After charming Dr. Jill Biden onstage at a 2020 Pennsylvania campaign event, Willow the cat has officially taken up residence in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., making her the first “first cat” in the White House in over a dozen years. We wish Willow a long and happy life with her new family and hope that President Joe Biden will give other cats the chance to find happiness, too — specifically, those trapped in government laboratories nationwide.
Back in 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture shut down the government’s largest cat-testing laboratory. The decision to bring the wasteful and cruel experiments to an end came shortly after our taxpayer watchdog organization, White Coat Waste Project (WCW), exposed that the USDA was performing experiments using cats and dogs with our tax dollars.
After the laboratory ceased its experiments, however, an administrative question arose: What to do with the remaining cats? Already facing a whirlwind of negative press due to WCW’s exposé and Capitol Hill campaign, USDA officials knew taxpayers and Congress would be outraged if it euthanized the surviving cats — its normal practice — so they had to come up with a plan quickly. WCW says they settled on selling the cats, for one dollar apiece, as “excess property” — no different than office chairs or staplers, rather than partnering with a rescue or shelter to properly rehome the survivors.
Other federal entities have done better. In 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs enacted a formal lab animal-retirement policy, citing an “ethical obligation” to rehome lab survivors following our “Give Them Back” effort. Since then, the Pentagon, National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration have followed suit — and dozens of cats, dogs and other animals have been successfully retired from taxpayer-funded labs as a result.
Still, other federal agencies that experiment on cats and other animals are behind the curve. With Joe Biden’s leadership, that could change.
For years, WCW has supported a nationwide federal lab animal-retirement policy. The bipartisan and bicameral Animal Freedom from Testing, Experiments and Research (AFTER) Act, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., would create just that. The AFTER Act — popularly known as “Violet’s Law” after a coonhound rescued by WCW from a taxpayer-funded lab — would require all federal agencies experimenting on animals to enact retirement policies, allowing lab survivors a second chance at life. It’s a policy with broad public support: A supermajority of Republicans and Democrats both agree that retirement and adoption of lab animals is preferable to execution. It’s hard to think of any other topic where there is so much bipartisan agreement.
The concept of Violet’s Law should be familiar to President Biden. Delaware passed lab animal-retirement laws back in 2018; Sen. Collins and Rep. Boyle’s bill would institute a similar policy across the federal government.
President Biden’s commitment to giving animals a better life has been durable and long-standing. From a farm in Pennsylvania to the Oval Office, Willow is one lucky cat. But she’s not lucky because she can bask in the sunlight of the West Wing — she’s lucky because she’s with a family who loves her. As the head of the executive branch, President Biden could require departments and agencies to develop retirement policies for lab animals with a stroke of a pen and give them to the taxpayers who paid for them. He should seize the opportunity to do so and give survivors of government labs a second chance to live, love and thrive.
Devin Murphy is the public policy and communications manager for the White Coat Waste Project.