with guest Senator Bill Stanley
About this Episode
In the summer of 2022, the world witnessed the largest dog rescue in United States history when Envigo—a company in Virginia breeding beagles for experimental research—was found guilty on many charges of animal cruelty and was shut down. All of the 4,500 beagles suffering within Envigo’s cages were rescued and adopted to loving homes.
One of the champions for these beagles was Senator Bill Stanley, a Republican representing the state of Virginia, who had personally witnessed what was happening inside Envigo and took a stand to help the dogs. In a rare show of political cooperation, Senator Stanley rallied fellow legislators to join the cause and he gives us an inside look at how they succeeded in closing Envigo. Heartwarming stories of his own Envigo beagles—Dixie and Daisy—are shared, as well as more about his continuing fight to help end the cruel use of dogs for research.
Guest: Senator Bill Stanley (R-VA)
Throughout his 30-year legal and political career, Senator Bill Stanley has served the citizens of Southside Virginia at both the Capitol in Richmond, and in courtrooms throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Senator Stanley’s legislative agenda has been primarily focused on not only economic revitalization and opportunity in his region, rural and urban healthcare, and school modernization throughout Southside, but also on protecting our furry friends as well. Over the years, he has proposed and had passed into law, several pieces of legislation protecting companion animals, ending cruelty and the inhumane treatment of animals through scientific research, and eliminating puppy mills and animal research breeding facilities in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Senator Stanley is also the managing partner at the Stanley Law Group expertly serving clients in all aspects of criminal defense, civil matters, and business litigation. Bill lives on a farm in Franklin County, Virginia, with his wife Laura, their children, and their beloved rescue cats and dogs.
ELLIE HANSEN, HOST:
The liberation of over 4,000 beagles from Envigo in the summer of 2022 was the largest dog rescue in US history. And you were instrumental in getting the wheels turning on this. And honestly, if it weren’t for you and Senator Jennifer Boysko shining a light on the animal welfare issues there, I don’t know that Envigo would have been shut down. How and when did you first become aware of the welfare problems at Envigo?
SENATOR BILL STANLEY, GUEST:
Well, Ellie, thank you for having me. And it’s great to talk to another dog lover…animal lover…and someone who fights to protect animals. But, you know, the journey was when I started as a state senator in 2011. I got my kids interested in trying to understand what legislation was all about, and we’ve been big in rescuing animals and my family was always participating in and donating to animal rescue organizations in our area.
And so we got involved in drafting a bill that was animal protection bill, which would’ve put anyone who was convicted of animal cruelty in Virginia on an animal cruelty list. Because a lot of those people that are cruel to animals are also later cruel to humans. And so that would’ve been a great tool for our people who sell dogs, or find homes for rescue dogs or cats to make sure that the people that they were adopting out these animals to were worthy of having them.
And that bill didn’t succeed, but I kept going on with animal rescue bills year after year and it became a very big passion of mine. And I was told in the General Assembly that the one thing you don’t do is bring a dog or cat bill to the General Assembly. I took that as a challenge and I accepted that challenge and that brought us to about 2018, where I’d gotten by that time some animal protection and especially companion animal protection bills passed, and had found a report where there was an experimentation going on at a federal facility in Virginia where they were using beagles and they were cutting them open and putting pacemakers in them and then running them on treadmills until they died. And that’s how I got the idea to ban that practice of painful experiments in the Commonwealth of Virginia especially. They were giving no anesthesia, no pain relief to these dogs. And I thought that especially cruel, not just the underlying experimentation itself. And so I got that bill passed.
And then the next bill that I put forward was to make sure that after they experimented with these dogs and cats, that they adopted them out and found some resistance from some of our colleges and universities, but got that bill passed. And then I saw someone had taken a drone and flown it over where Envigo was, and saw the conditions of dogs being stacked cage on cage in horrible conditions. And that really started my efforts to shut down Envigo. In fact, the drone footage was of a company prior to Envigo. Envigo bought that facility. And I put that bill in. Envigo fought very hard, brought in some of the best lobbyists possible.
