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Research animal breeder fined record $35M for neglecting animals at Virginia facility

A company that breeds and sells animals for scientific research has agreed to pay more than $35 million in a historic settlement with the U.S. government after pleading guilty to conduct that resulted in the death of hundreds of dogs and harm to thousands more.

At its Cumberland County facility, Envigo ignored multiple warnings, allowing thousands of beagles to live in their own feces, depriving them of adequate food, clean water and health care, and euthanized dogs without providing anesthesia.

At a Monday press conference at the Charlottesville federal courthouse, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Chris Kavanaugh said Envigo promoted “a business culture of caring more about profits and convenience than following the law.”

Envigo violated the Animal Welfare Act and Clean Water Act and will have to pay an $11 million fine for each, plus additional payments. It is the largest fine ever in the history of the Animal Welfare Act, which was passed by Congress in 1966 to “regulate the research, exhibition, and sale of animals, as well as to assure their humane treatment.”

In a 25-minute press conference, Kavanaugh and Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division detailed the numerous violations committed by Envigo and stressed that its leadership did not take action even after learning of the violations.

That includes a refusal to replace an unqualified veterinarian whose practices harmed animals in the facility.

“We found that Envigo failed to provide adequate veterinary care in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act and leadership within the company knew about it and refused to terminate the attending veterinarian, even though they knew that care was inadequate,” Kavanaugh said.

In one example, Kavanaugh referenced multiple “botched” surgeries that resulted in a recommendation the veterinarian be terminated.

“The chief operating officer refused to fire the attending veterinarian, claiming that it was too hard to find a veterinarian at this facility, again prioritizing profits and convenience over following the law,” Kavanaugh said.

Multiple dogs were exposed to “unnecessary pain and suffering” when Envigo withheld anesthesia for a procedure called intracardiac injection euthanasia.

“In other words, they failed to sedate a dog before giving it a shot in its heart while performing euthanasia,” Kavanaugh said. “Moreover, at times, they failed to confirm and verify that a euthanized dog was actually deceased before disposing of it.”

From 2019 to May 2022, the Cumberland County facility sold nearly 15,000 beagles, generating $16 million in revenue. It did not use those profits to bring the facility into compliance with federal law, and it did not ensure that those beagles were healthy before sending them to buyers, as some customers received sick and even dead animals.

The criminal investigation first became public in May 2022, when authorities executed a search warrant at the facility “uncovering appalling conditions” and ultimately seized 4,000 dogs. A total of 445 beagles were found to be in “acute distress,” meaning they required immediate veterinary treatment.

The facility was found to be understaffed and overcrowded, with multiple beagles in a single kennel. Envigo was warned about the floors of the kennels, which were slatted and resulted in dogs and puppies often getting their paws trapped in the gaps.

Beagle puppies were hosed down with cold water. Twenty-five died from cold exposure over an eight-week period.

Employees at the facility drank bottled water because they knew the tap water was unsafe for consumption. At times, dogs were given the nonpotable water anyway; authorities found it contaminated with a “black mold-like substance, rust-color debris and grime.”

The food was no better, containing maggots, live insects and mold. Sometimes the dogs would not be fed at all.

“Envigo withheld food from nursing mothers for a multiple-day period and maintained this practice for years,” Kavanaugh said. “What was worse is they would actually turn the feeder around so that the nursing mother could smell and even see the food but nevertheless could not access it. And then employees would falsely claim that the mothers had been fed on days when they had not.”

Authorities who were at the facility in May 2022 said they found dogs sleeping in their own urine and feces.

“The list simply goes on,” Kavanaugh said.

Kim described a wastewater treatment plant on the site that was designed to treat animal and human waste. But the plant required expensive updates, updates Envigo declined to make. As a result, more than 600,000 gallons of wastewater were dumped into the nearby Maxey Mill Creek.

In addition to the $22 million in fines, Envigo will pay $3 million to the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force and $3.5 million to fund environmental projects in Cumberland County. It also must spend $7 million on improvements to the existing facility.

Apart from financial penalties, Envigo and its parent company, Indiana-based drug developer Inotiv, will be required to exceed the Animal Welfare Act’s minimum compliance requirements at all of their facilities worldwide. Envigo has roughly 20 facilities between North America and Europe.

In addition, Envigo and Inotiv are barred from breeding or selling dogs in the future.

The bottom line, said Kavanaugh, is that Envigo’s leadership team knew the facility was inadequate but did not take the necessary steps to improve it.

“The chief operating officer visited the facility firsthand and discussed these violations, but still they did not bring it into full compliance,” he said. “The goal of this conspiracy was to unlawfully enrich themselves by avoiding millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades and hiring requisite and competent training human resources necessary to comply with the Animal Welfare Act.”

Authorities transported all of the dog they seized to animal shelters, including the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, where many were adopted.

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine applauded the news in a joint statement Monday afternoon.

“Today’s settlement represents an enormous victory for animal welfare, as the perpetrators of horrific abuse against innocent dogs will pay a historic settlement for their negligence. After our advocacy for these animals, we’ve been deeply heartened to hear stories of their adoption into loving, safe homes, and this settlement takes another step critical towards justice,” the two Democrats wrote.

While the company has pleaded guilty, individuals within Envigo could face additional charges.

Kavanaugh and Kim did not take questions on Monday, saying the case is ongoing.


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