CUMBERLAND COUNTY, VA. (WRIC) — The controversy surrounding the Envigo dog breeding facility in Cumberland County continues to grow, leading Virginia’s senators to demand federal action.
A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection, which took place on March 8, uncovered five repeat violations, bringing the total number of violations found at the facility — which breeds beagles for research purposes — to 70 since July 2021.
These violations were found during a Focused Inspection, which according to Andre Bell of the USDA, was undertaken to follow up on previous citations.
The issues noted in the report include violations pertaining to the dogs’ health, the quality of their housing and enclosures, the compatibility of their grouping and the quality of their food and feeding systems.
What the Report Found
The facility was cited again for not providing adequate medical care to its dogs. Inspectors found injuries to animals that had not been identified or treated by the facility. This included scabbed wounds with yellow discharge on a dog’s ear.
The housing facilities for the dogs were found to have gaps in the floors up to two inches wide — large enough for a dog’s foot or leg to fall through or become stuck. One-hundred-thirty enclosures were found with such gaps.
Two dogs were found to be actively stuck in gaps in their enclosure’s flooring. The first got its foot stuck during the inspection after a skirmish broke out between several dogs. The other was found by inspectors with both its feet trapped in the flooring.
Some of these floors had little support underneath and they bounced and tilted under the weight of the dogs, according to the report.
Enclosure walls were found to be unsecured, rusted to the point of breaking and with sharp edges at floor level. Some of the chain-link fencing, of which the walls are made, was loose and dogs could push underneath them.
Medical records show that this exact problem had injured at least one dog since November. Eight other injuries, these to dogs’ tails, are under review, as they were possibly caused by this issue as well.
Compatibility issues between dogs housed together resulted in fights, causing 59 dogs to be injured, some severely. Eight dogs were euthanized due to injuries sustained from dog fights.
The inspector also noted that the self-feeders providing food to the dogs were not cleaned properly. This resulted in mold, deterioration of the feeders and wet, caked food. The report notes, “This grime appeared to be a combination of hair, saliva, food particles, and skin oils. Some of the grime is so thick inspectors had difficulty being able to scrape it off with their fingers.”
Mark Hubbard, a spokesperson for Envigo, noted that these five violations, which are repeat offenses from a previous inspection, show “significant progress” from the 26 violations found on the USDA report from Nov. 11, 2021.
“The USDA has also provided Envigo a memo that recognizes the improvements made and momentum gained over the last 4 months in Cumberland,” Envigo said in a statement Hubbard provided to WFXR’s sister station, WRIC. “In addition, the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) has recently indicated that the Cumberland site is being recommended for continued accreditation based on the improvements that are being made.”
Hubbard declined WRIC’s request to see the USDA memo.
Documents outlining improvements made over the past four months at the Cumberland Envigo facility mirrored the plan the company described in November, including improving pay, increasing staff, improving training, improving infrastructure and improving outreach to find homes for dogs that are no longer needed at the facility.
In a press release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) noted the continued issues and growing number of violations. The release also raised the suspicion that the decreased number of violations cited in this most recent report may indicate a lack of initiative on behalf of the USDA.
“Notably, three of the four inspectors present on March 8 had not participated in recent inspections of the facility, and other staff from prior inspections were omitted from the latest team, raising questions for PETA as to whether the USDA, which has still yet to render aid to any dogs at Envigo or suspend its license, is bending to pressure from Envigo,” a spokesperson said.
Politicians Demand Action
In light of the latest report, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-Va.) sent a letter on Thursday, March 31 to Kevin Shea, administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the branch of the USDA responsible for the reports.
In the letter, the senators urged the department to immediately suspend the license for the Envigo Cumberland facility, calling the abuses there “persistent and egregious.”
“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,” Warner and Kaine wrote. “The role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in ensuring humane treatment of animals extends beyond routine and focused inspections.”
Warner and Kaine also demanded answers from APHIS to a series of questions regarding the facility by April 20. These questions included whether or not APHIS plans to levy any enforcement actions against Envigo.
Warner spoke with WFXR’s sister station about the facility and, after assuring WRIC of his love of dogs — particularly his family dog, Finn — added, “I think this facility’s license ought to be revoked until they can clean up their act.”
“We’ve seen these horrific incidents … it needs to be shut down,” Warner said. “Not only do we want the Cumberland facility to be closed on a temporary basis to make sure that we don’t see these violations, but we want to make sure there is a thorough review of Envigo’s facilities elsewhere around the country.”
In response to a previous WRIC story regarding Environmental Protection Agency violations at this Envigo facility, Del. Kaye Kory (D-38th District), chair of the Animal Welfare Caucus in Virginia, said in a press release on Friday, April 1, “Conditions at Envigo’s Cumberland facility are inhumane and have resulted in the suffering and deaths of their dogs.”
“We will not turn a blind eye to your abuse of these animals,” Kory added.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed legislation on Monday, April 4 to ban facilities with animal welfare violations from selling dogs or cats and institute harsher penalties for such violations. These laws include HB1350, SB87, SB88, and SB604.