We had competing bills…Jennifer Boysco, my good friend from the Democrat side. I am a Republican, which some people in companion animal advocacy find that to be different. I don’t see that inconsistent with my beliefs at all. And we had two versions of the bill and they conflicted and eventually Envigo was able to kill both of those bills. And then the next year we were in special session and they urged a fellow senator of mine Dave Marsden to bring me to the Envigo facility because they wanted to show me that they’d cleaned up their act.
And I resisted. I didn’t want to see anything like that. And finally I agreed to do it and went out there, and yeah, the facility obviously was cleaned and in order, I think because of our visit. But ultimately nothing there changed my mind or the direction that I was moving into to stop this breeding and experimentation of beagles and cats in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
And so we went there and they gave me their spiel. And that’s actually how I got Daisy, was from that, and which, you know, we can talk about later, but, it didn’t change my mind at all. But when we came to 2020 and 2021, it was the work of PETA and Daphna Nachminovitch and her group who had sent in an investigator and had videotaped the absolute abject cruelty that these dogs were suffering under. And that motivated me to file what has been known as the Beagle Bills.
So you took two separate tours of the Envigo facility, one in 2020 and one in 2021. They knew you were coming so they cleaned up their act. But, what struck you most about your visits there?
Well, what I noticed every single time was that there were a bunch of beautiful dogs that needed to find nice, beautiful, loving homes. And, what I saw, you know, it was a clean facility. They were trying to tell me that, you know, these experiments were helping mankind in enormous ways. And I asked them about, okay, so tell me what we’ve cured using these beagles here. And the best they could do was in the field of prosthetics. And then I had them describe to me what that was. And what they would do is break a dog’s hip, replace it with a miniature version of a prosthetic that they would use on humans, and then run them on a treadmill. And I said, isn’t there a better way to do that? They didn’t say yes or no, but they said, you know, the expense was more manageable in the experimentation of these new prosthetics than it would be with other methods. And I didn’t find that to be good at all.
When we went in November of 2021…that was after, of course, the release of what PETA’s investigation had found and the fact that the U.S.D.A had found some critical violations of the facility. So I talked Dave Marsden, my Democrat senator friend from Northern Virginia who had talked me into going to Envigo the year before in 2020, in August to go back, but to do it as a surprise. And that we would make a surprise visit, show up at the gate, ring the bell, hit the button, and demand to be let in. Somehow I think through his efforts of coordinating, they found out we were there. And when we were let in, well, lo and behold, there were four of their lobbyists from a very big lobbying firm in the Commonwealth waiting on us. And at that time I sat down with the CEO of Envigo who was there. The U.S.D.A was also there. They were using their conference room so they sat us in their small kitchenette in their office, and they tried to explain away what had happened. And they basically said that during the pandemic, they didn’t stop breeding, they kept breeding. And when they kept breeding, the problem was is that the facilities that would buy these dogs for experimentation stopped doing experiments.
And then they lost some employees and it got away from them, and this and that, and that was their reasoning behind it. I took it for face value and I asked them very simply, I said, “Well, how many dogs are overbred? I mean, how many are you over?” Because now they had overcrowding, and they said, “About 500.”
And so I told them what I was going to do and basically had thought out these beagle bills before and I told them what I was going to do and I said, “Now what are your plans with the 500?” And the look on their faces told me that the potential was that they might euthanize them, because a lot of these dogs were now too old or outside the experimentation range of age. And so I said, “You’re not going to euthanize or get rid of those dogs. You’re going to allow me to adopt them out.” And they agreed, readily agreed. And I give them credit for that. And they were very good about that. In fact, I, during the general assembly session, later I was able to rehome about 10 of those dogs with legislators in the Virginia General Assembly and otherwise, and we fostered some of them in my office at the capital of Virginia in Richmond and also in my hotel.
And it was enjoyable. I almost hated getting rid of every single one of them. And then, by that time I had Daisy and Dixie, which we’ll talk about I know in a little bit. But, we were able to find homes for those 500 beagles and worked with the Richmond SPCA and Sue Bell from Homeward Trails. That was then my first encounter with John Ramer, one of many, who is a hero of mine in what he does every single day. And what a great person and human being and great soul he is. And so we were able to find homes for 500 dogs, and this was before they were shut down and before the Beagle Bills got passed.
