Bringing home 4,000 beagles

Bringing home 4,000 beagles
A beagle receives a bath after arriving at the AWLA. (Photo/Animal Welfare League of Alexandria)

By Kassidy McDonald

The Envigo breeding and research facility in Cumberland, Virginia has been found guilty of violating federal regulations during the past two years, forcing 4,000 beagles to be removed and rehomed.

According to an update from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ undercover investigation, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Norman K. Moon “permanently barred Envigo from any activity requiring [a federal Animal Welfare Act] license” at Envigo’s Cumberland facility, which includes experimenting on animals.

Federal authorities now have 60 days to remove the 4,000 dogs, give them to the Humane Society of the United States and find them new homes. Many Northern Virginia rescues are a part of the Humane Society’s network, and have received beagles from Envigo.

One such organization, the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, has saved the lives of many beagles from the Envigo breeding facility. Gina Hardter, the shelter’s director of marketing and communications, was one of the staff members from the shelter who drove to Envigo to pick up the dogs. The AWLA learned about the beagles from HSUS, and as soon as they received an email from them, responded by taking in as many of the dogs as possible.

“They’re not very far from here so it was a trip we could do over the course of a day,” Hardter said. “Me and a colleague actually drove down in our van, we had it full of crates ready to take the beagles back. … We were here and back within the course of probably eight hours.”

Hardter explained that HSUS did not have a lot of information about the beagles individually, thus leaving it to the shelter to figure out each individual beagle for themselves. The dogs lacked normal experiences and socialization; Hardter said they didn’t ever “learn how to dog.”

“We tried to figure out the next best steps for them, whether that would be foster, whether that would be adoption, whether that would be intensive behavior work in our shelter – we really wanted to gather that information first rather than make any assumptions and potentially set them up for not the best situation for them,” Hardter said.

The AWLA received a range of dogs, from puppies who were around three to four months old to two-year-olds.

They decided to make the younger puppies available for adoption fairly quickly because they had only lived short lives in Envigo and were happy and playful with each other and with staff at the shelter. The older ones were a little shyer because they had not experienced life outside the facility, Hardter said, but they were in better shape than staff expected. The shelter’s behavior manager worked with the adopters to make sure families understood just how little experience the older dogs had had in their couple years of living.

Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, located in Arlington, has also taken Envigo beagles to find them loving homes after their confinement in the Envigo facility. Lucky Dog is a volunteer-powered nonprofit that saves the lives of dogs and cats, primarily from kill-shelters every week, but also partners with the HSUS in emergency situations like hurricanes or other natural disasters.

Mirah Horowitz, executive director of Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, has helped save almost 30 beagles from Envigo. Horowitz and Lucky Dog got involved with the Envigo beagles when HSUS asked their network of shelters for help. Horowitz explained that she needed to act quickly when news broke of the beagles in need, as Lucky Dog relies on their volunteers to foster dogs because they don’t have a shelter or kennel, which adds a level of complexity to the situation.

According to Horowitz, she can’t just “walk down the hallway and be like ‘I’m going to save these 10 open kennels for the beagles.’”

“I have to be able to find foster homes for all of them. The reason that this was super tricky is because all that we know before we pick up the beagles is we will get 10 beagles and they will be older than eight weeks old,” Horowitz said. “We aren’t told male or female, we aren’t told their weight, we aren’t told their [exact] age, like nothing. And that’s because HSUS doesn’t know that. It’s up to Envigo to decide, ‘Okay these 10 are going to that rescue,’ they parcel them out.”

Once she heard about the dogs from HSUS, Horowitz sent an email to Lucky Dog’s network of volunteers that asked for their help housing the first 10 dogs, and then again when they went to go get the second group of 10 dogs. If the volunteers are interested in taking one of the dogs, they will only find out the age and sex of the dog three hours before it arrives.

On Lucky Dog’s assigned pick-up day, three volunteers drive to the Envigo facility to pick up the 10 dogs. The Envigo staff loads the dogs into crates in the volunteers’ vehicles, as outside organizations like Lucky Dog are not allowed to enter the Envigo facility. The paperwork is then handed over to volunteers who detail each animal’s tattoo number, their sex and medical records. Paperwork is then sent to Horowitz, who has to make foster assignments by the time the beagles arrive from Cumberland, which is around two- and-a-half hours later.

As of now, the rescue has been to the Envigo facility twice, each time getting 10 dogs. Lucky Dog will be pick-ing up another 10 soon, totalling 30 beagles that they will have saved from Envigo.

Once the beagles arrive at Lucky Dog, they are weighed and heartworm tested. Staff then photograph the dogs and put them on their website so adopters from Northern Virginia and beyond can see the beagles still available for adoption.

“After the first 10 came in, we actually had way more adoption applications than we had dogs, so we actually have a waitlist of people that specifically want an Envigo beagle,” Horowitz said. “The thing is that these beagles, they’re all amazingly sweet considering they’ve been living in a breeding facility.”

The community, between volunteers to foster and potential adopters, have come together to help find forever homes for these dogs, where they can be loved and cared for for the rest of their lives – something none of the 4,000 dogs in the facility have ever experienced.
“The first group of 10 is already adopted, [they] came in three weeks ago. The second group of 10 came in this week, and I’ve got only three available still,” Horowitz said.

Horowitz also said some of the beagles are more outgoing than others, but Bart, Flash and Zed – the three dogs still available for adoption as of Monday – need another dog in the home to help them adjust to life outside Envigo.

The AWLA is also happy to have found loving homes locally for Envigo beagles, Hardter said, and all of their beagles have been adopted. Because they had more interest than they did beagles, the shelter created an online survey and chose adopters to meet the dogs, which gave people a “more fair chance” to adopt one of the beagles.

“The community outpouring was so amazing, so many people wanted to give them so many chances,” Hardter said. “I would love if some of those people would maybe take a look at some of our other dogs. We have so many wonderful dogs from so many different kinds of backgrounds who could definitely benefit from a loving wonderful family, just like these beagles are going to have.”