- - Tuesday, May 22, 2018

I am a cat person. Nothing against dogs or dog people. I like dogs, too. Growing up, my family always had both. But no one falls equally into both categories; everyone has a preference. So if you were a dog person and I told you that your federal government was slaughtering perfectly healthy puppies for no other reason than they were done experimenting on them (which until recently was a common practice at the Department of Veterans Affairs), you’d likely be disgusted. Well, that very thing has been happening with kittens in Beltsville, Maryland, every year since 1982, and it needs to stop.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) breeds 100 kittens per year so they can be fed toxoplasma-infected raw meat, and scientists can collect parasites from their feces to use in experiments. The kittens, only 3 months old, are then killed and incinerated. Keep in mind, after the USDA has collected the parasites, the kittens are healthy and could easily be adopted out to the public. But that’s not how the USDA works.

This program has been receiving tax money since 1970 — currently $650,000 a year — and has been based in Maryland since 1982. It’s much closer to home than you realize.

A D.C.-based watchdog group called White Coat Waste Project (WCW) exposed this disgusting, inhumane practice. WCW reports on its website, “The USDA kills all of the kittens, even though it admits that virtually all of them are healthy after the experiments. Expert authorities — including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — agree that Toxoplasma-exposed cats are safe and adoptable because after just one Toxoplasma exposure, cats shed the parasite, become immune and won’t transmit to humans or other animals.”

Are you comfortable with your tax dollars paying for that?

For its part, the USDA told CNN that the killing of 100 kittens per year estimate is a “serious overestimation.” Yet, that figure comes from their own documents released through the Freedom of Information Act. USDA writes it plans to use “100 kittens” each year, and that “the number of cats proposed to be used is an estimate based on work in previous years.” Even if it were less than 100, how many perfectly healthy kittens being slaughtered because the government doesn’t want to be bothered to call a shelter to come pick them up is too many? I’d argue none, considering killing them and burning their bodies, presumably, takes more time than picking up the phone.

One congressman wants some answers. Rep. Mike Bishop, Michigan Republican, is asking questions. He wants to know why the USDA chooses cruelty over adoption.

In a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Mr. Bishop wrote, “Put simply, [the program] creates life to destroy life. While I support the objective of making food safer and protecting people and animals from infectious diseases, we must ensure taxpayer dollars are used effectively, efficiently and humanely.”

Mr. Bishop has also joined forces with Rep. Jimmy Panetta, California Democrat, to introduce the bipartisan Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now (Kitten) Act to cut funding for this cruelty and waste at the USDA.

But where are members of Maryland’s congressional delegation, especially Reps. Andy Harris, a Republican, Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, and Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who all serve on the committee that controls the USDA’s budget? It’s happening in our backyard, so where are our representatives and senators?

This is happening in Maryland, likely at the hands of Marylanders. And Maryland has a great network of animal shelters and rescuers that could easily handle adopting out these kittens. As someone who has adopted two cats from the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, I can attest to just how good their system is.

Since the VA recently ended the cruel practice of testing on dogs after disgusted outcry from citizens and lawmakers, it’s not too much to ask that the same concept be extended to cats in the USDA, is it?

This cruelty to defenseless kittens on our dime and in our name has to end, and it will end. The question is on which side of it will the elected leaders in Maryland fall. They regularly lecture on the morality of various policies — this one is unambiguous. So far, their silence on the heinous acts happening in their backyards and on their watch is deafening.

• Derek Hunter is Washington writer.

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