They were very much against all of my beagle bills in the 2021 session, and fought them, but like a storm brewing in the General Assembly, our bills caught fire and eventually we were able to successfully pass four of them that have made such a difference in those 4,000 beagles lives, as well as the 500 that we got out of there in the 2021 session.
So these beagle bills, what loopholes did they successfully close in Virginia’s animal cruelty laws that enabled all the Envigo beagles to be rescued and Envigo shut down?
So I figured you’d ask that question. So I brought with me during our conversation all of the bill jackets and all of the writing that I did on the outside of them as well, which you can see of course. But those in podcast land can only hear. So when I talked to them the second time that we visited and when I got Dixie, our second dog, it seemed to me that they needed to have certain regulations that would keep them from treating animals cruelly. Now they were cited for so many violations and we saw the videotape and those that have followed this story saw the horrible, horrible, pictures and visuals and video of how these dogs were being treated.
So the first bill I put in that they tried to kill was Senate Bill 87, which basically said that if a dog or cat bred for experimentation, if they had received certain citations by the USDA—a critical violation within two years or three non-critical violations—then they would be forbidden from selling or breeding or selling dogs in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This was actually an amendment of another companion animal bill that I had gotten passed in trying to close the puppy mill loopholes that we had in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Over the years, I was able to stop puppy mills in Virginia, close the loopholes. They were selling them actually in flea markets…close that loophole. And then what I saw was puppy mills from Pennsylvania…a lot from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Western Maryland were coming down at pet stores, putting dogs in there that were not healthy. And then there were people that would pay a lot of money for those dogs and then they’d get them home and then they were sick. And so they either couldn’t afford the care and so they’d turn them over to our shelters. Or if they did keep them, some of those dogs died and broke the hearts of many young children and parents and owners who love their dogs. And so I created a bill to stop that. That if any of those had either a critical violation or three or four non-critical violations in a two-year span, that they would be forbidden from selling a dog in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
And what we saw in those cases with the puppy mill people, some of the puppy mills wouldn’t even let the USDA in to inspect. And that bill also said if you don’t let the USDA in to inspect, then quite frankly, you can’t sell period. And so that was the first bill. So I amended what was existing law in Virginia to include then those places like Envigo that bred dogs and cats for experimentation purposes.
The second bill was Senate Bill 88, which was something that we had never done before. I asked our VDAG, Virginia Department of Ag, to basically tell me, you know, how many violations, what kind of statistics do you get from Envigo and other places that breed dogs and cats for experimentation in Virginia on how many are bred, how many are dying in captivity, what the cause of death is, where they go, how they dispose of them, et cetera. We had none of those rules or regulations whatsoever in Virginia. And so I wrote the bill, Senate Bill 88, to make sure that every year places like Envigo would have to report exactly those things. And that way we could look at and see exactly what was going on inside the fencing.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Envigo, the former Envigo facility in Cumberland County in Virginia, but it’s in the middle of nowhere and it’s a barbed wire fence that looks like a prison and the drive in is about a mile and a half after you get through the gate to get there. You wouldn’t know it was there unless you had a drone and flew over it. And so they were hiding in plain sight. And so this would at least every year, give us that opportunity to see what they were doing. And they objected fiercely to that. And so that was Senate Bill 88.
Senate Bill 90 was then amending the bill we were talking about earlier, which said, if you don’t sell these dogs for experimentation, you must adopt them out instead of euthanizing them. Because a lot of times when they went outside of the experimentation age, they were just euthanizing them as we saw even from the videos from Daphna’s organization in PETA who did very good work. So I took another old bill and added them to it, an old bill that became law and amended the Virginia law to include that, basically codifying what I got them to do, which was to give us those 500 beagles that were going to perhaps be euthanized instead to give them forever loving homes.
