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Animal welfare groups are gearing up for a massive canine rescue in Virginia

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today, animal welfare groups from around the country will start taking custody of thousands of dogs. This month, 4,000 beagles had to be removed from a troubled breeding facility in central Virginia. From member station WVTF, Sandy Hausman reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: An international company called Envigo raises and sells animals for medical research. Last year, an employee of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals went undercover here at Envigo's dog breeding facility west of Richmond. She made this and other recordings documenting the mistreatment of animals, according to PETA executive Daphna Nachminovitch.

DAPHNA NACHMINOVITCH: Mother dogs who were deprived of food for days. She found more than 360 dead puppies. These animals were going without veterinary care for painful conditions.

HAUSMAN: She says the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the Federal Animal Welfare Act, had also seen problems.

NACHMINOVITCH: The facility was cited for 74 violations in just 10 months, yet the USDA took no enforcement action.

HAUSMAN: So PETA filed a formal complaint with the USDA and reached out to state lawmakers. They rarely agree on anything but gave unanimous support to bills that protect dogs and cats bred for medical research. In May, the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh led hundreds of federal, state and local police and animal welfare advocates in a raid on the facility.

CHRISTOPHER KAVANAUGH: I've been in federal prosecution for 15 years. It was one of the most complex operations that I've seen.

HAUSMAN: Four-hundred-and-forty-six beagles were taken away for emergency treatment. Under a consent decree, Envigo agreed to close its Virginia center over the next 60 days. The company, which did not respond to a call for comment, gave custody of about 4,000 dogs to the Humane Society of the United States. That group is now working with local shelters to find homes for the pups. Nachminovitch cites overwhelming interest from the public but warns these may not be good pets for everyone.

NACHMINOVITCH: They have been warehoused in cages their entire lives. They may be frightened. They've never taken stairs. They've never gone through a doorway. They won't know what certain noises are. And so anyone who is considering adopting one of these dogs should have patience and should be home with the dogs.

HAUSMAN: U.S. Attorney Kavanaugh hopes this case puts other breeders on notice nationwide.

KAVANAUGH: Whether to humanely and adequately treat an animal is not a question to be considered for your profit margin; it's a requirement under the law.

HAUSMAN: Nachminovitch says PETA will be watching other Envigo operations in Texas, Indiana and Pennsylvania. She also hopes this matter will prompt public discussion of a more controversial issue - the use of animals in medical research.

For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.