Nicole Jaworski is hovering over a big bone-shaped cookie, carefully squeezing more cheese from a can to write out “#4000.” A handful of beagle puppies have already licked off the tasty topping, abandoning the dog-friendly dessert for toys scattered throughout the room at our care and rehabilitation center in Maryland. 

Woman holding beagle
Samantha Nelson, HSUS senior specialist for shelter outreach and policy engagement, enjoys playtime with a beagle at our care and rehabilitation center.
Meredith Lee

“Well, this isn’t something I ever thought I’d be doing for work,” she laughs. Jaworski, senior manager of social media with the Humane Society of the United States, has come prepared with lots of snacks and even a small kiddie pool for the hot August afternoon, as she and other team members help introduce adorable bunches of beagles to our followers via live Instagram video.

Like most puppies, they have short attention spans (they chase after shoelaces, camera lenses and each other), but their indifference toward the cookie could mean they don’t understand what it is. It’s a reminder that these pups are unfamiliar with many common canine pleasures—even treats. 

Bleak beginnings

Nearly 4,000 beagles needed homes this past summer after their removal from a facility in Cumberland, Virginia, that bred dogs to be sold to laboratories for experimentation. In May, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Envigo RMS, the facility’s owner, alleging that the company was failing to provide the dogs with humane care as required by the Animal Welfare Act.

Government inspectors found that beagles there were being killed instead of receiving veterinary treatment for easily treated conditions.

Kitty Block, the HSUS

A woman takes a beagle out of a kennel inside the HSUS rescue van.
Jessica Johnson, senior director of our Animal Rescue Team, greets a beagle during a transport.
Meredith Lee

HSUS president and CEO Kitty Block described the situation in her blog, A Humane World: “Government inspectors found that beagles there were being killed instead of receiving veterinary treatment for easily treated conditions; nursing mother beagles were denied food; the food that they did receive contained maggots, mold and feces; and over an eight-week period, 25 beagle puppies died from cold exposure.” 

The dogs ranged in age from just days to 8 years old. Jessica Johnson, senior director of our Animal Rescue Team, recalls being most affected by the older moms. 

“Some of them were gray in the face and clearly arthritic,” Johnson says. “They had probably lived their entire lives in that facility, just breeding and breeding and breeding.”

Had these dogs not been removed, many of them would have faced an even crueler fate—many were destined for laboratories nationwide.

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Cover of All Animals Magazine Winter 2023 Issue
Meredith Lee / The HSUS

The truth about testing

Breeding facilities like this one sell dogs and other animals to research labs, where they endure a lifetime of pain and suffering as experimentation subjects to test drugs, medical devices or pesticides such as insect repellent and rat poison. They are typically euthanized afterward.

“Information gathered from animal testing has demonstrated time and again to be highly inaccurate and misleading. In fact, somewhere around 90% of drugs tested on animals fail in human trials, approximately half due to unexpected toxicity in humans,” explains Kathleen Conlee, HSUS vice president of Animal Research Issues. “Non-animal approaches are proving to be more accurate, reliable and often provide faster results, which means safer products for humans who are relying on lifesaving treatments. Animal testing will never improve while non-animal technologies will only continue to do so—the sky is the limit.”

The plight of these beagles may have thrown a spotlight on the issue of animal testing, but their situation isn’t unique—on average, more than 60,000 dogs are used in experiments every year in the United States, along with tens of millions of other animals.

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Beagles arrive at the HSUS temporary shelter
Staff and volunteers help with intake tasks—and form a welcoming committee—as beagles arrive at our care and rehabilitation center.
Meredith Lee
Closeup showing the tattoo inside a beagles ear.
At the breeding facility, beagles were identified by letters and numbers tattooed in their ears.
Meredith Lee

An army of advocates

As a result of the DOJ’s lawsuit, Envigo agreed to close the facility and surrender the nearly 4,000 beagles. That meant a huge number of dogs needed homes, and fast: The team set an ambitious 60-day timeframe.