And then the final bill was Senate Bill 604, which in my research I determined that in the Commonwealth of Virginia, if you treat an animal cruelly—and I had worked on a bill to make it a felony –it used to be nothing more than a misdemeanor in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we made it into a felony. If you were outside the fence of Envigo and you treated your animal cruelly in the way that they had, then I would’ve been charged with a felony. Inside the fence it was legal. And they would not be, or could they be, charged with any kind of cruelty to animal violation criminal charge.
And in Virginia, a misdemeanor comes with up to 12 months in jail. But this is a class 6 felony, which is one to five years. And so I then said, you must treat those dogs in the same way that we hold the rest of Virginians to do, which is you must treat them humanely. And that way if you treat them inhumanely like we saw ever again, like we saw in those videos, then those persons, that company, and everybody associated would be charged and hopefully convicted of a class six felony.
You can imagine that all of these bills were not favored by Envigo. But as I said earlier, with the publicity that had happened, they caught fire and eventually were unanimously in a bipartisan way, voted out of both the House and Senate and onto the governor who signed them.
So, that’s rare that bills, especially anything trying to regulate the animal testing industry is passed unanimously. What do you think was the common goal that brought everyone together on this?
Well, I think first you credit PETA. I think too, the fact that we were adopting, finding homes within the General Assembly session that session, and everybody seeing beagles. And I remember coming back to my office and there was a long line of people outside my office. And you have that occasionally that want to talk to you about bills or issues that are important to them. And I said, “Who wants to see me?” And they said, “No, no, we want to see the dog.” And the dog was inside and everybody was taking turns petting and playing with it.
And so what I saw was is that we had stopped saying, as they said to me 13 sessions earlier in the General Assembly, don’t bring a dog or cat bill. And they saw the humanity that we are better as human beings than our nature, and we don’t need to do this in Virginia. And they understood ultimately the problem as a policy decision of allowing this to occur in the Commonwealth. So it didn’t take long, and especially with Jennifer Boysco on the Democrat side, myself on the Republican side to lobby our fellow colleagues in the House and Senate to get them on board. In fact, Jennifer and I used to joke about by the time the bill was finally formed, there had been so many co-patrons who had signed onto the bill, that the bill started on page two—not on the front page, and that warmed our hearts and made us feel really good.
The other thing was, is, you know, Envigo I think overplayed their hand in trying to, in my opinion, trying to strong-arm these bills to death and find a weaker version. And I think the General Assembly rejected that. And so that really was a tidal wave, as I said, caught fire.
And then I went even over into the House side because all of these bills were on the Senate side only and thought I might find a harder time getting them passed in that Republican-controlled house. In fact, what I found were champions like Delegate Rob Bell and Delegate Weber who picked them up, ran with them, made them better. Delegate Bobby Orrock, and they made them stronger and better even. And, and even when last minute plays were being made by Envigo’s lobbyists to try to water them down or change them, they stood in the way and said, “No, you’re out of time. You’re out of luck and this is what’s going to happen.” It was really refreshing, especially in today’s political environment, to see 140 Democrats and Republicans coming together on such an important issue to Virginia. I wish we could do it more.
It is so heartwarming…everyone standing up for those beagles. I’m smiling over here because just hearing you tell that story makes me happy.
Me too, by the way. My wife, I will tell you, my wife, I said, “I’m doing this podcast on beagles,” and she goes, “Oh, great. You love talking about dogs and beagles.” So thanks for letting me relive it a little bit here.
So you have publicly expressed your disagreement of using animals for experimentation. Would you say that you’re seeing a shift towards more legislators wanting more protections for animals in research?
I am, you know, I think we’re probably still in the minority overall, but I think we’re gaining more and more people in the legislature that are coming around to our position. It’s a gradual thing and I think, you know, with some of the bills that both Jennifer and myself put forward trying to really hold those facilities that experiment on animals, not just companion animals, hold them accountable, and even in the same record keeping as we talked about one of my bills in the Envigo Bills.
