Beagle breeder in Virginia fined $35M after 4,000 dogs rescued

FILE - A few of the 200 beagles who were among 4,000 dogs freed from a Virginia breeding facility, sit in cages moments after the dogs arrived in two trailers at Priceless Pets, a nonprofit rescue, in Chino Hills on Saturday afternoon, July 23, 2022.

A company that bred beagles for medical research in Virginia has pleaded guilty to neglect after hundreds of dogs were rescued from "acute distress" in 2022. 

The story made national headlines that May after federal authorities discovered the dogs in filthy cages and receiving inadequate care. Hundreds of deceased dogs were also found at the facility.

On Monday, Envigo RMS agreed to pay a record $35 million as part of a criminal plea admitting it neglected thousands of dogs at its facility. 

Prosecutors said Monday that the penalties amount to the largest ever levied in an animal-welfare case.

The plea deal also bars Envigo RMS and its Indiana-based parent company, Inotiv, from breeding or selling dogs in the future.

Beagles rescued

Federal authorities searched the facility in May 2022 and found nearly 450 animals in acute distress. 

The company later agreed to relinquish all 4,000 beagles at the facility, which were sent around the country for adoption.

RELATED: 4,000 beagles rescued from Virginia breeding facility in need of new homes

Authorities said Envigo "prioritized profits and convenience" and refused to make the investments necessary to provide for the animals' basic care. 

The company was found to have made $16 million in revenue between 2019 and May 2022, when the search occurred, through the sale of 15,000 beagles over that time.

Meanwhile, prosecutors said cages were cleaned twice a month rather than every day as required. Animals were euthanized, including by direct injections to their heart, without sedation. Dogs were routinely injured by getting their paws caught in flooring composed of metal grates that left space for paws to easily fall through. Food and water were lacking and unclean.

Court records show that 300 puppies died over a seven-month stretch around 2021 for what was described as "unknown causes."

Prosecutors said the company continued to employ a veterinarian who had botched surgeries and oversaw numerous violations because executives believed it would be too difficult to find a replacement.

The Cumberland facility, which employed nearly 40 people, has been shuttered.

The record $35 million fine includes: 

  • $11 million for violating the Animal Welfare Act
  • $11 million for violating the Clean Water Act 
  • $7 million to improve facilities to exceed Animal Welfare Act requirements 
  • $3.5 million for environmental repairs in Cumberland County 
  • $1.9 million to U.S. Humane Society for assistance it provided in the investigation 

Prosecutors also said their investigation is ongoing and that criminal cases against individual employees remain possible.

Inotiv has issued what is called a "statement of contrition" and said, in part, "we fell short of our standards for animal and environmental welfare and apologize to the public for the harm caused by our conduct."

This story was reported from Detroit. The Associated Press contributed.