According to a lawsuit filed Thursday, federal officials have accused a company that runs a Virginia facility breeding dogs for research of violating animal welfare law and recently seized at least 145 beagles found to be in “acute distress.”
For months, the Envigo RMS facility in Cumberland County has been under fire from animal rights groups, members of Congress, and Virginia lawmakers, who passed animal welfare legislation this year aimed at tightening the facility’s requirements and strengthening state oversight.
Repeated federal inspections since Envigo purchased the facility in 2019 have resulted in dozens of violations, including findings that dogs received insufficient medical care and food, were housed in filthy conditions, and were euthanized without first receiving anesthesia. According to inspections, hundreds of dogs have died at the facility.
“Despite being on notice since July 2021 that the conditions at its Cumberland facility fall far below the (Animal Welfare Act’s) minimum standards, Envigo has failed to take the necessary steps to ensure that all of the beagles at its facility are provided humane care and treatment and that the Cumberland facility is operating in compliance with the (act),” according to the complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
Envigo’s attorney is not listed in court records. A spokesman said the company was preparing a statement and would respond by Friday.
According to the complaint, agents from the USDA’s Office of Inspector General and other law enforcement officers began carrying out a federal search warrant at the facility on Wednesday. According to the lawsuit, as of Thursday’s filing, 145 dogs and puppies found to be in acute distress by veterinarians had been sized.
The government is asking a judge to declare Envigo has repeatedly violated the Animal Welfare Act and to enjoin the company from violating it again.
Since July 2021, the facility has housed up to 5,000 beagles, according to the complaint. It claimed that staffing was “paltry,” and that the attending veterinarian failed to provide and supervise adequate care.
It cites a finding from a July 2021 inspection report that found Envigo had euthanized dozens of beagles over the course of months rather than providing care for injuries caused by a dog next door pulling a body part like an ear or tail through a kennel wall.
Concerning the deceased dogs, the complaint claims that animal care technicians with no formal training are allowed to decide whether a necropsy should be performed.
Medical records reviewed during the July 2021 inspection revealed that Envigo staff were unable to determine a cause of death for 173 puppies because their bodies had already begun to decompose.
Inspectors discovered unsanitary conditions, including a “extensive, widespread pest problem,” overcrowded enclosures, and feces, urine, and other waste buildups, according to the complaint.
According to the complaint, Envigo, which has a business mailing address in Indiana, registered as a Virginia LLC in 2019. In June 2019, it acquired LabCorp’s Covance Research Products business, including the Cumberland facility.
According to a statement provided to The Associated Press earlier this year, the company has worked to improve the site by reducing the total number of dogs on site, raising pay, increasing staff training, and improving cleaning processes.
Virginia senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine called for federal inspectors to revoke the facility’s license in March. Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria and six other members of Congress wrote to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, expressing similar concerns about why Envigo’s license had not been suspended.
PETA, a Norfolk-based animal rights organization, conducted a months-long undercover investigation into the facility in 2021 and filed a complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture in October of that year, prompting inspections, according to senior vice president Daphna Nachminovitch. For months, the group has been raising concerns about the facility.