RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Glenn Youngkin signed five pieces of legislation Monday to support animal welfare reform for dogs and cats that are bred and sold for experimental purposes.
According to a press release from the Office of the Governor, these laws, dubbed “the Beagle Bills” work to ensure that these animals are protected by Virginia’s animal cruelty laws. They clarify the inclusion of animals bred and sold for experimental purposes in these protections and give authorities the ability to take action when violations occur.
“Today’s remarkable achievement brought every single Republican and Democrat together to protect our four-legged constituents,” Youngkin said. “I’ll sign five bills, and those five pieces of legislation, on all of them, every single voting member of the General Assembly voted for them.”
The governor was joined by state lawmakers at the Executive Mansion Monday who championed these bills.
“A dog is a dog,” Delegate Robert Bell (R-58th District), who introduced HB 1350 to the House, said. “If it’s for a pet store, it should have the same rules as it would for any other purpose.”
“The Beagle Bills”
HB 1350 and SB 87
These laws amend the Comprehensive Animal Care Law to include cats and breeders of cats. The previous language only referred to dogs and their breeders.
These laws also clarify that breeders or dealers include any person or entity which breeds cats or dogs that are regulated by federal law as research animals. A former loophole will be closed, so breeders and dealers will be prohibited from importing or selling cats and dogs bred by anyone with certain Animal Welfare Act violations.
Specific language has been included to refer to animals sold for “experimental purposes.”
This law requires breeders of cats and dogs bred for experimental purposes to maintain records of these animals for two years from the date of sale or transfer.
A quarterly summary of these records must be sent to the State Veterinarian and be available to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, animal control officers and law enforcement.
The current Comprehensive Animal Care section of the code only requires animal testing facilities to offer dogs and cats, which are no longer needed, up for adoption before euthanizing them. This law makes it so that breeders of cats and dogs for experimental purposes are required to do the same with their surplus animals.
This law clarifies that dogs and cats in possession of breeders that sell animals for experimental purposes fall under the protection of Virginia’s cruelty-to-animals laws.
The ‘Beagle Bills’ and the Envigo dog breeding facility
As previously reported by 8News, the Cumberland County Envigo dog breeding facility has been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on numerous violations over the years related to these new laws.
Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), an animal rights organization that has filed multiple federal complaints against Envigo, applauded the new laws on Monday.
“These precedent setting laws make it impossible for breeders who seriously violate the Animal Welfare Act to sell dogs/cats to labs, put these animals under protection of state cruelty laws, and allow for adoption of the dogs and cats released by these breeders/dealers,” SAEN Co-Founder Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., said. “This will force Envigo and other criminal breeders to either follow the law, or go out of business.”
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“The USDA moves at a glacial pace. It still hasn’t taken any enforcement action against this facility, despite 73 violations, dozens of those being direct or critical,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Senior Vice President of Cruelty Investigations Daphna Nachminovitch told 8News.
“Their license should have been suspended by now, and animals should’ve been confiscated. So this marks a new day.”
Nachminovitch oversaw a 2021 undercover investigation of the Envigo breeding facility, which found 5,000 beagle dogs and puppies confined to small, barren kennels and cages, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“In addition to showing some transparency and accountability with record-keeping, forcing this facility to not euthanize so-called surplus animals, but make them available for adoption,” she said. “If these chronic violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act continue, this facility will have to leave our state.”
Senator Bill Stanley (R-20th District), who has adopted two of the dogs formerly housed at the facility, said that Envigo will have approximately 16 months to correct any violations.
“They’ve made a commitment to me that they’re going to do that,” Stanley said. “They promised, maybe, a five or $10 million investment in the facility to make sure that these violations never happen again. But we’ll see.”
Hundreds of beagles from Envigo’s Cumberland facility have been adopted, with Sen. Stanley telling 8News that his office is looking to find homes for another 180 of them.
“These were not considered companion animals, even though they were, because they’re inside a fence. So if there was an abuse or neglect of these animals inside the fence of Envigo’s facility, that wasn’t a felony. But if the same offense was committed outside the fence by an individual member of the commonwealth or some citizen of the commonwealth, that is a felony,” Stanley said.
“I would want, some day, where we’re not breeding dogs for experimentation. I want that to be soon. But if they’re going to do it, then they’re going to treat them like man’s best friend and treat them humanely.”
In response to violations found during a March 8, 2022 USDA inspection of the facility, Envigo spokesperson Mark Hubbad noted that the repeat offenses actually show “significant progress” from the previous violations found during an USDA inspection at the end of 2021.
“The USDA has also provided Envigo a memo that recognizes the improvements made and momentum gained over the last 4 months in Cumberland,” an Envigo statement said. “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.”