BALTIMORE — Attorney Erica Suter recalled the disbelief in the voice of her high-profile client,…
Federal officials have accused a company that runs a Virginia facility that breeds dogs for research of violating animal welfare law and recently seized at least 145 beagles found in ‘acute distress’, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
The Envigo RMS facility in Cumberland County has come under intense scrutiny for months, sparking concern from animal rights groups, congressmen and lawmakers in Virginia, who passed this year animal welfare measures to enforce facility requirements and enhance state oversight.
Repeated federal inspections since Envigo acquired the facility in 2019 have resulted in dozens of violations, including findings that the dogs received inadequate medical care and insufficient food, were housed in filthy conditions, and some had were euthanized without first being anesthetized. Hundreds of dogs were also found dead at the facility, according to inspections.
“Despite being advised since July 2021 that conditions at its Cumberland facility are well below minimum standards (of the Animal Welfare Act), Envigo has not taken the necessary steps to ensure that all the beagles at his facility receive humane care and treatment and that the Cumberland facility operates in accordance with (law),” said the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
Court records do not mention a lawyer for Envigo. A spokesperson said the company was working on a statement and would have a response at some point on Friday.
According to the complaint, agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General and other law enforcement officials began executing a federal search warrant at the facility on Wednesday. When the lawsuit was filed Thursday, 145 dog and puppy vets found in acute distress had been sized, the lawsuit said.
The government is asking a judge to declare that Envigo has repeatedly violated animal protection law and to stop the company from breaking further.
“Envigo fails to meet minimum standards for the care and housing of beagles, resulting in unnecessary suffering and, at times, death of beagles at the Cumberland facility,” the complaint states.
According to the complaint, the facility has housed up to 5,000 beagles since July 2021. It alleged that the staff were “paltry” and that the attending veterinarian had failed to provide or supervise adequate care.
“Rather than spend money to meet minimum standards… Envigo employed a pittance of staff and chose to euthanize the beagles or let the beagles die of malnutrition, treatable and preventable conditions and injuries resulting from beagles being housed in overcrowded housing and unsanitary enclosures or enclosures containing incompatible animals,” the complaint states.
He cites a finding from a July 2021 inspection report which found that Envigo had euthanized dozens of beagles over the months rather than treating injuries caused when a body part such as an ear or tail was been pulled through a kennel wall by a nearby dog.
Regarding dogs found dead, the complaint alleges that animal care technicians without formal training are authorized to decide whether an autopsy should be performed.
Medical records reviewed during the July 2021 inspection indicated that for 173 puppies, Envigo staff could not identify a cause of death because the bodies had already begun to decompose.
The complaint noted that inspectors found unsanitary conditions, including an “extensive and widespread pest problem”, overcrowded enclosures and accumulations of feces, urine and other waste.
Envigo, which has a business mailing address in Indiana, was registered as Virginia LLC in 2019, according to the complaint. It acquired LabCorp’s Covance Research Products business, including the Cumberland facility, in June 2019.
The company has been working to make improvements to the site, including reducing the total number of dogs on site, increasing wages, increasing staff training and improving cleaning processes, according to a statement. a spokesperson provided The Associated Press earlier this year.
In March, U.S. Senators from Virginia Mark Warner and Tim Kaine called on federal inspectors to strip the facility of its license. And a month earlier, U.S. Representative Elaine Luria and six other representatives wrote to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, raising similar concerns about why Envigo’s license had not been suspended. .
PETA, the Norfolk-based animal rights group, conducted a months-long secret investigation into the facility in 2021 and filed a complaint with the US Department of Agriculture in October of that year, sparking inspections, Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch said Friday. The group has been sounding the alarm about the establishment for months.
Nachminovitch credited federal officials with “finally” taking “decisive action.”
“PETA sees suffering like this every time we open an operation like Envigo, and this must be the beginning of the end for this hideous beagle-breeding factory,” Nachminovitch said in a statement.