By Alexander Shedd
For this week’s front page stories, you may have noticed that I wrote an article on the closure of the beagle breeding facility in Cumberland. This is a story that’s close to my heart, so I thought it appropriate to write an addendum here to express my feelings separately and avoid any questions of impartiality in the main article.
The USDA report on the Cumberland facility is truly horrific–hundreds of dogs suffering from heat exhaustion and generally horrendous conditions, injured dogs out on the facility floors without any notice or care, poor access to food and water, 300 puppies “mysteriously” dead in six months–these are just a few of the things the USDA investigators noted. What took them so long to investigate the facility is anyone’s question given the repeated attempts by PETA to get their attention over the past several years, but I digress.
My fiance, Olivia, is a veterinary student at Virginia Tech’s college of veterinary medicine. During the first year of her degree in 2020, she participated in a program that is mandatory for first-years in which groups of eight students would take care of a puppy that lives on the vet school grounds. Each student is required to visit with and walk their group’s puppy a certain number of times per week–these dogs, affectionately known as “canine mentors,” are well cared for by both the students and their handlers at the school and serve a dual purpose in also being employed by the students for the program’s regular research labs and classes.
Shortly after meeting her group’s dog, a beagle named Marshmellow (sic), Olivia fell in love and committed to adopting the puppy at the end of the school year. The timetable ended up being moved slightly due to outside circumstances, and we took Mellow home on the first day of the first COVID-19 lockdown. The remainder of Olivia’s classes were moved online and I had just been laid off from my short-lived job as a barista, leaving us with nothing but time and a fairly generous COVID unemployment check. Mellow single handedly (paw-edly?) made those early days of the pandemic bearable.
Mellow is the true apple of both of our eyes. We love her more than I thought it was possible to love a dog, and since her adoption she has been our constant companion and best friend. She loves walks, zooming around the yard and wrestling with our two cats, whom she is aware we refer to as her “brothers.”
While the Tech program now uses local shelter dogs, Mellow’s “class” of canine mentors was the last of many years of the school’s partnership with the Cumberland Envigo facility, a deal that seems to have ended after this news first hit headlines in 2020. Mellow, as well as all the other beagles from the vet school, all of which were successfully adopted out by the school every year and many of which were adopted by students, all came from the Cumberland facility and undoubtedly suffered the same conditions as those recently seized by the Humane Society.
Virginia Tech and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine are not at fault for this, nor do I mean to point any fingers at what I consider a fantastic school and fantastic veterinary program. Rather, what upsets me is that the Cumberland facility for so long got away with these abuses towards countless dogs just like our Marshmellow. In Envigo’s parent company’s statement, the Inotiv CEO noted that the Cumberland facility comprised less than 1 percent of the company’s profits–a figure meant to distance themselves from the facility that, to me, feels more like professional apathy falling far short of what the outrageous moral failure of this facility should evoke. Animal research has a place in our society, whether we like it or not; all we can hope is that the companies responsible for those undertakings are conscious of their own actions. When they fail to meet the bare minimum of standards, lives are lost of animals who otherwise could live full and meaningful lives just as any other dog. There is no excuse for it; it’s at best gross neglect, and at worst cruelty.
Virginia’s shelters are reaching full capacity. I urge anyone who has room for a new fur baby in their life to visit the Angels of Assisi adoption event this weekend, July 15-17 at the PetSmart on 220 south of 419, Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, as well as the future events they’ll undoubtedly hold soon as shelters all across Virginia are left to repair the damage Envigo has done.
I have rescued a senior beagle in the past, Little bit. She was far from small. She was 11 when she was given up for a family to purchase a puppy. She was a great dog. How can I find out about senior beagles? I would love to help get these dogs out of such a barbaric situation.