“The reason it was so short is because the dogs were suffering. There was an emotional urgency to moving them,” explains Lindsay Hamrick, HSUS director of shelter outreach and engagement.

Consider supporting our shelter and rescue partners in your state! View the full list of partners who assisted with the beagle transfer.

The HSUS was honored when the DOJ asked us to lead the effort. With our network of almost 400 shelter and rescue partners throughout the country, we had both the expertise and the resources to efficiently facilitate the transfer, says Hamrick. Hundreds of local shelters and rescues reached out to take in beagles, assist with transportation or offer volunteers to help with their care. More than 120 partner groups wound up welcoming the dogs into their adoption programs. 

“What really wowed me the most was the collaboration and what we were able to accomplish when we had one common goal,” Johnson says. “Just the sheer magnitude of all of the people who came together to make this happen.”

“There was such an outpouring of support and a real flexibility,” agrees Hamrick. “This was a very unique operation that we had very little control over, but shelters and rescues figured it out.”

Some partners transported dogs directly from the facility to their shelters. Other dogs went to our care and rehabilitation center before being dispersed to 29 states. Thanks to local and national news coverage, thousands of foster families and adopters were eager to welcome a beagle (or two) into their home. 

Shelters were inundated with applications: Adams County SPCA in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, received around 1,500 applications, including one from Portugal. Staffers understood the appeal: “They are just so lovable,” says director Abby Avery of the 45 pups the shelter took in. Staff also learned how much patience and understanding the dogs would require; their trauma was obvious even during bath time. 

Veterinary technician Lori Wetzel (far left) and shelter technician Tonya Hays enjoy beagle playtime.
Adams County SPCA in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, helped 45 beagles find homes. Here, veterinary technician Lori Wetzel (far left) and shelter technician Tonya Hays enjoy beagle playtime.
Meredith Lee

“The brown that ran off of them was like chocolate milk,” Avery says. “And we learned they’re terrified of moving water.”  

Documents filed in the underlying case might explain their fear; in granting the DOJ’s motion for a temporary restraining order against Envigo, Judge Norman Moon noted: “Beagle puppies remained housed in their enclosures as they were hosed down with cold water, leaving them shivering.” But adopters later shared videos of their new family members learning to love water, even jumping up to catch it from a garden hose.

“I know now why they test on beagles. They’re so forgiving,” Avery says. “They’re loyal to a fault. To see them actually become dogs … it’s just amazing.” 

What's in a name

By the last transport day on Sept. 1, the Animal Rescue Team was in high spirits, albeit exhausted and emotionally drained.

“Honestly, the last one hit me most,” says Johnson. “We were so laser-focused on just getting it done that none of us had really stopped to think about our feelings.”

The final pup (a 2-year-old our team named Fin, French for “end”) was removed just two days shy of the 60-day mark. 

“What we noticed right away is that despite all of the trauma, he’s just the sweetest,” says Suzanne Brown-Pelletier of North Yarmouth, Maine. She and her husband adopted Fin from the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. “We recognized that and fell in love.” 

Fin has since been re-named Sir Biscuit of Barkingham—a name fit for the red carpet, bringing the entire operation full circle: The first group of beagles got the celebrity treatment. One lucky pup was even adopted by actual celebrities; Prince Harry and Meghan Markle welcomed a breeding mom, named Momma Mia.

“After a life spent being forced to give birth to litter after litter of puppies destined for laboratories, I can think of no more fitting ‘happily ever after’ than being adopted by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex,” Block told The New York Times.

Ollie, Mac, Pepper, Nora, Clover, Ella, Copper—the thousands of dogs formerly identified only by a code tattooed in their ears now have names as individual as their personalities. 

And, thanks to animal lovers like you, they’ll also get to have warm beds and loving families—even big bone-shaped cookies—for the rest of their lives. 

One year later: Where are they now? Read More

Photo showing HSUS staff transporting crates of beagles onto a plane.
Meredith Lee

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