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Opinion Why is Anthony Fauci trying to kill my puppy?

Anthony S. Fauci speaks during a Senate hearing on July 20. (Pool/Reuters)

My family recently got a new puppy, a strong-willed and mouthy but ultimately lovable little nipper. We named him Bernie Sanders.

Unfortunately, though, I can’t take Bernie out on walks. Here in the capital, we have a puppy killer on the loose, a murderous psychopath known as Anthony S. Fauci.

“Dr. Anthony Fauci is facing calls from a bipartisan group of legislators to respond to allegations that his National Institutes of Health division provided a grant to a lab in Tunisia to torture and kill dozens of beagle puppies for twisted scientific experiments,” Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post reported Sunday afternoon.

“HORROR ‘EXPERIMENTS’: #ArrestFauci trending after doc ‘funded research that saw beagles eaten alive & stripped of vocal cords in testing’” Murdoch’s Sun reported.

“'Cruel' Fauci is condemned for … experiments which saw beagles ‘de-barked’ and trapped in cages so flies could eat them alive,” added Britain’s Daily Mail, mentioning “a Tunisian research lab where beagle puppies were force-fed a new drug.”

The monster! What next, Fauci? Setting kittens’ tails on fire? Pulling appendages off daddy longlegs while watching cock fights?

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Unlikely. As it turns out, the only thing being tortured here is the truth. The episode says more about the right-wing disinformation machine and its crusade against Fauci than it does about research funded by Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It turns out that this Tunisian study was erroneously attributed to NIAID. NIAID did, however, fund different research in Tunisia — and the beagles weren’t puppies, they weren’t euthanized, they weren’t “de-barked,” and they weren’t “trapped” so “flies could eat them alive.” The dogs were given an experimental vaccine and allowed to roam. There was a very good reason for this: Dogs are the main reservoir host (and flies the main vector) of the disease that was being studied, which affects half a million people a year, particularly children, and has a 6 percent mortality rate in Tunisia.

But right-wing news outlets, through stupidity or malice, conflated separate studies funded by NIAID, using documents provided by the White Coat Waste Project, a watchdog group with an anti-Fauci bent. Over the past couple of months, Gateway Pundit, National Review, Fox News, the Hill and others have picked up elements of this “story,” with varying degrees of accuracy, and lawmakers have written letters to Fauci based on the misinformation. NIAID received hundreds of threatening calls Monday from people inflamed by the misleading reports.

Had right-wing outlets checked with the NIH, they would know that in another study, which didn’t involve Tunisia and didn’t involve flies, NIAID-funded researchers did indeed perform cordectomies on 44 beagle puppies and euthanized them after the study. And here’s why: The Food and Drug Administration requires researchers to experiment on non-rodent mammals for certain classes of HIV-AIDS drugs, and for this study specifically recommended dogs. It is necessary to use young dogs (six to eight months) to assess whether the drugs retard growth. It is mandatory that the dogs be euthanized so researchers can search for damage to organ systems. And it is recommended by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care that the dogs undergo cordectomies to reduce anxiety (in dogs) and hearing loss (in humans) from barking. (Beagles are used because of their uniform size.)

Above all, this is no frivolous pursuit: The drugs under study are promising next-generation antiretrovirals that can be administered to HIV/AIDS patients less frequently — potentially saving countless human lives.

No doubt people can find some clunkers in the thousands of studies NIAID funds each year — it has 10,000 active projects — but what’s happening now is an endless game of gotcha by Fauci’s right-wing critics, who are bitter about his aggressive fight against covid-19 and his criticism of the Trump administration’s woeful handling of the pandemic. His foes file Freedom of Information Act requests and search for material that could embarrass him.

These foes are barking triumphantly because the NIH last week notified Congress that it had just learned that one of its grant recipients conducted a “limited experiment” with the Wuhan, China, lab testing whether bat coronaviruses could bind to human receptors in mice. It’s not of great consequence — the viruses were “very distant” from the one that causes covid-19, the NIH said — but it appears to contradict Fauci’s claim that no “gain of function” work was funded.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who regularly spars with Fauci, wants him to be prosecuted. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) tweeted Monday that “Anthony Fauci’s NIH funded the Wuhan lab that ‘did indeed enhance a bat coronavirus to become potentially more infectious to humans.’ And Fauci’s NIH was involved in torturing puppies. Remind me again how Fauci still has a job???”

Here’s how. Millions of people are alive today because of his work against AIDS, covid-19 and more. The anti-science forces of Trump, Murdoch, Paul and Cruz will continue to spew disinformation. But I’m grateful for Fauci — and so is my puppy.