Lawmakers reject Northam amendment that could have increased oversight of controversial dog breeding facility

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A last-minute amendment that could have put more oversight on a controversial dog breeding facility in Cumberland was rejected by lawmakers during Wednesday’s veto session.

For months, 8News has been exposing disturbing conditions at the Envigo breeding facility, which warehouses nearly 5,000 dogs bred for experiments. The 11th hour move from Gov. Ralph Northam came as new video of the kennels surfaced.

“It is a prison,” says Stuart Chaifetz with the animal advocacy group SHARK. Chaifetz first captured drone video of the hidden kennels back in June of last year. He wanted to see if anything had changed so he returned with his drone early last month, where he said he found more of the same.

Chaifetz’s video captures thousands of beagles packed into cages. They are barking, howling and circling wildly in confinement at the Envigo kennels in Cumberland.

“There were dogs really just exhibiting crazed behavior. They’re dominating each other, there were fights, there were dogs that were clearly suffering from emotional devastation from being under these conditions,” said Chaifetz.

“Virginia can and should do better, and we are confident that legislators and the administration will keep their word and address this issue legislatively in 2021,” Daphna Nachminovitch with the People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals said in a statement to 8News on Friday.

Nachminovitch, who is senior vice president for PETA’s cruelty investigations, told 8News that Northam’s recommendation could have closed a loophole in Virginia law and force Envigo, which breeds dogs for research, to comply with Virginia’s standards including local and state inspections.

“Really they should open this amendment with open arms if they have nothing to hide,” she said before Wednesday’s session.

The governor’s suggested amendment to Senate Bill 891 would have ensured that the definition of “commercial dog breeder” would no longer be limited to those breeding dogs for sale “as companion animals.”

While the bill passed, the amendment from Northam was rejected. It would have extended protections to dogs commercially bred for any purpose, including experimentation.

“It would essentially bring Envigo under the definition of commercial dog breeder,” Nachminovitch explained.

State Senator David Marsden (D-Fairfax County) feared the amendment would have put Envigo out of business and Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-Fairfax County) vowed to rework the language and bring this issue back next session.

Envigo told 8News purpose bred dogs have been essential to the development of some prescription drugs. They also add the 2019 federal inspection of the facility resulted in clean bill of health.

However, an 8News investigation found a 2017 USDA inspection of the kennels then owned by a company called Covance uncovered deplorable conditions and federal violations. It noted injured and sick animals, cramped into broken wire cages, sometimes sitting in their own filth.

8News reached out to Envigo and in a statement they say in part:

Envigo, a quality supplier of purpose-bred animals in Virginia, is already subject to local, state and federal laws that ensure oversight of animal welfare at our Cumberland facility. We support efforts to broaden the protection of animal welfare to the same level of local and state oversight under which Envigo currently operates to other industries and businesses that are currently not as closely regulated.

The need for purpose-bred animals has been further emphasized by the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Laboratories around the globe are racing to develop vaccines and drug therapies which can help people who are suffering. Animal models are critical to the understanding the effectiveness of these potential vaccines and therapies and to ensure their safety.”

statement from Envigo

Yet, Chaifetz says there’s no longer a need to use animals in medical testing. He said the computer technology and science is there.

“There’s non-animal way to use human cells to test for disease cures,” Chaifetz told 8News.

8News has learned Virginia Tech University expressed some reservations about the amendment. The university shared the following statement with 8News before the amendment was rejected:

“Our veterinary students gain invaluable hands-on experience when they are able to use live animals, in a teaching setting, to practice and perform the skills they are learning. As good stewards of state resources, Virginia Tech is concerned because the legislation could make it more expensive and more difficult to obtain these animals.”

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