Faced with growing financial and legal hurdles, a company that owns a troubled beagle research facility in Cumberland, Virginia, said last night it would close the facility, which until recently supplied dogs to universities, major drug manufacturers and National Institutes of Health.
Due to the rising costs of bringing the complex of several large buildings in line with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), “We have decided not to invest more in this facility and it will be closed”, President and CEO of Inotiv Robert Leasure says in a statement.
Inotiv is a contract research organization that has become a major supplier of research animals through recent acquisitions, including the purchase of Envigo in November 2021, which owns the facility in Virginia. Inotiv says it is the second largest supplier of research beagles, producing about 25% of the dogs used in the United States. Since taking over Envigo, the number of dogs in the Cumberland complex has dropped from about 5,000 to about 3,000.
Animal welfare activists applauded the planned closure, but said they had little confidence that Inotiv, which keeps tens of thousands of other AWA-regulated research animals at other sites, was committed to their welfare.
“Closing this disgusting facility alone is not enough,” said Eric Kleiman, a researcher at the Institute for Animal Welfare, an animal protection group. “What about over 40,000 animals in his other sites?” Given his shocking record of animal welfare, we believe that Inotiv’s license should be revoked once and for all. ” (The facility is licensed to breed and sell animals by the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA]who is in charge of implementing the AWA.)
Inotiv is committed to animal welfare, one senior official objected to a U.S. court hearing yesterday; the hearing was part of a lawsuit filed last month by the United States in an attempt to force the company to comply with the AWA. In the 7 months since it acquired the facility, “We are making an incredible effort to try to address the concerns originally raised by the USDA,” said John Sagartz, Inotiv’s chief strategic officer. “We take them very seriously.”
Inotiv’s decision to close the besieged facility came after USDA inspectors documented more than 70 AWA violations there from July 2021. This prompted the state of Virginia in April to pass a law banning the company from selling more beagles if it committed another serious violation after July 1, 2023. Then last month the Ministry of Justice (DOJ), in the first such case against a research breeder, sued Envigo for violating the AWA and confiscated 446 animals, which veterinarians described as “in acute distress.”
Inotiv first hinted publicly about its plans for yesterday’s hearing when the company’s lawyers told U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon that they were ready to close the site. However, at the hearing, Sagartz said the company had made great strides in improving the facility.
“Progress has been rapid and dramatic” in terms of indicators such as puppy mortality and the number of upcoming physical and dental examinations, he told the court. In a separate application yesterday, the company said it had upgraded flooring, installed generators, increased salaries and transferred veterinary staff from other Inotiv facilities in Cumberland.
But Amy Catherine Taylor, an animal crimes investigator at the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, wrote in an affidavit that during an inspection on June 8, she found dogs packed in 10 enclosures, enclosure temperatures ranging from 30 ° C to 32 ° C, lethargic puppies, empty or missing water bowls, food contaminated with insects, dogs that fight unnoticed by staff, and dogs standing in their own feces and urine that have accumulated on the mats.
At the hearing, where Taylor also testified, DOJ and Inotiv’s lawyers argued over the disposal of the other 3,000 dogs. (The temporary restraining order imposed does not allow the company to sell or distribute dogs without the approval of either the Justice Department’s lawyers or the judge.) The company wants to be able to sell dogs to clients for research. But Justice Ministry lawyers insist that until Inotiv is in full compliance with the AWA, it should only be allowed to distribute the dogs.
Animal rights activists have reiterated this argument. “Each of the 3,000 dogs is still locked up [at Cumberland] should be released in good homes, “said Daphna Nachminovic, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which published an undercover investigation on the Cumberland website in November 2021.
The fate of the beagles may require a full-fledged process to be decided, unless the two sides fail to compromise on the issue of selling or distributing them, Moon said during the hearing. He asked them to try to reach an agreement as he considered issuing a preliminary ban to the government to keep Cumberland dogs in the process.