Two truckloads of beagles, among 4,000 dogs freed from a Virginia breeding facility, arrived Saturday in Southern California after the first leg of a life-changing journey.
Instead of likely living in a cage with the expectation of being used for medical research, the dogs can now look forward to romping in the grass, learning about toys and treats, and being taken for walks by humans who love them.
Rescuing dogs from bad situations is “one of my favorite parts of the job,” said Priceless Pet Rescue CEO Lisa Price, whose nonprofit took 200 beagles and will offer them at its adoption centers in Chino Hills, Claremont and Costa Mesa.
“We know that they’re all going to be in a happy, healthy home and loved on and treated like a pet.”
The dogs that came to Priceless Pets are among the first roughly 400 beagles removed days ago from a facility run by Envigo, under an agreement between the company and the U.S. Department of Justice. In May, the DOJ sued Envigo – which bred dogs and sold them to testing labs – after federal inspections alleged dozens of violations of animal welfare laws.
The lawsuit alleged the company “has employed a paltry number of employees and elected to euthanize beagles or allowed beagles to die from malnutrition, treatable and preventable conditions, and injuries resulting from beagles being housed in overcrowded and unsanitary enclosures or enclosures that contain incompatible animals.”
In a statement in response to a federal judge’s emergency order against Envigo in May, the company denied the allegations and said “animal welfare is a core value of our company.” It announced in June that it will close the facility.
The Humane Society of the U.S. is overseeing the removal of the dogs and transferring them to nonprofit rescue and adoption groups. Volunteers for Priceless Pets picked up a group of beagles Thursday, loaded them into crates in air-conditioned trucks and drove straight through to the nonprofit’s vet clinic in Chino Hills, where a swarm of volunteers and people eager to foster were waiting.
Emily Au of Diamond Bar came by to take a beagle home. It’s her first time fostering, she said, but she’s been interested for awhile and she had seen news stories about the 4,000 dogs looking for homes.
“It’s a lot of them and I think they deserve a new life,” Au said. The first order of business was going to be a bath, then a quiet evening to let her new friend settle in. Eventually she’ll have the dog meet more people and maybe other dogs.
“I’m just hoping that I can introduce a home to them so whoever’s adopting them will have an easier time.”
Getting the beagles out and on their way to new homes has been an exercise in teamwork and timing. Under a transfer plan approved by a federal judge in early July, the Humane Society was given 60 days to mobilize, remove the dogs and place them with rescue groups, said Miguel Abi-hassan, the Humane Society’s chief animal rescue, care and sanctuaries officer.
“Historically this is one of the biggest cases that the animal rescue team has handled,” he said.
The Humane Society has a fleet of specially equipped big rigs for transporting animals, as well as staff who can do medical evaluations on the spot. While it does have an animal care and rehab center, the Humane Society doesn’t run adoption facilities, so that’s where its roughly 350 partner organizations come in.
More than 50 rescue and adoption groups have already offered to take some of the beagles, and that number may double by the time all 4,000 dogs are removed, Humane Society Director of Shelter Outreach and Engagement Lindsay Hamrick said.
The first several hundred dogs were sent to nonprofits in California, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Virginia, with puppies in particular staying on the East Coast to spare them a days-long drive, Hamrick said.
While 4,000 beagles might seem like an overwhelming number, Hamrick said, “so far on this operation there’s been such an outpouring of support from the public in terms of interest in adoption and in terms of partner organizations that we’re not concerned about the ability to place every single one of these dogs.”
When the 200 dogs destined for Priceless Pets arrived late Saturday afternoon, organized chaos ensued.
Volunteers in bright turquoise Priceless Pets T shirts lined up like a bucket brigade, taking turns standing at the door of the trailer full of dog crates while technicians inside quickly microchipped a beagle and handed it into their waiting arms.
The dogs were moved to kennels and crates inside the clinic’s roll-up door, where some bayed their curiosity or anxiety with the new situation, and others watched the action while eagerly wagging their tails.
Ashlee Sprague, who runs the vet clinic and is Price’s daughter, said they’ve lined up foster families for nearly all the dogs, and they’ve heard from about 500 people interested in adopting them. A steady stream of people drove up to the clinic door, had their name checked off a list, collected a dog or two and went home with their new charges.
The nonprofit knows the drill, since it welcomed and placed out two earlier batches of lab beagles totaling about 250 dogs in January and March. Established in 2007, Priceless Pets’ mission is to relieve overcrowding at shelters so animals aren’t euthanized when they could be adopted, Price said.
It could be weeks until the beagles are ready for permanent homes, since many need to be spayed or neutered, but the foster caregivers will be able to provide feedback on the dogs’ temperament.
Breann Orozco, of Ontario, was on hand to help unload and care for the dogs and get them routed to the proper place. After joining Priceless Pets as a volunteer dog walker, Orozco agreed to foster a beagle in one of the earlier rounds; her mother later adopted it.
Not to be outdone, Orozco took in another beagle in the spring and soon “foster failed” – the animal rescue community’s way of saying she found she couldn’t live without the dog and adopted it herself.
While love is important for rescue dogs, patience is also vital for animals who have for most of their lives seen the world through the bars of a kennel.
“At first she was still definitely very scared, not trusting, and we just had to give her time to decompress and adjust to us,” Orozco said of Maggie, who is now her mother’s fur friend. “She’d never walked on grass before, she’d never been outdoors.”
Maggie is still getting used to her new life, but it’s easier now that she has Charlie, the dog Orozco kept, as a friend. Charlie came out of her shell much faster and enjoys going along on hikes and runs, Orozco said, and both dogs love treats and think toys that squeak or can be chased are “the greatest thing in the world.”
“Getting to watch them be a dog finally,” she said, “is the most rewarding part.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Must Love Dogs
The Humane Society of the U.S. is coordinating the release and placement of the beagles, which range from week-old puppies to 7- or 8-year-olds.
Locally, Priceless Pets, which has locations in Chino Hills, Claremont and Costa Mesa, has accepted about 200 beagles and will be offering them for adoption.
For information on the removal of the dogs, how to help, or a list of the rescue groups receiving the dogs to adopt out, visit www.humanesociety.org/4000beagles.
To learn about helping or adopting beagles in Southern California, call 909-203-3695 or visit pricelesspetrescue.org. The $500 adoption fee covers vaccinations, microchipping and spaying or neutering the dog.