The conduct of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service in oversight of Envigo's Cumberland, Virginia, beagle breeding facility between 2017 and 2022 is atrocious, sickening and heartbreaking.

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Above the Sacred Horse's stable doors at the Tosho-gu Shinto shrine in Nikki, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan, is a wooden carved panel depicting three wise monkeys. The first monkey “hears no evil.” Another “speaks no evil.” The third “sees no evil.” It is widely thought the monkeys depict part of Confucius’ Code of Conduct, but they also are undeniably recognized as a symbol of failure to act by pretending not to know of a problem's existence.

Hello, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. I'm talking about you.

APHIS' conduct in oversight of Envigo's Cumberland, Virginia, beagle breeding facility between 2017 and 2022 is atrocious, sickening and heartbreaking.

Envigo was founded in 2015 through a merger of UK-based Huntingdon Life Sciences and Indianapolis-based Harlan Laboratories. In November 2021, West Lafayette, Indiana-based Inotiv Inc. purchased Envigo for about $545 million in a cash and stock deal.

Envigo's crown jewel was its dog breeding operation in Cumberland, where more than 5,000 beagles were housed to sell to medical research facilities around the world.

Care of research animals falls under the control of the Animal Welfare Act. USDA is required to license and inspect animal breeding facilities. But in the case of Envigo/Inotiv, APHIS — which  conducts inspections — inexplicably failed to do its job resulting in suffering to beagles in Cumberland.

The timeline tells a sordid tale:

  • August 2017: APHIS inspections find feces piled inches deep, crusted with black and white mold; insects and larvae in the feed of all buildings; rusted and broken floors. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals posts pictures and a video they say came from the APHIS report.
  • July 2019: Drone pilot Steve Hindi, president of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), posts a video on the SHARK website of beagles at Cumberland in poor living conditions. A month earlier, the 52,000-square-foot facility had changed ownership — pharmaceutical company Covance sold the beagle breeding facility to Envigo.
  • August 2019: APHIS inspectors find no, none, zero, nada infractions. The report from APHIS animal care veterinary medical officer Gloria McFadden revealed “no non-compliant items were discovered during this inspection.” How is that possible? Not one animal issue among 5,000? Not one building violation? Not one administration recordkeeping violation? The report raised red flags among animal activists. But the fun and games among APHIS inspectors and following AMA-required procedures were just beginning.
  • July 2021: An APHIS inspection report indicates seven direct and three critical citations regarding feeding, records, sanitation, staffing, housing, and veterinary care. In the case of direct violations APHIS must re-inspect within 14 days. Ignoring its own guidelines, APHIS does not return to the Cumberland facility until October.
  • October 2021: APHIS finds conditions at Cumberland appalling. APHIS cites seven critical citations and severe staffing shortages.
  • November 2021: APHIS returns to Cumberland to find conditions even worse than the previous month. Fourteen direct citations. Twelve non-critical violations. Terrible suffering. Inadequate and unkempt living spaces. APHIS' response? Instead of returning in December 2021, APHIS inexplicably sat on its collective backside until March of 2022 to see if Envigo was doing anything of consequence to improve beagle health and living conditions.
  • March 2022: APHIS observes just 79 dogs out of more than 5,000 and found two more direct violations including dogs that were “actively stuck” due to the widespread use of poorly maintained slatted floors. Again, APHIS failed to re-inspect in accordance with its own guidelines.
  • May 3, 2022: APHIS animal care veterinary medical officer Rachel Perez-Baum all but gives the Cumberland facility a clean bill of health, finding just one direct citation – dogs “actively stuck” in slatted floors.
  • By now it should be clear, dear reader, that APHIS' oversight of Cumberland bordered on, if did not downright cross, incompetency. See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil.

Fortunately for all those mistreated beagles, the U.S. Department of Justice — although terribly late to the party — got involved. On May 18, the DOJ executed a search warrant at Cumberland, seizing 446 dogs veterinarians diagnosed in “acute distress.” The following day, May 19, DOJ filed a complaint seeking injunctive relief.

On May 22, 2022, U.S. District Court Western District of Virginia Judge Norman K. Moon issued a 14-day temporary restraining order preventing Inotiv from doing business at Cumberland:

Over 300 beagle puppies have died onsite due to ‘unknown causes’ over seven months. Many were not given anesthesia before they were euthanized by intracardiac injection. Beagles with even minor injuries or easily treated medical conditions were euthanized rather than given veterinary care. Nursing female beagles were denied food, and so they (and their litters) were unable to get adequate nutrition. The food that the beagles did receive was observed to contain live insects, worms, maggots, beetles, flies, ants, mold, and feces. Beagle puppies remained housed in their enclosures as they were hosed down with cold water, leaving them shivering. Over an eight-week period, 25 beagle puppies died from cold exposure. The enclosures were overcrowded. The facility was understaffed. Inspectors found over 900 beagle and beagle puppy records to be incomplete or inaccurate. The list of serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act and its regulations goes on and on.”

Moon demanded Envigo/Inotiv clean up its mess forthwith, in part demanding:

"Within forty-eight (48) hours of this Order, Envigo is ORDERED to:

"Provide to counsel for the United States the name and contact information for the attending veterinarian at the Cumberland Facility and a program of veterinary care that complies with 9 C.F.R. § 3.13. 3. Ensure that every puppy who is no longer housed in the same enclosure with their nursing mother is provided access to potable water from a water receptacle that the puppy can easily drink from without any assistance. Ensure that every beagle is provided uncontaminated, wholesome, palatable food of sufficient quantity and nutritive value to maintain the normal condition and weight of the animal. The diet must be appropriate for the individual animal’s age and condition. Envigo must feed each beagle at least once a day. Envigo must seek consent of counsel for the United States or, if counsel does not consent, a court order to feed any animal less than once a day.

"Within seven (7) days of this Order, Envigo is ORDERED to:

"Provide to counsel for the United States an inventory of every dog and puppy at the Cumberland Facility. The inventory must list each beagle individually with its sex, age, unique identification number, and enclosure location and number.

"Within fourteen (14) days of this Order, Envigo is ORDERED to:

"Add to each enclosure enough food receptacles so that every weaned puppy and dog in the enclosure can access food at the same time. Comply with the requirement for flooring provided in 9 C.F.R. § 3.6(a)(2)(x). Install solid partitions between all adjacent enclosures.

Moon granted the DOJ a preliminary injunction on June 17, 2022.

Inotiv had enough. Initially the company announced it would fight the DOJ complaint. Instead, it entered a settlement with the DOJ requiring it to shutter the facility and surrender the beagles for adoption.

But even then the DOJ allowed Inotiv to wiggle off the hook. The DOJ did not fine or require an admission of guilt, and lack of APHIS enforcement action means Inotiv will keep its breeding license.

At the end of the day, it's USDA APHIS that failed for the care of beagles at Cumberland. APHIS documented terrible animal suffering and inadequate living conditions for months and failed to act expeditiously to correct the problems. It's time for Congressional oversight of APHIS to ensure accountability and potential policy change.

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Investigate Midwest covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect Investigate Midwest. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.