“He’s just the best dog”

By COLLEEN CURRAN, Richmond Times-Dispatch

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — When Annette Marchioli first adopted Gracie, a 4-year-old beagle rescued from the Envigo breeding facility, she was so shy and scared she was shaking and losing handfuls of hair.

“She looked so pitiful and puny,” Marchioli said of the first time she saw Gracie. “Tommy DeSanto of the Richmond SPCA carried her in his arms. She was so small and shy. His cock did not come out between his legs.

But after just a few days at her new family’s home in Henrico County’s Lakeside neighborhood, with the help of her new beagle brother Rocky, Gracie grew “by leaps and bounds,” Marchioli said.

“I thought it would take her years to adjust, but within days we saw her tail coming out of between her legs. She’s tail wagging. She’s so loving and cozy. She’s the best cuddler Marchioli said.

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Gracie is one of 4,000 beagles rescued in July from overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at the Envigo breeding facility in Cumberland County.

Described as a “house of horrors”, Envigo housed thousands of beagles in inhumane conditions. In a lawsuit filed in federal court, authorities said they were held in filthy conditions, fed moldy food and suffered from untreated medical conditions. The dogs spent their lives in cages, never putting their paws on the grass. Some beagles were euthanized without pain relief, and others were left for dead.

But in an “unprecedented case”, Envigo agreed to release 4,000 beagles from the factory and halt operations. The US government worked quickly to transfer the dogs to the Humane Society of the United States, which works with shelters and organizations across the country to place dogs and puppies up for adoption.

In national news, even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have adopted a rescue beagle named Mia from the Virginia breeding facility.

In the Richmond area, Envigo beagles have arrived at the Richmond SPCA, Richmond Animal Care and Control, Powhatan County Animal Control, Fredericksburg Regional SPCA, and Green Dogs Unleashed, to name a few- one.

Richmond Animal Care and Control has received 84 beagles to date, and the shelter still has 41 dogs at the end of August. The moms and puppies are currently in foster care, with the puppies waiting to be old enough to be put up for adoption, which usually lasts about eight weeks.

“Many of the puppies we received in July were literally only a day old,” said Robin Young, spokesperson for the RACC. Once puppies reach eight weeks of age, they’re ready to be weaned, vaccinated and scheduled to be spayed or neutered, Young said.

The RACC said the shelter will post the dogs on social media when they are available for adoption with instructions on how to apply.

Homeward Trails, an Alexandria-based rescue center, was one of the first shelters in Virginia to receive about 500 beagles from the Envigo facility.

“The first night after we announced we would have some of the beagles, I woke up to over 1,000 emails. And that continued every day for three weeks. I was getting emails from people as far away as Australia and Puerto Rico wishing to adopt these dogs,” said Sue Bell, executive director of the shelter.

Bell said that like Annette Marchioli and her husband, Ron Stilwell’s, experience with Gracie, adult beagles are often shy and timid at first, but they adapt quickly.

“The most rewarding thing is seeing them put their feet on the grass for the first time – watching their little brains start processing, put their noses to the ground and run. They were running and jumping like deer. had never done before,” Bell said.

Homeward Trails gave the dogs a “spa day” and their first baths. This was followed by a Netflix party, where they called for volunteers to sit down and watch “Homeward Bound” and snuggle up with the beagles in their new beds.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and it was absolutely one of the best nights of my life,” Bell said.

She estimates the shelter spent $1,000 per Envigo beagle to prepare the dogs for adoption. These costs go to vaccines, sterilization, heartworm and medical treatments, as well as dental care.

“The dogs came at us with horrible teeth. Each dog required dental cleaning or extraction, which cost between $300 and $800,” Bell said. All of these beagles have since been placed for adoption.

Some of the adult beagles have trouble with house training, walking on a leash, or going up and down stairs. But shelters encourage new owners to be patient.

“We still have problems with Gracie. She seems really worried about the food: getting it and protecting it,” Marchioli said. “She still has accidents at home, but we’ve only had her for two weeks. So the positives outweigh everything else.

Christi Hast and her husband, Justin, adopted a 3-year-old beagle named Dita from the Richmond SPCA to join their “pack” of three other beagles and hunting dogs.

“She’s an amazing dog, very happy and fun, so easy going, really sweet and cuddly. She’s super confident, not shy at all,” said Christi Hast. Like many of Envigo’s adult dogs, Dita has a six-letter green serial number tattooed inside one of his ears.

“I know a lot of people want puppies, but I think it’s important not to forget about mom dogs. They are really wonderful and lovable pets,” Christi Hast said.

She and her husband live in Gum Spring, County Goochland, with plenty of land for the dogs to walk and play. “I think having other dogs around has helped her thrive,” she said.

“This is truly an unprecedented case and one of the largest dog rescue efforts ever coordinated,” Bell said. “Knowing that these dogs will have the life they deserve and not languish in cages for the rest of their lives is so rewarding.”

Another positive is that the public learns more about how beagles are used in medical research. Envigo is the second-largest breeder of dogs for medical research and breeds about 25 percent of beagles used in medical and pharmaceutical research in the United States, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“I’ve had so many people tell me they didn’t know beagles were used for medical research,” Bell said. “We hope to harness this momentum and educate the public.”

And while interest in Envigo beagles remains high, shelters in Richmond — and rescue dog owners like Hast — are urging prospective pet owners to consider adopting one of the thousands of dogs available in the shelters in the region.

“Several thousand more dogs are left homeless for a number of other unrelated reasons, but still need good homes,” said Tamsen Kingry, CEO of the Richmond SPCA. “Visiting a shelter or shelter in search of your next pet is always the best decision you can make.”

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