You know, we still see some influences from those higher institutions of learning in the Commonwealth, which is really disappointing because they don’t register as lobbyists, but they lobby, and quite frankly, they do it in a backroom, smokey backroom way, which is kind of detrimental. But what I see is, especially with the General Assembly being up for re-election—all 140 seats this year—is we’re going to see a big turnover of the old guard and the new guard will be coming in. There’ll be a lot of new legislators, and I think a lot of that, those younger legislators that are going to come in will agree with us that this is the 21st century. We can be better than this. We have so many tools at our disposal that we can find out the answers to the questions that we have in terms of experimentation using technologies that weren’t present 20, 30 years ago.
And quite frankly, I mean, we have, you know, artificial intelligence and all these things, but why would we hurt an animal when we can find the answer some other way that doesn’t hurt that animal? And, and I think that’s our responsibility as human beings. Our Lord put these dogs and cats on this planet for a certain reason. When I was younger, my father said, you know, when I, one time, you know, my dog died. And I was very upset about it. And I said, “Why don’t they live that long? And you know, why is this happening?” He said, “Well, one, so you can open your heart for more animals…dogs, and cats to love. “But two,” you know, he told me, “That dogs teach human beings three absolutes. Perfect love, perfect loyalty and perfect forgiveness.” And if we as human beings could be like that, what kind of world would we have?
We owe this to the animals that are here who cannot take care of themselves protections, and that is not just in caring for them, but also making sure that we’re not cruelly treating them in ways for our own selfish needs like experimentation. So ultimately, I think we’re all going to get to where we’re moving. And I think it’s a gradual path, but I think it’s gotten faster because of the Envigo beagles and the heroic efforts of all of those out there that helped them find loving homes.
So now we get to talk about your two beloved beagles, Dixie and Daisy. They’re from Envigo and you got them before Envigo was shut down. And you were quoted in the media as saying about one of them, “This dog is not being experimented on. How much for this dog?” I have so many questions about how that transpired exactly. And what was it that gripped you so strongly to choose that beagle that day?
So, and it’s a great story. I love telling it. So thank you for letting me tell it for the hundredth time.
At that first visit in the summer, I think it was August, 2020 when they dragged me around the Envigo facility to tell me how great this place was, we’d gotten to the end of the tour of where the dogs were being housed, and it was a loading bay. And they were sitting there with their executives telling us all about the great things that they do and how they take care of the dogs and how they care about them.
And of course, I didn’t want to hear the humans. I looked over my shoulder and saw there were three cages. And there was instead of 20 or 30 dogs in this running cage, like I was seeing, there were only like three or four. And they were, you know, just a little bit out of puppyhood, but not much older than say six months. And so I went over there to look at them and pet them, and I stuck my hand through the cages to pet them. And I stuck my hand through one cage, and this beautiful beagle put her head right into my hand. Like this…she put it right into my hand and looked up at me. And if you’ve ever had a beagle…their eyes…they get you with their eyes every time.
And so I started to pet her and I saw this tattoo on her ear, which was the first I’d ever seen of that. And she kind of rolled over to let me pet her. And while they were still discussing these matters with the two other senators that were along on the trip, I turned around and said, “This beagle is too nice. This beagle cannot be experimented on. She’s too loving, too nice. How much for her?” And they looked at me and they said “[uhhh, ummm, uhhhh]”…they were awkward in their response. And I said, “No, I want to buy her. I don’t want you to give me.” And they were like, “Well, we’ve never sold beagles like that.”
