Patience, toys and forever homes needed for beagles rescued from medical-lab breeding center
They have never slept on a bed, played with a toy, stepped on grass, walked on a leash or eaten out of a dog bowl
Every year, the Helen Woodward Animal Center takes in and re-homes about 4,000 rescued dogs, cats and other animals. But there’s never been any rescues quite like the 43 adult beagles who arrived at the Rancho Santa Fe shelter over the weekend from Virginia.
Raised in cages as breeding stock for medical-testing labs, the underfed, under-loved and unsocialized dogs will have to spend some time in foster homes to learn the basics of “living their lives as dogs” before they’re ready for forever homes, said Jessica Gercke, public relations director for Helen Woodward.
The dogs are among more than 4,000 adult beagles that were seized earlier this month by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) from Envigo RMS, a breeding center in Cumberland, Va., that sells puppies to laboratories for animal experimentation. Although this lab-animal breeding industry is legal, Envigo agreed to give up its dogs after the U.S. Justice Department sued the company for allegedly committing more than 70 violations of the Animal Welfare Act. The HSUS has called the seizure the largest operation in its history.
According to the lawsuit, which followed a seven-month undercover operation, the dogs at Envigo were denied veterinary treatment, food and protection from both extreme cold and attacks by other dogs. There were also allegations of overcrowding and unnecessary and cruel euthanasia practices.
“Unfortunately, this is not as uncommon as we’d like it to be,” Gercke said. “We found out the other day there are 10,000 facilities like this in the U.S. We hope this will encourage these types of facilities to be wary of the inhumane treatment these dogs were receiving.”
Because of the scope of the seizure, the HSUS has enlisted the help of 15 no-kill animal shelters across the country to help find homes for the dogs, including Helen Woodward and Priceless Pets in Orange County. The dogs are being removed from the Envigo facility in batches of roughly 400 at a time to avoid overwhelming the participating shelters.
Helen Woodward could receive as many as 400 beagles over the next few months, which Gercke said is a big responsibility because they will all need to be spayed or neutered and will need training and fostering.
Gercke said beagles are a popular choice for medical testing because they have docile personalities and few genetic health problems. She said that when the beagles arrived at Helen Woodward over the weekend, they were quiet, sweet and friendly but they were unfamiliar with basic habits of domestic pets. Because they have never lived outside a cage, none of the dogs are potty-trained. They also have never slept on a bed or couch, never played with a toy, never stepped on grass, never walked on a leash nor eaten out of a dog bowl.
Also, because the dogs have always been surrounded by other dogs, they are now experiencing separation anxiety. Shelter staff and foster families are training the dogs to cope with being left alone in a room for a few minutes at a time.
“They’re very loving little dogs,” Gercke said. “We’re surprised at how gentle they are with humans. People expect them to howl or bark but what stands out is how quiet they are.”
The first 43 dogs — 30 females and 13 males, ranging in age from 2 and 9 years — have undergone medical treatment and are now in foster care. After some socialization training and spaying, the dogs will be put up for adoption. Some may be ready as soon as this weekend.
Gercke said there has been tremendous interest from the public about adopting the beagles, but center staff plan to vet new owners carefully because they will need to commit the time to potty-training the dogs.
“These dogs will be the most loving, sweet pets but they will need patience and people to work with them,” she said. “The worst thing we could do would be to adopt the dogs out and people end up sending them back. These dogs have been through enough. They need this to be their forever home.”
To fill out adoption paperwork, become a foster caregiver, donate to the care and spaying of the beagles or donate to an Amazon wish list for beagle toys, bedding and other supplies, visit animalcenter.org.
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