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VPM Daily Newscast June 6, 2022

The VPM Daily Newscast contains all your Central Virginia news in just 5 to 10 minutes. Episodes are recorded the night before so you can wake up prepared.      

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Cumberland beagle breeders shut down by Feds, and Virginia toughens laws

A federal judge issued a restraining order in May against the dog breeding facility Envigo in Cumberland County for repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including the deaths of hundreds of beagle puppies. WMRA’s Jessie Knadler reports on the practice of breeding animals for research, and lawmakers’ reactions.

[Sound of Mila scampering in the yard]

You wouldn’t know Mila’s bleak beginnings to look at her. She’s a cute, curious small white beagle who scampers around the yard of Siobhan Deeds of Lexington. Siobhan and her husband, Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 25th District, adopted Mila in April.

SIOBHAN DEEDS: The first night we brought her home, he sent me a picture of Mila on the bed with him. And I just texted back that, do you know, this is the best day of her life. Thus far, you know, it like she was in a cage with, I mean, she was literally in a cage with dead animals. Like it's, it breaks my heart.

Senator Creigh Deeds happens to be a beagle lover.

SENATOR CREIGH DEEDS: Honestly, we'd got her, she didn't have any people skills, she didn't have any dog skills, living skills. I don't think she had ever been on grass before.

Mila was one of thousands of beagles bred for biomedical research by Envigo, a Cumberland County dog breeding facility that was recently raided and closed by federal agents for, in part, amassing more than 60 violations of the Animal Welfare Act in less than a year. Since last July, federal inspectors have found dozens of sick, wounded and suffering animals, including records of hundreds of puppy deaths that have never been investigated.

SENATOR DEEDS: I think they should probably all just close their doors and move on somewhere else.

Bipartisanship is a rare thing in Virginia politics but when it comes to dogs, the General Assembly rallied. Both the Republican-led House of Delegates and Democratic-controlled Senate voted unanimously to pass five bills that strengthen protections for dogs and cats bred for research. Governor Youngkin signed the “ beagle bills” surrounded by members of both parties, animal rights activists and a bunch of beagles including Mila at a ceremony outside the Governor’s Mansion in early April.

Republican Senator Bill Stanley introduced a number of the bills, and spoke at the ceremony.

SENATOR BILL STANLEY: … and it is our obligation. It is our duty to make sure that we in the Commonwealth of Virginia recognize their importance, recognize the importance of their lives and protect them for all that they do for us. And so this is a great day …

The Envigo crisis sheds a light on the practice of breeding animals for research, which is something a lot of people aren’t aware of. Here’s Senator Deeds again.

SENATOR DEEDS: I think we need to be open to the notion that these kinds of businesses are out there. I think that a lot of people would just be shocked to know that, um, a facility that, that breeds beagles for the sole purpose of medical experimentation people would be surprised that these facilities are in Virginia.

The fact is, millions of animals are used in medical experiments around the world every year, a practice that draws heavy criticism from activists such as PETA, which was involved in the early investigations of Envigo.

Dr. Cindy Buckmaster is with the National Animal Interest Alliance, an advocacy group that seeks to educate the public on the reality of animal testing. It's a counter voice to PETA’s stance against no animal testing whatsoever. She says that's not realistic right now.

CINDY BUCKMASTER: It's astounding to me that they don't know. And the reason they don't know is that the research community is squarely to blame for not having been open and transparent for many, many decades.

It’s not something the public likes to think about or be reminded of, yet many vaccinations, medications and treatment plans for diseases and injuries have been developed through animal research.

BUCKMASTER: At the end of the day, we’re not advocates for animals in research. We're advocates for the best science possible and right now that has to still include animals.

Buckmaster concedes that if there’s a better model, such as stem cell technologies and other alternatives that don’t include animals, then scientists should use it. Until then, dogs like Mila should have the best care possible.

She’s also co-founder of an organization called Homes for Animal Heroes which seeks to rehome retired research animals, specifically dogs.

Meanwhile, Envigo says it's cooperating with authorities and denies the allegations against it.

Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine released a statement praising the rescue of beagles from the Envigo facility. They advocated for the passage of the Puppy Protection Act, a bill that they're sponsoring that would require breeders to house dogs in appropriately sized enclosures with solid ground, and keep them on a regular diet and exercise routine.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.