CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- With her strong demeanor and glistening brown coat, Griffin practically demands the attention of anyone passing by.
"Look at that, she's so photogenic," Griffin's mom, Rory Riley said as the camera shutter released. "She knows there may be a treat in it for her."
As a social media sensation, Griffin and her sister Boston are accustomed to being in the public eye. The Doberman's Instagram, Dobie Sisters, has over 17,000 followers. The account is home to an array of photographs of the pups, but was also a key reason behind an influential bill's kickoff in possibly saving the lives of thousands of dogs.
"The organization is the White Coat Waste Project. They are a government watch dog group that is seeking to stop tax payer funded experiments on animals," Riley said. "They actually found me on social media."
Rory Riley is a Charlotte based political activist and lawyer who was hired by White Coat Waste Project to lobby for The Puppers Act, a bill designed to put an end to the Veterans Affairs medical testing on animals.
"White Coat Waste Project had submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to get detailed information about these experiments and what they found was really horrifying," Riley said. "They were drilling into puppies' skulls, they were performing heart attack experiments."
According to Riley, the VA is stepping outside of their core mission of focusing on initiatives that directly impact veterans in order to conduct research on broad areas like narcolepsy and heart attacks, which are being medically tested on dogs, including Dobermans.
"Even though they have been doing this research for a long time, this is in no way the type of research they should be doing," Riley said.
As the former staff director of the House of Veterans Affairs Committee and proud mother to two rescued Dobermans, Riley seemed like the perfect representative and lobbyist for The Puppers Act. Little did she know, Griffin would actually end up making the most impact.
White Coat Waste Project and Riley came up with the idea of Griffin being a spokesperson for The Puppers Act.
"So, we planned a trip to D.C. where Griffin was our assistant lobbyist just to show people that this is a Doberman, they're great, they're loving animals," Riley said. "Why would you do experiments on them?"
The four-legged lobbyist was quick to make an impression on U.S. lawmakers.
"When we're presenting information to the congressional offices about the fact that Los Angeles was purposefully breeding a colony of disabled Dobermans to do these experiments on and then there's a Doberman sitting in front of you, it certainly... I want to say humanizes but more 'doganizes' it," Riley said.
Riley also says the Puppers Act is unique in its ability to bring together lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
"The reaction was really touching to see," Riley said. "Politics nowadays are so divisive and this was [a bill] both democrats and republicans alike were excited to be apart of."
The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to stand by their methods of research, saying the VA's animal research program has saved lives of veterans in the past and will save lives in the future. The Department of Veterans Affairs provided NBC Charlotte with the following statement from their Chief Veterinary Medical Officer, Dr. Michael Fallon.
“VA’s animal research program has saved lives in the past and will save lives in the future. It’s important for people to recognize that canine research is essential to developing crucial medical advancements to help Veterans and non-Veterans alike. VA’s research and innovations have resulted in products that are both life-changing and lifesaving, such as development of the cardiac pacemaker, the first liver transplant, the nicotine patch, the discovery of insulin, and most recently the first FDA approved artificial pancreas.
“It is important to note that almost 100 percent of the animals involved in VA research are mice or rats. Studies involving larger animals such as canines are rare exceptions; canines accounted for fewer than 0.05 percent of animals used in VA research in 2016. Those protocols that do involve larger animals are undertaken only when studies of rodents cannot provide the information that is needed—for example, studies of medical devices that are sized for humans, studies of disorders that do not occur in rodents, or studies when the physiology of the dog is much more similar to human physiology (such as in heart studies).
“At VA, we have a duty to do everything in our power to develop new treatments to help restore some of what Veterans have lost on the battlefield. One of the most effective ways for VA to discover new treatments for diseases that affect Veterans and non-Veterans alike is the continuation of responsible animal research. VA’s animal research program sets the standard for accountability and transparency both inside and outside the government. We take seriously any reports of not adhering to our strict standards of responsible research, and we immediately review and correct processes when any issues arise. Risk is inherent in cutting-edge research programs of this type, but we welcome scrutiny of our program.”
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