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Virginia lawmakers try to improve conditions for dogs bred for medical research

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3 days ago Dana Hedgpeth

Lawmakers in Virginia are pursuing legislation to improve conditions and oversight of dogs bred for medical research.

Ten bills — three in the House and seven in the Senate — have been introduced in the state’s General Assembly with the aim of securing the improvements.

One of the bills, proposed by Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. (R-Franklin), would prohibit a dealer or breeder from “importing for sale … a dog or cat bred by a person” who has received “certain citations pursuant to the federal Animal Welfare Act.”

Another bill in the House, sponsored by Kelly K. Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach), would require any person or business that breeds cats and dogs for animal testing facilities to report on a monthly basis to the state veterinarian such information as “birth, acquisition, death, sale, transfer, or other disposition” of the animal.

The legislative proposals come after federal officials conducted unannounced inspections this summer of a large beagle-breeding facility in Virginia and found dozens of animal welfare violations.

USDA cites dog-breeding facility in Virginia for mistreating animals

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The reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were done at a facility in Cumberland, Va., about 50 miles west of Richmond. The site is run by Envigo, an Indianapolis-based firm that breed dogs and sells them as research animals to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

The USDA found that hundreds of puppies had died of “unknown causes” over a span of months; dogs’ food dispensers were teeming with insects; and reeking kennels had piles of feces, urine and food underneath them.

An Envigo spokesman said the company has been working with the USDA to correct the issues it outlined. “The highest quality of animal welfare is a core value of our company,” the spokesman said.

According to USDA inspection reports posted online on Nov. 15, authorities found more than 500 puppies and dogs kept inside a building and experiencing “discomfort, lethargy or stress” because the temperature was above 85 degrees for at least five hours and there was no air conditioning.

The officials from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service also raised concerns about infrequent cleaning in areas where dogs nursing puppies could face possible disease and sickness. Flies, beetles and ants were found on self-feeders in some of the kennels. At least a dozen dogs had problems including eye conditions, “severe dental disease” and inflamed paws, according to the inspection reports.

Envigo said the use of animals for research is “essential for developing lifesaving medicines, medical devices and biologics, such as vaccines.” Its animals, the company said, have “an integral role in the development of advanced pacemakers for heart patients” and in “critical research into Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.”

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Institutions and universities often spend thousands of dollars to do medical research on animals. Beagles are bred for use in research because they are small and docile, according to animal welfare experts.

PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — launched its own, roughly seven-month undercover investigation of the Envigo facility in Virginia. The group said its investigator found workers with no veterinary credentials sticking needles into puppies’ heads to drain hematomas without any pain relief for the animal, and cases in which puppies “fell through holes in the cages and ended up in drains, soaked with water, feces and other waste.”

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