It simply doesn’t cross many of our minds that so many of these products are approved and released for human use only after they’ve been tested on animals. In fact, since the 1930s, animal testing has been a legal – and, to date, a common – practice in the United States.
“An average about 60,000 dogs are used by institutions each year … by the government, in private laboratories, and in scientific institutions that conduct research,” said Molly Armus, Virginia State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. “You’d be surprised how common testing on dogs and other animals is … for all kinds of purposes.”
This is the case even though, according to the Humane Society International, “all procedures, even those classified as ‘mild’ have the potential to cause the animals physical as well as psychological distress and suffering.”
Even so, despite the pain and suffering that animals endure through these testing processes, they do still have certain rights as dictated by the Animal Welfare Act.
Regulations stipulated under the “AWA apply to animals sold as pets, used in research, or transported commercially,” and that “facilities using regulated animals for regulated purposes must provide their animals with adequate housing, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary care, and they must protect their animals from extreme weather and temperatures.”
However, despite these clearcut laws – and regular checks by legal authorities – not all laboratories and institutions follow AWA guidelines. Just this year, after several failed welfare checks conducted by the Department of Agriculture, the Envigo breeding facility in Cumberland, Virginia was shut down. Over the course of the last couple years, Envigo staff had been consistently mistreating and neglecting at least 4,000 beagles who were slated to be sold for the purpose of scientific research.
“This was a facility licensed by the Department of Agriculture, and so they had regular inspections,” Armus said. “They had consistently terrible inspection reports, so the DOJ stepped in to take action, and to coordinate getting these beagles to safety.”
Following the closing of the Envigo facility, the Department of Justice (DOJ) struck an agreement with the Humane Society of the United States to rescue these thousands of beagles from their former lives.
“This operation happened because of a lawsuit,” Armus said. “It was an agreement between Envigo, the Department of Justice, and the HSUS for us to remove these dogs. Our animal rescue team has been coordinating the removal [which began in July of this year], and they are a team of highly trained experts that typically gets called in when local resources and law enforcement doesn’t have the capacity to execute an animal-related mission.”
The Envigo mission has been one of the largest scale operations that the HSUS has ever executed.
“We’ve done very large-scale rescues before, but it’s often been a lot of helping to transport dogs … nothing of this scale,” Armus said. “This was a huge deal because we worked in tandem with the Department of Justice to actually take action as a result of these alleged welfare act violations. This was a collaboration and team effort on a national scale, and typically we are working with more state and local authorities.”
Fortunately, as of today, the HSUS has removed nearly all of the beagles. And also luckily, even though all of these dogs were bred and/or born for testing, none of them had yet suffered through any form of testing. In other words, authorities and the HSUS stepped in right in the nick of time.
“For the most part, the beagles seem to be doing pretty well, especially all things considered,” Armus said. “Most of the beagles we’ve gotten out of Envigo so far have been pretty young, so they haven’t been in this environment for very long. As for the older ones, they are definitely more tentative and nervous. Lack of veterinary care was one of the charges, so a lot of these adults will need medical care.”
All in all, it never ceases to amaze Armus and her team just how unbreakable dogs can be, even after all they’ve ever known has been mistreatment and neglect.
“What we are seeing are very resilient dogs,” she said. “It warms your heart, but it also makes you feel really sad about the number of dogs who are tested upon.”
After testing is done, many animals who served as test subjects are euthanized.
Although the Envigo facility was located in Virginia, this was an all hands on deck operation, with the HSUS involving rescue partners all over the country.
“This didn't just fall on Virginia’s shoulders,” Armus said. “We have amazing organizations across the country that have taken in these dogs to make sure they have wonderful lives ahead of them. It’s really amazing how many groups have stepped in to help.”
One of HSUS’s rescue partners that has played an important role in this Envigo beagle mission is the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA), which in total has taken in twenty of the beagles. The original group of ten dogs that the AWLA took in, dubbed the Tremendous Ten, was brought to AWLA facilities in early August.