And I knew that that beagle was on the loading dock because she was about to be loaded up and taken off to a facility for experimentation. So on the walk down, I badgered both the veterinarian that Envigo had hired, and, you know, not in an awful way, but I badgered them and the CEO to let me buy this dog. And we got to our cars and the tour was over, and they went inside and I thought, well, that didn’t happen. And then their lobbyists came outside and said, “You really want that dog?” I said, “Yeah, Absolutely. I have a checkbook in my car.” And then they went back in and then they said, “Would you sign a non-disclosure agreement?” And of course I’m violating it, but I don’t care. And I said, “Sure, I’ll do anything and you know, I’ll write you a check.” And they said, “How do we know what dog?” And I said, “Well, you know, I remembered, I memorized the ear number, at least the top line. There’s two lines, two, three, it’s letters and numbers.” And I read them out. And I also said that she had certain freckles on her belly because she’d rolled over. And they came back and they said, “Okay, well, we’ll give it to you.” And I said, “I can’t take gifts, that’s unethical. I’m going to pay for this dog, but what I want you to do is take this money”… because I’d asked them, “Where is a run where they can go outside?” They didn’t have one. I said, “You’re going to take this money and you’re going to build a facility where they can run. And they agreed and they went and got her and she was terrified. And I took her home and I wrote a thousand dollars check. That’s a lot for a beagle. But I didn’t care. I wanted to make sure that it was not a gift.
And I took her home that night at my apartment and my son was there and we put her down on the ground. We got her, of course, a hundred dog toys and beautiful collars and sweaters and stuff. And I put her on the ground and for the first time it struck me. She had never seen grass before and the feeling of grass was almost so foreign to her and the smells that were filling her nose that she had never smelled before because the cages were indoor, outdoor runs that were concrete and then had grates where their feces and urine could pass down underneath and drain off.
Here she was seeing something that was grass. To my other rescue dogs, I mean, they love grass. They take it for granted. We take it for granted. But here she was seeing something that she had never seen before. And then to watch her kind of just open up from that as her nose was bringing in all these foreign smells and to see her gingerly walk on grass, I cried and my son cried, and my son finally got down on the ground and put her on his chest so that she would feel more comfortable. And once she felt more comfortable, she jumped down so she could feel that grass under her feet again. It was an amazing evening for me and my family.
Was the story of your other beagle Dixie the same or similar?
So Dixie came in a second trip. Actually, it was not intended, although I threatened my wife that I was going back up there for the second surprise. And it was in November, so I was going to wear a hoodie so that I could jam as many beagles as I could into the hoodie, into the pockets. And so, she said, “No, we, you know, we have enough dogs.”
So when we met the lobbyists at our surprise trip—where it turned out not to be a surprise—their CEO looked at me and said, “Well, is there anything else you know you’d want to do?” And I said, “I want to go to the puppy pen. And I want these guys, these lobbyists”…and there were four very young lobbyists in a very, very high end lobby group in Richmond…and I said, “I want you to come with me.” And we marched up to the puppy pen and I said, “Open the door.” And they opened the door. And I said, “Now ladies and gentlemen walk inside.” And they walked inside with me. And I said, “Kneel down.” And they started kneeling down and this sea of small, little tiny beagles were jumping all over them. And I looked at them and I said, “Now, I want to let you know who you’re representing, because every single one of these dogs in here will probably be dead in the next six to eight months.” And they turned gray and ashen-faced.
And this one dog, when I was kneeling down, just clung to my leg. And I looked down, and I was petting it… petting it…pretty soon I picked it up. I was petting it. She just stayed with me and pretty soon I told him to close the gate after we were done. I taught the lesson I thought the lobbyist needed to learn. I still had the dog in my arms. And the CEO—he was a really nice guy and his heart was in the right place, but just in the wrong business—he looks at me and goes, “Well, I guess you’re buying another beagle.” And I said, “I guess I am.” And that’s how I got Dixie. And now the differences are certainly different because Dixie didn’t have the experiences that I think Daisy had inside the pens, but that’s how we got Daisy and Dixie.
I don’t remember hearing that story in such depth anywhere in the papers or anything. So I’m so happy you shared that with us.
I think that’s the first time anybody other than my wife has heard it. Yep.
So since Envigo’s closure in Virginia, you’ve co-sponsored another bill which aims to establish additional penalties and restrictions for animal testing facilities that violate the Animal Welfare Act, as Envigo had. So this bill you’re co-sponsoring, it was going to require universities conducting animal research to submit annual reports to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services including the number and type of animals used and the costs associated with the experiments. Higher education lobbyists didn’t quite agree with this bill and changed the language of the bill. To me, this is public transparency and it makes sense to me, especially in light of Envigo. So why would universities want to hide this information instead of share it?
