Lawmakers weigh beagle protection bills
Cumberland County is home to a large dog breeding facility that supplies research labs around the world. Each month about 500 puppies are born there, but the USDA – which regulates such facilities – says the owner, a company called Envigo, is in violation of federal animal welfare laws. Daphna Nachminovitch is with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“The USDA cited the facility for 300 puppy deaths that were marked as unknown cause, and there was no effort on the part of the facility to figure out why the puppy mortality rate was sky high," she says. "Our investigator who worked there for seven months found 360 dead puppies just on her shift alone.”
USDA found filthy conditions, a failure to properly feed and provide veterinary care, and PETA says many dogs were injured.
“Animals pulling each others’ ears and tails through cage walls and injuring each other," Nachminovitch recalls. "Nursing mother dogs were deprived of food intentionally for two days before their litters were separated from them, animals were deprived of veterinary care for eye infections, injuries, animals who died as a result of fights.”
One big problem, she said, was too few people assigned to care for the pups.
“Only 17 employees are tasked with direct animal care for 5,000 dogs.”
An executive with the Indiana-based company, Carmen Wilbourn, said the facility had so many dogs because the pandemic reduced demand from laboratories.
“They stopped ordering animals from us when they were trying to deal with COVID in their buildings, and at the same time we were having trouble maintaining staff and attracting staff through the pandemic," she told a House subcommittee. "We didn’t want to euthanize the dogs, so we did our best with the staff that we had.”
She conceded the company had fallen short but begged lawmakers not to block Envigo from selling animals.
“Legislation that would put the Cumberland facility out of business benefits no one – not the folks at our site, taking the high-paying jobs away from them, removing the economic engine and the tax base that Envigo provides to Cumberland County and the Commonwealth.”
Envigo said it had raised pay for salaried workers to $16 an hour, offering a $5,000 signing bonus and putting executives to work at the Cumberland facility. The company hired three lobbyists from a prestigious Richmond law firm but four lawmakers are proposing additional state oversight of operations. A bill introduced by Republicans Rob Bell and Bill Stanley would ban puppy sales if the USDA finds three violations of animal welfare law, and Democrats David Marsden and Jennifer Boysko have bills requiring the company to provide more information on the welfare of its beagles to state regulators. Debate in the Senate is expected to begin this afternoon, and members of the House Agriculture Committee will likely consider a measure tomorrow.
A coalition of animal welfare groups has formed the Virginia Coalition for Beagle Protection: