After a series of federal animal welfare violations – including more than 300 puppy deaths attributed to ‘unknown causes’ – Virginia lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to impose new regulations on a controversial beagle breeding facility in Cumberland.

Tuesday’s vote marked a victory for animal welfare advocates, who have spent years trying to bring the breeding center under state scrutiny. Owned by Envigo, a global biotech company, the facility breeds thousands of dogs each year, providing hospitals, universities and federal partners with a steady stream of dogs for medical and veterinary experimentation.

The facility first came to statewide attention in 2017, when U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors recorded several violations during a routine inspection of the facility. In the same year, an animal rights group published drone footage which showed hundreds of beagles crowded into pens and barking frantically.

Beagles locked in kennels at an Envigo-owned breeding facility in Cumberland, Virginia. Federal regulators and animal welfare groups have uncovered major violations at the facility, including hundreds of puppy deaths with no cause listed. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)

But legislative efforts to expand state surveillance stalled in 2020 and were not renewed until this year’s session, after the facility was cited for more than two dozen animal safety violations. In July and October, federal inspectors recorded critical deficiencies, including an accumulation of feces, urine and insects under the floor of the kennels, infestations of flies and ants in the dog feeders and 71 other beagles who have were injured after dogs in adjacent kennels were able to bite their ears or tails through the wall.

In the second report, officials found that more than a dozen female dogs had been without food for nearly two days while they nursed their puppies, which was part of the facility’s “standard operating procedure”. for weaning. The inspection also found more than a dozen dogs with health issues including severe dental disease, skin lesions and eye infections, as well as hundreds of puppies and adult dogs housed in kennels where the temperature exceeded 90 degrees for hours.

The inspections coincided with a secret investigation by the Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which accused Envigo of animal cruelty. From April to November, a PETA employee worked as an animal care technician at the facility, eventually reporting that dogs were routinely euthanized without sedation and cages were sprayed with beagles still housed inside in a affidavit to federal regulators.

“When you look at the inspection reports, you see this is a facility that didn’t even bother to fix simple issues like sanitation issues,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, vice -Senior Chair of PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Group. “And so many of these bills simply seek to hold Envigo accountable for failing to meet basic federal standards.”

Lawmakers approved five different bills related to the facility, including identical parts of lodge and Senate legislation that would ban Envigo from selling animals if the company was cited for other violations of animal welfare law.

The law is not expected to come into effect until July 1, 2023, largely thanks to Envigo’s lobbying efforts. After that date, the Cumberland Institution would be prohibited from selling dogs for a single critical violation or three or more non-critical violations.

another bill The senses. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, and Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, would fill a long-standing loophole that exempts so-called “research animals” from Virginia law regulating commercial dog breeders. The legislation specifies that beagles raised at the Cumberland facility are considered pets unless they are actively involved in clinical experiments, allowing state inspectors to investigate possible violations of cruelty.

Virginia State Senator Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, right, casts a vote during resumed session to command at the Science Museum of Virginia Wednesday, April 22, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The Senate is meeting in a remote location due to COVID -19 social distancing restrictions. (AP Photo/POOL/Steve Helber)

“This is a significant change because it means Envigo would be held to the same standards as anyone else in Virginia who owns or breeds dogs,” Nachminovitch said. A final invoice de Stanley and Boysko would demand the possibility of offering useless dogs for adoption before killing them.

Nachminovitch said the adoption requirements became particularly important to animal welfare advocates after PETA learned that Envigo donated 177 dead dogs to Virginia Tech in October, a week before federal regulators ruled. conduct a second inspection of the Cumberland facility.

To become law, the five bills still need to be signed by Governor Glenn Youngkin, who has yet to state his position on the legislation (Macaulay Porter, the governor’s spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment). But pressure has continued to mount on the facility since its federal inspection reports became public.

Last month, Congresswoman Elaine Luria, D-Virginia Beach, co-signed a letter with six other representatives calling on the USDA to revoke the facility’s license after the violations were discovered. The agency has yet to take disciplinary action against Envigo and has yet to release the findings of an additional inspection in November.

It remains unclear whether federal regulators will take action to mandate changes to the breeding center or to protect the dogs that still remain on site (USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service representatives n did not respond to multiple requests sent by the Mercury in November).

But state lawmakers describe this year’s legislation as a critical step in regulating the facility, which has “operated under the radar and without state oversight since 1961,” Stanley and Boysko said in a statement. spouse last month.

“Virginia is responsible for ignoring this mess for a long time, and we are not going to leave this stain on the Commonwealth,” they added.