Well, first and foremost, it was a bill that I sponsored, but when I ran it through committee on the Senate side and the higher institutions of learning lobbyists—let’s call them what they are—started to do what they do in the backrooms, I decided that for me…and there was a house companion…and then of course, Jennifer Boysco had another version of the bill… but for me, I was not going to water my bill down. I was not going to allow them to win.
And so what I asked the chairman to do was to carry the bill over to next year, but to write a letter. The chairman of the agricultural committee, Chap Petersen, agreed to write a letter to all of these institutions, these public institutions of higher learning. We’re talking about UVA, Virginia Tech, VCU, et cetera, and make them answer those questions. Make them tell us what they do to correct these violations. What is their protocol? I figured I could get more information from a letter than I could ever get from a watered-down bill. I’m not going to sacrifice, nor am I going to give in to these institutes of higher learning, even if they are UVA or Virginia Tech, or Virginia Commonwealth University, so that they can continue to do these things in darkness. And so I would rather sacrifice my bill then have that happen.
I wrote the letter that the chairman signed and had some cooperation from some of our stakeholders. They shall remain nameless, but we came up with a really good list in demand of what information we wanted this year from them, and to see how they’re treating these animals and what these violations are, and how they’re correcting them and what their experimentation protocols are. I thought that was much more important. And so that letter was sent out. And unbelievably, you know, and unfortunately I watched as Senator Boysco’s bills were also watered down by them. And Delegate Weber’s bill was completely hijacked. And in fact, now I hear is going to be amended again by the governor’s office to make it even weaker, which I oppose.
I’m not going to find middle ground when it comes to this kind of stuff…not when it comes to experimenting on animals, especially companion animals, and especially when all of a sudden we create these institutions of higher learning. We fund them with taxpayer dollars and that somehow they’re above the law. And that they can be less than transparent when it comes to these issues. I don’t agree with that. I don’t accept it. I’m not going to be a part of it. And so next year, I think they’re going to be surprised with some of the bills that I come back with that I will not compromise on, especially after I witnessed how they treated Delegate Weber and Senator Boysco with the bills that we carried, that I struck rather than have them changed and watered down.
So while all the Envigo beagles are now safe and in adoptive homes, there is still an ongoing investigation by our government scrutinizing why the USDA left thousands of beagles to suffer at Envigo for so long, even though they had documented welfare violations all the way back to 2017, maybe even before. So between July 21, 2021 and March 2022 alone, inspectors documented over 60 violations during four visits to Envigo, more than half of which were deemed direct or critical, meaning the dogs’ lives were at risk. Policy states that follow-up inspections after violations must occur within 14 days. These follow-up inspections never happened at Envigo. In addition, inspection reports were edited down to remove some of the more gruesome findings, such as staff euthanizing puppies via cardiac injection without anesthesia. It sounds like things were being covered up on purpose. And honestly, it worries me to think that this type of thing could be happening at other animal testing and breeding facilities nationwide and that the system designed to protect dogs in labs is broken. So what are your thoughts on that?
Amen. I mean, those are my thoughts. You have to think, remember, what is the largest entity that experiments on these dogs and cats? It’s the government. The first indication that I had this was even going on was when the McGuire Center Medical Center was experimenting on those beagles by cutting them open, putting pacemakers in, and running them to death on tracks.
You know, we’ve seen the federal government, even the CDC using beagles to blow parasites into their nose, eyes, and face and get them terribly sick and in pain and not treat them just to see what their reaction is. We’ve seen, actually uncovered, where there have been experiments by the federal government where they give these dogs cocaine and then run them on a treadmill to see if they have an anti-drug, you know, a drug that would cancel out the effects of the cocaine.
There’s no reason to do this, but your largest purveyor of these animals are governments, both foreign and domestic. Remember, our higher institutions of learning that do these experiments in the Commonwealth of Virginia are government entities. And so of course, one hand’s going to wash the other, in my opinion, because to expose what’s going on means that they then are held accountable for cruel treatment of animals.