“Since we are an HSUS partner, their team reached out to us and asked if we had the capacity to help – and we did,” Chelsea Jones, AWLA Senior Communications Specialist, said. “The first ten dogs that we got were all adult females, but unfortunately, there are not a lot of great medical records. It would be safe to say that they’ve all had puppies since none of them have been spayed. The oldest one we got is five, but she definitely looks older than her five years. She’s had a hard life. Still, she – and the rest of the Tremendous Ten – are all doing a lot better than we expected.”
Despite a lack of medical records, the dogs that the AWLA took in all seem to be in relatively decent health. And, the issues that these dogs do present for the most part can be remedied.
“They all have bad teeth, so a decent number of them will need dental work,” Jones said. “Thankfully, other than that, we haven’t noticed any health issues to be worried about. The sickest beagles were part of the original group that was pulled out of Envigo first.”
Aiding the HSUS in this operation has also been a big undertaking – unprecedented, even – for the AWLA.
“We didn’t know what to expect, and the only comparable situation I can think of are rescues from dog meat farms in South Korea,” Jones explained. “Just like those dogs, these Envigo beagles have had no interactions with other humans. However, unlike dog meat farm rescues, the Envigo dogs have been used to handling – bad handling yes, but, still, they are used to human touch. They equate humans with food.”
And while they aren’t the cuddliest of animals (yet), the AWLA projects positivity for the future of these dogs.
Within the first week of entering the AWLA facility, “most of the [first] ten beagles were coming up to the front of their kennels to say ‘hi’,” Jones said. “For the most part, they didn’t want to be touched, but one actually did let us pet her.”
In mid-August, all of the Tremendous Ten were carefully placed with experienced foster families who were prepared to care for these dogs.
“These dogs had never been outside,” Jones said. “We had let fosters know that this was going to be a very different foster situation than they are used to.”
Still, in spite of these beagles’ rough start in life, as of early September, most of these ten beagles have been adopted out to loving homes.
And because the AWLA was so successful with the Tremendous Ten, they’ve taken on an additional ten of the Envigo beagles.
"All of our Envigo beagles are doing so much better than we ever expected,” Jones said. “They are so trusting and resilient despite where they've spent their entire lives up until now. Watching them discover toys and grass and beds for the first time has been so wonderful. Several of them have already been adopted, some are currently available for adoption, and then the rest are spending some time in a foster home until they are ready to be adopted. We are giving them time to settle in and adjust to their new lives before spaying them and then finding their new families. We know these dogs are going to make amazing pets and make their new families so happy!"
Watching this progress, the AWLA team is honored they could play a role in this historic rescue mission.
“We are so happy that we could play a small part in this process and step in to help,” Jones said. “We have had a lot of interest from the community, which has been really encouraging.”
Armus hopes that the HSUS will be involved in more missions like the Envigo undertaking. She said she is confident that the successful beagle rescue mission will show the DOJ that the Humane Society is always ready for these major undertakings.
“For this specific operation, the goal is to provide immediate relief for these dogs, and to pull them until the operation is complete,” Armus said. “However, this has also been a great opportunity for us to show our capacity to the federal government – namely the DOJ.”
The HSUS certainly has a bigger goal, fortified by the rescue of the Envigo beagles.
“Separate from getting these dogs to safety, in other parts of the organization, we have been working for years to make animal testing a thing of the past,” Armus said. “We’ve been doing this through lobbying, corporate engagement, and researching and encouraging the development of non-animal test methods. We want to get all these Envigo beagles out, and provide immediate relief to them. But we also want to acknowledge that most of the dogs bred there were ultimately destined for a life of pain, suffering, and isolation as test subjects once they left the facility.”
As for AWLA’s and the HSUS’s immediate shared goal for getting the Envigo beagles into loving homes – and to have a more lasting impact for animal testing subjects everywhere – both organizations recognize that it is all only possible through massive participation, cooperation, and collaboration. Team work really is the only way to make these dogs’ dreams happen.
“We are so grateful for our partners like AWLA ensuring that these dogs will have an upright, healthy future,” Armus said. “We couldn’t do any of it – or continue to grow the scope of our goals – without them.”To donate, please visit https://awla.salsalabs.org/walkfortheanimals2022/p/awlabeaglesfriendspage/index.html.