When U.S. Department of Agriculture officials inspected a beagle breeding facility in Virginia last year, they found a female beagle whose paw had been trapped in shoddy flooring for so long that she was dehydrated, according to court documents. Employees at the facility told inspectors they did not know how long she had been stuck.
Another inspection found that nine injured beagles were euthanized instead of being provided with veterinary care. A later visit revealed that many of the 196 beagles who needed to be put down did not receive anesthesia before being euthanized via an injection to the heart muscle.
Several inspections of the Envigo breeding and research facility in Cumberland, Va., over the past two years found dozens of violations of federal regulations, leaving the beagles underfed, ill, injured and, in some cases, dead. On May 18, the U.S.D.A. inspector general and other law enforcement agencies executed a federal search warrant of the facility and seized 145 dogs and puppies determined by veterinarians to be in “acute distress.”
The next day, United States authorities filed a complaint in a federal court in the Western District of Virginia. Last week, a federal judge approved a plan to rescue about 4,000 beagles from the facility.
Now, federal authorities have about 60 days to move the beagles out of the facility and find new homes for them. The dogs are being placed in the care of the nonprofit Humane Society of the United States. If all goes well, the dogs could make it to new homes by late August, after they are spayed or neutered, vaccinated and treated for any health conditions.
Cassie Staubus signed up with the Beagle Freedom Project, a non-profit animal rescue, to foster some of these dogs once they’re released. She is willing to drive from Minnesota to Virginia to pick them up and help in the process of re-homing them. Ms. Staubus is already the owner of Stinky, a 6-year-old beagle, and two other dogs, so fostering is the best way for her to help since she already has a house full of pets, she said.
“It’s just a great feeling to save a life and give them a love that they have never known before,” she said.
After retiring from 42 years of teaching, Mary Hunter Gallalee of Virginia is ready to welcome two beagles to her 200-acre farm in Prospect, Va. They will join the three dogs she already has — Baby Girl, Dalila and Gypsy — and Ms. Gallalee has already applied to adopt and dedicate time to caring for the beagles, a breed she has owned before.
“They’re friendly, they’re happy, they enjoy life,” she said. “They love to cuddle, but then they say, ‘OK, I’m done,’ and they’ll go play around in the backyard out on the farm.”
Envigo, a research organization that was acquired last year by Inotiv and works with the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, said in a statement on Friday that it had agreed to the plan to transfer the dogs. The company says on its website that it breeds “healthy, well-socialized animals” that are sold for research, and it holds a license issued by the U.S.D.A. to breed and sell the dogs. The company said in June that the closure of the site in Cumberland would amount to less than 1 percent of Inotiv’s total revenue.
In facility inspections that began in July 2021, after Envigo acquired the site, federal officials have documented what they described as a lengthy history of mistreatment and endangerment to the beagles at the site, where the dogs often lived with a buildup of inches of feces and food waste, court documents show.
Envigo did not comment on the specific claims in the federal complaint. The company’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.
Records found that from Jan. 1, 2021, to July 22, 2021, the deaths of more than 300 beagle puppies at the facility were attributed to “unknown causes,” according to the complaint.
It was at an inspection of the facility in July 2021 that officials found the female beagle whose left paw had been trapped in the flooring. “She was standing on her other three feet while panting rapidly and making small movements, as the other three dogs in the kennel jumped around her excitedly,” the July inspection report read.
During that inspection, officials also found that one of the buildings at the site had no air conditioning for the dogs, other than one large fan and two exhaust fans, according to the inspection report. Temperatures inside the rooms that day were recorded in the high 80s and low 90s.
Reports of the violations prompted Representative Elaine Luria, a Democrat of Virginia, and six other members of Congress to send a letter in February to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the U.S.D.A., urging the agency to suspend Envigo’s license or confiscate the animals. The following month, Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, Democrats of Virginia, sent the agency another letter, calling for Envigo’s license to be suspended immediately in light of the “persistent and egregious violations” reported at its facility.
In March, 446 Envigo beagles were put in the care of foster homes and shelters in various U.S. states. Sue Bell, founder and executive director of the Virginia-based Homeward Trails Animal Rescue, helped with transporting this group of dogs, which she said was a lot at the time but only a fraction of the thousands to be released later this year.
One of the priorities in logistics, she said, would be to determine which dogs should be released first, such as puppies or pregnant and nursing dogs, as they can be socialized from a young age.
“I’m excited to tell the story of these dogs and what they’ve endured,” Ms. Bell said. “I really hope that the public will step up and we can see this as the beginning of a pretty pivotal change.”
State Senator Bill Stanley, a Republican, recently proposed legislation that would have limited the sale of companion animals — or pets, as opposed to working animals — for research in Virginia. It didn’t pass, and Sen. Stanley was subsequently invited to tour the Envigo facility, he said.
During two separate tours of the facility in August 2020 and November 2021, Mr. Stanley bought two dogs from Envigo (later named Daisy and Dixie) and said the conditions he saw were upsetting. A 2021 report from the animal rights group PETA also said that the conditions were inhumane.
Mr. Stanley, who has been called Senator Beagle by other legislators, said people interested in adopting one of the beagles can call his office to get on the list for when they arrive at shelters and rescue centers. The dogs are scheduled to be released starting Friday and are expected to all be in shelters, rescue centers or more permanent homes by September, he said.