And, so I tend to agree with you that there’s a coverup. There was a coverup. If it wasn’t for the work of volunteers and PETA and the Humane Society and SPCA to uncover those things, to pull back the curtain and to allow us all in the public to see what was actually going on, this stuff would still be going on. I mean, if you read the USDA—and I urge everybody who’s listening, who hasn’t read them—read the USDA reports from their inspection and investigations at Envigo alone. Read them, if you can even stomach it, because I had to put it down many times because I could not believe that we human beings were treating, you know, these cats and dogs, companion animals that depend on us, in such a way.
And you then understand when the federal government or the state government or Envigo tells you why, when I ask them, why do you experiment on beagles? And they say, because they’re the most trusting and compliant. They won’t bite you. This is a government that’s used to getting its own way and sees these as commodities, not as living, breathing things.
And I am always reminded that—and I think really what we were talking about earlier is important too— there is a public swell, ground swell of support to protect companion animals in the Commonwealth of Virginia based on the efforts of the organizations I’ve just said and the network that they have. But, when I saw a pole that says 70% of Virginians own either a dog or a cat or some kind of companion animal. But of those 70%, 92% believe that they’re like human. They’re part of the family. And here a government never thinks that way because it is inanimate, and it will take advantage of those animals or humans in many ways.
And I think sometimes the way we see governments treat our companion animals is the same way that we see them cruelly treat our fellow man. And so I think quite frankly, that the lab system is broken. I think it’s been a coverup. I think it’s been a dirty secret of our state and federal governments and organizations like White Coat Waste Project, and of course John Ramer’s Kindness Ranch, and Sue Bell, and every single person, and yourself, Ellie, who stands up and says, “Enough. We’re not putting up with this anymore.” I think then that’s how you fix the system. There’s no way in my mind that we can fix this system by making it more humane. The way to make it more humane is to eliminate it, and that’s what we’re seeing. You know, hopefully start all across this nation.
Thank you for clarifying that. Do you think that what happened in the state of Virginia with your Beagle Bills and Envigo, do you see that other states could follow suit and pass their own Beagle Bills? You know, because I believe what you’ve done in Virginia should be a model for our whole country.
Well, thank you for saying that, that that means a lot. But what I have had is a lot of phone calls from legislators in other states who’ve either asked for copies of the bill to see how it progressed, to ask for my notes, to ask for advice, and that’s heartwarming to me. Because what we’re seeing is now that, again, a little bit of a tidal wave, a little bit of this catch and fire where I think every state should make a policy decision. Are they going to allow these things to occur in their state? Are they going to allow these breeding facilities to pop up in their state. You know, with the closure of Envigo through the federal court, which was a great master stroke, what we saw is Envigo is building a large facility in Maryland, to the north of Virginia. That needs to be closed down.
We need to stop this marketing of breeding animals, companion animals, especially beagles, especially for experimental purposes, painful experimental purposes. Jennifer Boysko passed a Bill. She—and I was her co-sponsor—took the lead stopping the experimentation of cats by cosmetic companies. And preventing those kind of cosmetics that experiment on cats to determine, you know, whether the chemical is an irritant or not, that they can’t sell their product in the Commonwealth of Virginia. What a great move on her part. And I think we’ve seen that start to take root in other states as well.
So, you know, all they have to do is look at my two dogs, Dixie and Daisy, to know that it is a policy decision that is the right one to make. That we shouldn’t be doing this in Texas, Virginia, California, Utah. Wherever there are Americans, we should not have experimentation on companion animals. We need to regulate more strictly all experimentation on all animals. We need to explore other avenues in which we can find the answers that science seeks without harming those animals that can’t take care of themselves, but depend on us and trust us to do that.
So I think it’s a movement that’s growing exponentially, and listen…I’ve gotten a call since I got back from the General Assembly session from somebody in another state on these beagle bills, and this has been a year since we’ve passed them. So, I have great hope that our legislators, that those citizens who are elected to the state houses all across our land are going to follow our lead in Virginia. We were the first. Let us watch it become the 50th law in the 50th state, so it can be the last.