Department of Defense had conducted wound labs using conscious or semi-conscious dogs and other animals and they were being suspended from slings and shot with high-powered weapons to inflict different types of injuries,” he explained.
PETA protested the practice, prompting a public outcry that led the Pentagon to prohibit such studies. Now the animal rights group is at it again, sending a formal letter Thursday to ask Army Secretary Christine Wormuth to ban wounding the animals for research, Gala said.
Lori Salvatore, a spokeswoman for the Army medical research command, called the policy update a “minor wording” change to “clarify training vs. research” uses in accordance with a March 2019 Pentagon instruction stating that such animals could not be used in military training exercises.
“The administrative revision … [clarifies] that wounding of dogs, cats, primates and marine mammals using a weapon is prohibited for training but may be permissible for [research, development, testing and evaluation] following ACURO approval,” the policy update states.
While the Pentagon document Salvatore referenced allows the use of dogs, cats, primates and marine mammals in military research, it does not explicitly state they may be wounded with weapons during experiments, unlike the Army policy.
In July, the Army denied PETA’s public records request for all documents involving the use of weapons on animals for “medical research, development, testing or evaluation,” according to a letter shared with The Post.
Military officials initially told PETA there were 2,000 pages of records that would apply to the request, but later backtracked and said just one report of an experiment would fit the bill — though it could not be released, Gala said.
The military cited an executive order exempting documents that would threaten “national security or foreign policy” from being released under freedom-of-information laws, but Gala suspects there are other reasons for the service’s secrecy.
“The assumption is that the damage that’s been caused to these animals is likely very significant,” Gala said. “We haven’t really encountered that logic before, and that raised quite a few levels of concern for us that they must be testing some sort of secret weapon.”
Weapons projects could rightly be considered confidential, but Gala said the studies could also examine how the body heals from wounds. Those experiments are controversial, as studies have shown that animals heal differently than humans and non-animal studies produce better results, according to the National Medical Association.
“Animal tests are still used to study … human disease areas despite very poor translatability or applicability to human health, which hinders medical progress and wastes limited resources,” the NMA said in an April statement.
Regardless of what sort of study is being conducted, much of what PETA requested in the documents should be releasable, Gala said.
“We’re asking for things like: How many animals are used? Which species of animals are used? How are they caged? What pain level are the animals in? Were they given anesthesia? Were they killed?” Gala said. “None of that should be classified — that’s just basic information.”
If PETA’s appeal to Wormuth doesn’t work, Gala said, the group would take the Army to court.
“It’s incumbent upon the Army to be upfront and forthright with the public, especially on such an issue as this where they’re directly wounding dogs, cats, mammals or primates in these experiments,” he said, “and it’s completely unacceptable.”