Support Virginia legislation to protect beagles destined for research labs
At a massive commercial dog breeding facility in Cumberland, Virginia, more than 5,000 beagles are housed in cramped, filthy conditions, deprived of adequate care and veterinary attention. Many of the adult dogs will live their lives at this facility, while their puppies are sold for research in laboratories in the U.S. and abroad. Though this factory farm for beagles has operated for decades, little was known about the operation, even by legislators representing adjacent counties, until recently, when The Washington Post and Virginia Mercury reported on the findings of USDA inspections that took place in July and October 2021.
The first inspection found 26 violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and 12 of these were critical or direct violations. The follow up visit revealed another 13 violations, 11 of which were repeat violations and seven were direct or critical. The AWA provides meager protections, outlining minimal levels of care, and the federal process can be very drawn out, as shown by the length of time between inspections, during which dogs continue to suffer.
The plight of these dogs has brought a record number of bills, 11 pieces of legislation introduced at the start of Virginia’s 2022 General Assembly session sought to give better protection to dogs and cats bred for experimentation. Now we are 30 days into that session, with five days to go until crossover, which is the deadline for each chamber to complete work on its own legislation. Many of the bills introduced in the House died in subcommittee, but one House bill remains along with seven in the Senate.
Virginia has a history of enacting strong animal protection laws, but current code limits what state authorities can do in this case because the dogs are bred for sale not as companions but for research. The animal welfare community is united in advocating for better state protection for these dogs. The Richmond SPCA is one of 37 organizations who have formed the Virginia Coalition for Beagle Protection.
Contact your elected representatives
Votes will be taken on these bills very soon, and it is urgent that elected officials hear from their constituents. Please respectfully let them know the importance of these matters with a polite phone call or email. Visit who is my legislator to find contact information. Your message will be most effective when conveyed in your own words, but we are providing a suggestion to get you started.
Dear [Senator NAME or Delegate NAME]:
I am a constituent of [district #] living at [address at which you are registered to vote].
The revelations contained in the USDA’s inspection reports of the massive commercial dog breeding facility that Envigo operates in Virginia are appalling and the Commonwealth must take action to better protect these dogs that live out their lives in squalor while producing litters of offspring destined for research laboratories.
After 26 violations were reported at this company’s facility in Cumberland last summer, the USDA’s follow up inspection in October documented another 13 violations. While federal inspectors can write citations and levy fines, these dogs need help now. Please give these dogs protections under Virginia law.
[For your DELEGATE] I urge you to support the beagle protection legislation before the Senate, and please vote YEA on SB 87, SB 88, SB 90 and SB 604.
[For your SENATOR] I urge you to support the beagle protection legislation before the House, and please vote YEA on HB1350.
Thank you for your service to the Commonwealth.
More about the bills
Updated after crossover: While a few additional Senate bills were tabled in the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Tuesday, February 22, a very strong group of bills are expected to be reported to the House floor when the full Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee takes them up next week. In the Senate, Delegate Rob Bell’s HB1350 was reported from the Companion Animal Subcommittee and will go to the full Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.
SB 87*, Patron: Sen. Stanley
Current law prohibits pet stores from selling dogs or cats acquired from breeders who have received direct or critical citations of the AWA within two years. This bill expands the law to apply to any dog or cat being sold for experimental purposes. February 11 UPDATE: A reenactment clause that would have required the General Assembly to revisit this matter next session was removed from the bill and replaced with an enactment date of March 1, 2023.
*companion to HB 1350
SB 88, Patron: Sen. Stanley
Requires breeders selling animals for experimentation to maintain records for individual animals and submit an annual summary to the state veterinarian. This bill has some similarities to reporting required of shelter and rescue groups in Virginia. Update: A House substitute adopted in subcommittee on Feb. 22, 2022 incorporates some of the reporting requirements from Sen. Boysko’s SB442 and requires that these records be submitted quarterly to the State Veterinarian.
SB90, Patron: Sen. Stanley
Current law requires animal testing facilities to offer dogs and cats for adoption when the animals are no longer needed for research purposes. This bill would expand the code to include those who breed dogs and cats for sale to animal testing facilities.
SB 442, Patron: Sen. Boysko passed the Senate Feb. 14, 2022 (40-Y, 0-N), but tabled in House Agriculture subcommittee
Requires entities breeding animals for research to report monthly to the state veterinarian: birth, acquisition, sale, transfer and other disposition.
SB 457, Patron: Sen. Boysko passed the Senate Feb. 15, 2022 (40-Y, 0-N), but tabled in House Agriculture subcommittee Prohibits breeders in Virginia from selling dogs for experimentation conducted by facilities outside the U.S. or facilities within the U.S. doing experiments that aren’t required by federal law or regulation. SB 535, Patron: Sen. Marsden passed the Senate Feb. 14, 2022 (38-Y, 2-N), but tabled in House Agriculture subcommittee Creates an Animal Welfare Oversight Officer with access to the research facility funded by the company being overseen. This bill would establish state oversight of facilities such as Envigo’s. This officer will have unfettered access to the facility and be funded by a registration fee paid by the breeder.
SB 604, Patron: Sen. Stanley
Amends the definition of “companion animal” in state code to include dogs and cats who are bred for experimentation. This would allow existing protections under the cruelty statute to be applied to animals bred for research.
House of Delegates
HB 1350*, Patron: Del. Bell
State law already prohibits the sale of dogs bred by an entity that has received certain citations for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. That law applies to sale as companion animals, e.g. pet shops. Delegate Bell’s legislation will add cats and clarify that selling includes the sale of a dog or cat for experimental purposes.
*companion to SB 87
Tabitha Treloar joined the Richmond SPCA in 2005 as an admissions counselor and has been our director of communications since 2010. She and her husband live in Richmond with four Richmond SPCA alumni – two cats and two dogs.