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Virginia dog breeding facility accused of horrific animal welfare violations

The investigations claim the facility performed unnecessarily painful medical experiments on dogs and puppies, including euthanasia without sedatives.

CUMBERLAND, Va. — Two Virginia senators have expressed horror after learning of alleged animal welfare violations at an Envigo breeding and research facility in Cumberland 

In a letter from U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the senators urged APHIS to immediately suspend Envigo's Cumberland facility license. 

Envigo is a contract research facility. Their website lists "caring about each other, our animals and the environment," as one of their core values.

The latest animal welfare violations stem from two new inspections in November 2021 and March 2022. The investigations claim the facility performed unnecessarily painful medical experiments on dogs and puppies, including euthanasia without sedatives.

The senators say medical records indicated that nearly 200 dogs were euthanized and many were not provided any anesthetic, which goes against the recommendation of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 

ANIMAL WELFARE ACT VIOLATIONS 

Envigo has caught the attention of federal inspectors previously.

Four inspections over the course of nine months revealed more than 70 violations of the Animal Welfare Act at the Envigo Cumberland facilities.

Inspectors found puppies and dogs were being held in shelters with temperatures exceeding 85 degrees for more than five hours. They also claim the research conducted at the facility caused distress to nursing mothers and their puppies after food was intentionally withheld for two days. 

Inspectors say housing violations at the facility left dozens of dogs injured, including 71 who were hurt when body parts were pulled through the wall of the kennel by other dogs. Fifty dogs were also injured or killed due to "incompatible groupings." 

“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 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 senators are asking APHIS to suspend Envigo's license for 21 days before moving to fully revoke the facility's license. The pair requested a response by April 20. 

"In the face of repeated, serious violations by the facility, it is our strongly-held belief that USDA must pursue aggressive enforcement actions.” 

PETA CLAIMS CHRONIC ABUSE

An animal activist with PETA claims to have shot undercover video while working at the Envigo facility.

The company is contracted to breed dogs for the purpose of research and scientific experiments - regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But PETA says what they found is abuse, and even torture.

"Our investigator found just in the course of her shifts her employment alone more than 360 dead puppies," a PETA representative said.

"She discovered that the facility had an S.O.P. of depriving nursing mother dogs of food for up to two days before their puppies were taken away from them. That animals were being hosed in the cages with cold water from high-pressure hoses."

In some of the most graphic cases, puppies allegedly were euthanized without anesthesia. PETA claims the violations are chronic.

Envigo's facility just outside of Cumberland is along a gravel road with an unmarked fence. You can hear dogs barking in the distance. But if you don't know exactly what you're looking for, this place can be hard to find.

COMPANY'S RESPONSE

For the company's part, a spokesperson told WUSA9 Envigo is making progress on improving the conditions at the Cumberland facility, working toward a goal of one caretaker for every one hundred dogs, and has adopted out nearly 500 of the 5,000 dogs PETA says are housed here.

Advocates say most of us have no idea this kind of breeding and research goes on at all. And they want to change that.

"This is a dog factory farm. It's a confined animal feeding operation involving dogs," PETA said. " I think in this day and age, we can do better than that. We do not need to use dogs, monkeys or other animals and torture them."

VIRGINIA CRUELTY BILLS

The Virginia legislature just passed several bills that would prohibit the sale of dogs or cats for experimental purposes and penalize animal cruelty. On Monday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin is expected to sign them into law.

Meanwhile, the USDA has until April 20 to respond to Warner and Kaine about their concerns over why the feds haven't shut this facility down.

Senators have also raised concerns regarding the USDA's delays in publishing the "horrific findings." The July report was not publicly released until 118 days after the inspection, with the October and November inspections were not released until three months and more than four months later. 

“While APHIS inspection reports have proven an invaluable resource in uncovering the breadth and depth of mistreatment occurring at the Envigo facilities, we are concerned with delays in publishing such reports," the senators wrote. "Advocates, legislators, and the public have waited months after inspections to review inspection report findings."

The senators say they appreciated the complexity of the reports and the immense care that animal care specialists take in preparing them but also say it is unacceptable that the public and elected officials were not privy to the horrific violations until months after the inspections happened and animals suffered in the interim. 

A copy of the letter is available here.

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