Adopting an Envigo Beagle: “She’s just the best dog”

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RICHMOND, Va. – When Annette Marchioli first adopted Gracie, a 4-year-old beagle rescued from the Envigo kennel, she was so shy and scared that she was shaking and lost a handful of hair.

“She looked so pathetic 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 tiny and shy. Her cock wouldn’t come out between her legs.”

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

“I thought it would take years for her to get used to it, but within a few days we saw her tail coming out between her legs. She wags her tail. She is so loving and cozy. She’s the best cuddler,” Marchioli said.

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

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 kept in filthy conditions, fed moldy food and suffered from untreated medical conditions. The dogs spent their lives in cages and never set their paws on grass. Some beagles were euthanized with no pain relief, others were left to die.

But in an “unprecedented case,” Envigo agreed to release 4,000 beagles from the facility and shut down operations. The US government quickly worked to give the dogs over to the Humane Society of the United States, which has worked with animal shelters and organizations across the country to place dogs and puppies for adoption.

In the national news, even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle adopted a rescued beagle named Mia from the Virginia kennel.

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.

Richmond Animal Care and Control has taken in 84 beagles to date, and the shelter has 41 dogs remaining at the end of August. Mothers and puppies are currently in foster care, with the puppies waiting to be old enough to be put up for adoption, which usually takes around eight weeks.

“Many of the puppies we received in July were literally just a day old,” said Robin Young, a spokesman for RACC. Once the puppies are eight weeks old, they can be weaned, vaccinated and spayed or spayed, Young said.

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 organization, was one of the first animal shelters in Virginia to accept about 500 beagles from the Envigo facility.

“The first night after we announced we were going to have some of the beagles, I woke up to over 1,000 emails. And every day for three weeks. I got emails from people in Australia and Puerto Rico wanting 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, the adult beagles are often shy and shy at first, but adapt quickly.

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

Homeward Trails gave the dogs a “spa day” and their first baths. A Netflix night followed, during which they called in volunteers to sit 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 toward immunizations, spay/neuter, heartworm and medical treatment, and dental care.

“The dogs came to us with terrible teeth. Each dog required a tooth cleaning or extraction, which costs between $300 and $800,” Bell said. All of these Beagles have since been put up for adoption.

Some of the adult Beagles have trouble housecleaning, walking on a leash, or climbing stairs. But animal shelters encourage new homeowners to be patient.

“We still have some issues with Gracie. She seems really concerned about the food: getting it and protecting it,” Marchioli said. “She still has accidents in the house, but we’ve only had her for two weeks. So the positive outweighs 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 rescued beagles and hounds.

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

“I know a lot of people want the puppies, but I think it’s important not to forget the dog mom. They really make wonderful, sweet pets,” Christi Hast said.

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

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

Another positive aspect is that the public is learning more about how beagles are used in medical research. Envigo is the second largest producer of medical research dogs, breeding about 25% of the beagles used in medical and drug research in the US, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“I’ve been told by so many people that they didn’t know beagles were being used for medical research,” Bell said. “We hope to capitalize on this momentum and educate the public.”

And while interest in the Envigo Beagles remains high, animal shelters in Richmond — and rescue dog owners like Haste — are urging prospective pet owners to consider adopting one of the thousands of dogs available at shelters in the area .

“Many thousands more dogs are becoming homeless for a variety of other unrelated reasons, but they still need a good home,” said Tamsen Kingry, CEO of the Richmond SPCA. “Visiting an animal shelter or rescue center in search of your next pet is always the best decision you can make.”

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