In a scandal that will surely make Mitt Romney—who famously strapped his family dog atop the roof of his car for a road trip—look like a PETA activist, a review of 75 studies published by Mehmet Oz between 1989 and 2010 reveals the Republican Senate candidate’s research killed over 300 dogs and inflicted significant suffering on them and the other animals used in experiments.
Oz, the New Jersey resident who’s currently running for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, was a “principal investigator” at the Columbia University Institute of Comparative Medicine labs for years and assumed “full scientific, administrative, and fiscal responsibility for the conduct” of his studies. Over the course of 75 studies published in academic journals reviewed by Jezebel, Oz’s team conducted experiments on at least 1,027 live animal subjects that included dogs, pigs, calves, rabbits, and small rodents. Thirty-four of these experiments resulted in the deaths of at least 329 dogs, while two of his experiments killed 31 pigs, and 38 experiments killed 661 rabbits and rodents.
In the early 2000s, testimony from a whistleblower and veterinarian named Catherine Dell’Orto about Oz’s research detailed extensive suffering inflicted on his team’s canine test subjects, including multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which sets minimum standards of care for dogs, cats, primates, rabbits, and other animals in the possession of animal dealers and laboratories. The law specifically requires researchers and breeders to use pain-relieving drugs or euthanasia on the animals, and not use paralytics without anesthesia, or experiment multiple times on the same animal.
Dell’Orto testified that a dog experimented on by Oz’s team experienced lethargy, vomiting, paralysis, and kidney failure, but wasn’t euthanized for a full two days. She alleged other truly horrifying examples of gratuitously cruel treatment of dogs, including at least one dog who was kept alive for a month for continued experimentation despite her unstable, painful condition, despite how data from her continued experimentation was deemed unusable. According to Dell’Orto, one Oz-led study resulted in a litter of puppies being killed by intracardiac injection with syringes of expired drugs inserted in their hearts without any sedation. Upon being killed, the puppies were allegedly left in a garbage bag with living puppies who were their littermates. Dell’Orto’s allegations, made in 2003 and 2004, are detailed in letters from PETA to the university and USDA. In an interview with Billy Penn last month, she acknowledged PETA “is not a reliable source of information,” but said the organization’s letters honestly reflected what she told the organization and provided documentation for.
In May 2004, Columbia University was ordered by the USDA to pay a $2,000 penalty for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. The fine paid by Columbia was the result of a settlement between the university and the USDA, based on the findings of Columbia’s internal investigation of Oz’s research. The USDA accepted these findings, but according to Dell’Orto, the review was faulty, and “had investigators on the committee that were also complicit in this type of poorly designed, cruel animal experimentation.” Dell’Orto also noted that while Oz wasn’t the one who euthanized the dogs and puppies himself, “When your name is on the experiment, and the way the experiment is designed inflicts such cruelty to these animals, by design, there’s a problem.”
Months after paying the $2,000 fine, in December 2004, Columbia defended Oz amid the animal abuse allegations, calling him “a highly respected researcher and clinician” who adhered “to the highest standards of animal care,” but neglected to deny any of the specific allegations Dell’Orto had made against Oz. On Monday, Jezebel reached out to Columbia’s office of communications and public affairs as well as Oz’s Senate campaign. Columbia declined to comment, and Oz’s campaign has yet to respond. Notably, in April this year, the Daily Beast reported that the university had seemingly cut all ties with Oz, stripping his personal pages from the medical center’s website. Oz formerly held senior positions including vice chair of surgery and director of integrated medicine at the medical center.
Oz is currently running against Pennsylvania’s Democratic lieutenant governor John Fetterman. Owing to a number of bizarre gaffes on the campaign trail, including a comically out-of-touch campaign video of Oz calling vegetables “crudités” and the resurfacing of his history of creepy comments toward women, Oz has been trailing Fetterman for much of the race. But after a slew of obsessive, anti-Fetterman Fox News segments, and key police endorsements of Oz, the latest polling shows the race tightening.
In an interview with Jezebel last month, Fetterman’s wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, referenced long-running animal abuse allegations against Oz in a warning to voters. “I think if you look at a profile of someone who makes misogynistic comments, who abuses animals, who does all these things, you’re getting a picture of someone who’s a pretty dangerous person,” Gisele said. “That’s certainly not someone I would want making decisions on my rights or any other women’s and folks’ rights in the state, deciding whether doctors go to jail for performing life-saving services.”
Dog abuse allegations against Oz are a drop in the candidate’s proverbial bucket of scandals at this point—but given the all-American tradition of loving dogs more than humans, it might be hard to brush this one under the rug.