Warning: This story contains graphic details regarding harm to an animal. Reader discretion is strongly advised. –Ed.
STATEWIDE — Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-Va.) are calling for immediate action following the March inspection of a dog breeding and research facility in Cumberland (Va.).
Envigo, an Indiana-based supplier of animals, has come under scrutiny in recent months following a July 2021 report from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which exposed many egregious violations regarding the conditions the dogs were living in and the dogs’ treatment at the facility. Envigo is noted as breeding beagles at the facility for sale, which include to laboratories around the world to be used for experimentation.
PETA’s investigation revealed that fifteen dogs were denied treatment for what the advocacy group described as “severe dental disease.” Dogs were also found to have wounds, yellow discharge emanating from their eyes, female dogs that were nursing being denied food for days, a puppy that was found was covered in feces, and much more.
In January 2022, the Virginia Coalition for Beagle Protection noted that the Cumberland County facility has been operating with little government oversight since 1961. It also stated that only 25 people were employed at the facility; not all of which were working in the capacity of animal husbandry. At any given time, the facility could have up to 5,000 dogs on premises. The Coalition noted that 300 puppies died from what is only characterized as “unknown causes.”
Following PETA’s report, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiated a multi-day inspection of the facility. Following this, Envigo was cited for thirteen violations and eleven that were repeat violations. In total, the USDA cited Envigo for 26 violations.
Following a subsequent October 2021 inspection, there were two new inspection reports were released, dated November 2021 and March 2022, which detail several more violations. A joint release on behalf of Senators Warner and Kaine stated that Envigo’s facility performed “unnecessary painful medical procedures on dogs and puppies.” Medical records showed that 196 dogs were euthanized at the facility, many of which were not provided anesthetic (in contradiction with a recommendation from the American Veterinary Medical Association).
The March 2022 report prepared by USDA Veterinary Medical Officer Rachel Perez-Baum also details repeat violations of the dogs’ housing facilities. She described the enclosures as comprised of stainless steel or chain-link walls with a “‘tender-foot’-like flooring that is suspended above a waste gutter using long metal rods to provide support.” The report described the flooring of 130 of these enclosures as having gaps of up to two inches along the front or sides of the enclosure, which are large enough for a dog’s foot or leg to pass through. The report also states that several enclosures exhibited sharp points and edges caused by rusted metal “to the point of disintegration.”
According to the report, there several repeat violations regarding incompatible grouping of adult dogs; 59 of which sustained injuries attributed to fighting between Nov. 18, 2021 and March 8, 2022. The injuries documented included lacerations, bite wounds, bruises, damaged extremities, as well as ear and tail damage. Eight of these dogs were euthanized and 38 were treated for wounds only documented as “of an unknown cause.”
Dr. Rachel Perez-Baum describes mold as a continued problem in one of the buildings, with some of the female dogs that were nursing having access to only moldy food located at the front of a feeder tray. Additionally, the facility’s self-feeders were not being adequately cleaned in order to prevent accumulation of debris and dirt. The feeders were described as having “grime” consisting of hair, saliva, food particles, and skin oils.
In total, Envigo was cited for more than 70 animal welfare violations for conditions at the facility over the course of the inspections conducted in July, October, and November 2021 as well as the March 2022 inspection.
Following the release of the reports, both Sens. Warner and Kaine demanded immediate and aggressive action by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), writing a letter to the Service’s Administrator Kevin Shea.
“It is clear to us that Envigo has been derelict in its duty to provide for the humane care of its dogs, and is unable to abide by the basic standards set forth by the Animal Welfare Act,” wrote Sens. Warner and Kaine. “The role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in ensuring humane treatment of animals extends beyond routine and focused inspections. Congress has provided USDA with broad authority to apply penalties to violators of the Animal Welfare Act. To our knowledge, APHIS has not yet exercised such authority despite Envigo’s repeated failures in providing adequate care to the 5,000 dogs entrusted to its care.”
The letter also states that APHIS could suspend Envigo’s license for up to 21 days or take action to outright revoke the facility’s license all together. Additionally, APHIS could request formal administrative action by the USDA and seek civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).
The Senators also expressed concern regarding the delay in publishing the July, October, and November reports, with the average turn around time being 113 days. They wrote, “[It] strikes us as unacceptable that the public and elected officials were not privy to the horrific violations of the AWA until months after the inspections while animals suffered in the interim.”
The letter also inquires as to whether or not APHIS plans to take any enforcement actions against Envigo and if inspectors will return to the facility to conduct a fifth inspection.
Sens. Warner and Kaine have given APHIS until April 20 to answer their requests.
Recently, Virginia State Senators Bill Stanley (R-20) and Jennifer Boysko (D-33) championed a series of bills in the General Assembly designed to protect animals, like those bred at the Envigo facility.
“Being a ‘dad’ to two wonderful beagles I personally rescued from Envigo, I know firsthand how loving, social and deserving of protection these dogs are,” said Sen. Stanley. “It is time for Virginia to pass meaningful legislation to safeguard the welfare of these wonderful dogs so that Envigo’s obligations and accountability mirror existing laws that already apply to all Virginians, businesses, and non-profit organizations.”
In March 2022, Virginia lawmakers overwhelmingly passed regulations for facilities like Envigo. In a statement following the passage, Sens. Stanley and Boysko wrote, “Virginia has been responsible for ignoring this mess for a long time, and we are not going to leave that stain on the [Commonwealth].”
Sens. Warner and Kaine have been advocates for the welfare of animals, including cosponsoring the Puppy Protection Act; amending the to require additional care and safety standards for breeders like Envigo. This new federal bill would require “house dogs” to be kept in appropriately-sized enclosures that would have a solid ground beneath them and that these dogs would be kept on a regular diet as well as an exercise routine.
To read the entirety of the letter from Sens. Warner and Kaine to APHIS Administrator Shea, please click here.