Senators call for suspension of Envigo’s facility license

Published 10:30 am Thursday, April 7, 2022

“Thursday, March 31, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) expressed horror and demanded immediate and aggressive action by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) following more than 70 animal welfare violations at an Envigo breeding and research facility based in Cumberland.” a news release received by The Herald stated. In a letter to APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea, the Senators urged APHIS to immediately suspend Envigo’s Cumberland facility license, condemning “persistent and egregious” abuses that led to distress, injury and death in dogs and puppies.

The letter comes just days after the release of two new inspections from November 2021 and March 2022 that detailed how the facility performed unnecessarily painful medical procedures on dogs and puppies – including euthanasia without a sedative – in direct contradiction to the recommendation of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Medical records indicate that 196 dogs were euthanized and many were not provided any anesthetic.

“It is clear to us that Envigo has been derelict in its duty to provide for the humane care of its dogs, and is unable to abide by the basic standards set forth by the Animal Welfare Act,” wrote Sens. Warner and Kaine. “The role of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in ensuring humane treatment of animals extends beyond routine and focused inspections. Congress has provided USDA with broad authority to apply penalties to violators of the Animal Welfare Act. To our knowledge, APHIS has not yet exercised such authority despite Envigo’s repeated failures in providing adequate care to the 5,000 dogs entrusted to its care.”

They continued, “APHIS could suspend Envigo’s license for 21 days, and upon notice and opportunity for hearing, move to revoke the facility’s license outright. Additionally, APHIS could initiate formal administrative action by the USDA Office of General Counsel to seek civil penalties. APHIS is authorized in statute to seek civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation of the AWA, meaning that it could seek up to $730,000 in penalties from Envigo for its repeated noncompliance. In the face of repeated, serious violations by the facility, it is our strongly-held belief that USDA must pursue aggressive enforcement actions.”

Over the course of nine months, four inspections – including a July inspection, and subsequent October, November and March inspections – revealed 73 violations of the Animal Welfare Act at the Envigo Cumberland facilities. Specifically, these inspections found that puppies and dogs were held in shelters with temperatures exceeding 85 degrees Fahrenheit for more than five hours, and that research conducted at the facility caused distress to nursing mothers and their puppies after food was intentionally withheld for 48 hours. The inspections also found that housing violations led to the injury of dozens of dogs, including 71 who were injured when a body part was pulled through the wall of the kennel by a dog in an adjacent kennel, and 50 who were injured or killed due to incompatible groupings.

In their letter, the Senators also raised concern with USDA delays in publishing the horrific findings of these inspections.

They wrote, “While APHIS inspection reports have proven an invaluable resource in uncovering the breadth and depth of mistreatment occurring at the Envigo facilities, we are concerned with delays in publishing such reports. Advocates, legislators and the public have waited months after inspections to review inspection report findings. The July report was not publicly released until 118 days after the inspection, while the October and November inspection reports took 94 and 128 days, respectively, to be published. We appreciate the complexity of these reports and the immense care that animal care specialists take in preparing them. We also understand that Envigo made it consistent practice to appeal each report in its 21-day window from initial receipt. Even still, it strikes us as unacceptable that the public and elected officials were not privy to the horrific violations of the AWA until months after the inspections while animals suffered in the interim.”

Additionally, the Senators posed a series of questions for APHIS, requesting an answer by April 20. Among other questions, they inquired whether APHIS plans to take any enforcement actions against Envigo, and whether inspectors will return to the facility for a fifth time to monitor progress on corrective actions.

Sen. Warner, a dog owner, has been an advocate for dogs in Virginia and throughout the country, earning a 100% on the Humane Society of the United States’ Humane Scorecard for 2021. Most recently, Sen. Warner secured the passage of new language requiring the Department of State to report on the status of dogs in the Explosive Detection Canine Program (EDCP). This program came under scrutiny in 2019 after an Inspector General (IG) report found that the Department failed to conduct proper follow-up after sending highly-trained dogs to foreign partner nations, resulting in the death of at least 10 dogs from largely preventable illnesses.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been consistent cosponsors of the Puppy Protection Act, which would amend the Animal Welfare Act to include additional care and safety standards for dog breeders like Envigo. Under the bill, breeders would be required to house dogs in appropriately sized enclosures with solid ground and keep them on a regular diet and exercise routine. As Governor of Virginia, Kaine signed a law that imposed stricter legal penalties for dogfighting offenses.

A copy of the letter can be found at https://www.warner.senate. gov/public/_cache/files/c/a/cab22cba-fc3a-445b-9471-bf7a9cfcaf0c/845D775FFB28E865D0073852C156A2CF.03.31.22-mrw. tk-envigo-letter.pdf