RICHMOND, Va. — When Annette Marchioli first adopted Gracie, a 4-year-old beagle rescued from the Envigo breeding facility, she was so timid and frightened that she was shaking and losing fistfuls of hair.
“She looked so pitiful and puny,” Marchioli said of the first time she saw Gracie. “Tommy DeSanto from the Richmond SPCA was carrying her in his arms. She was so tiny and timid. Her tail wouldn’t come out from 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 new beagle brother Rocky, Gracie has grown “leaps and bounds,” Marchioli said.
“I thought it would take years for her to adjust, but in a matter of days, we saw her tail come out from between her legs. She wags her tail. She’s so loving and cozy. She’s the best cuddler,” Marchioli said.
Gracie is one of 4,000 beagles rescued in July from overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at the Envigo breeding facility in Cumberland County.
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 issues. The dogs spent their lives in cages, never setting their paws on grass. Some beagles were euthanized without pain relief, and others were left for dead.
But in an “unprecedented case,” Envigo agreed to release 4,000 beagles from the plant and shut down operations. The U.S. government worked swiftly to transfer the dogs to the Humane Society of the United States, which has been working with shelters and organizations across the nation to place dogs and puppies for adoption.
In national news, even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle adopted a rescue beagle named Mia from the Virginia breeding facility.
In the Richmond area, Envigo beagles have arrived at the Richmond SPCA, Richmond Animal Care and Control, Powhatan County Animal Control, the Fredericksburg Regional SPCA and Green Dogs Unleashed, just to name a few.
Richmond Animal Care and Control has received 84 beagles to date, and the shelter has 41 dogs left in late August. Moms and puppies are currently in foster care, with the puppies waiting to be old enough to be put up for adoption, which is typically around eight weeks.
“A lot of the puppies we received in July were literally just a day old,” said Robin Young, a spokesperson for RACC. Once the puppies hit eight weeks, they’re ready to be weaned, get vaccinated and be scheduled to be spayed or neutered, Young said.
RACC said the shelter will post the dogs on social media when they are available for adoption with directions on how to apply.
Homeward Trails, a rescue based in Alexandria, was one of the first Virginia shelters to receive roughly 500 beagles from the Envigo facility.
“The first night after we announced we’d have some of the beagles, I woke up to over 1,000 emails. And that continued every day for three weeks. I was getting emails from people as far away as Australia and Puerto Rico wanting to adopt these dogs,” said Sue Bell, executive director for the shelter.
Bell said that like the experience of Annette Marchioli and her husband, Ron Stilwell, with Gracie, the adult beagles are often shy and timid at first, but they quickly adapt.
“The most rewarding thing is to watch them put their feet on grass for the first time — watching their little brains start to process, put their noses to the ground and run. They were running and leaping like deer. They had never done it before,” Bell said.
Homeward Trails gave the dogs a “spa day” and their first baths. That was followed by a Netflix night, where they called in volunteers to sit and watch “Homeward Bound,” and snuggle 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 that the shelter has spent $1,000 per beagle from Envigo to prepare the dogs for adoption. Those costs go to vaccines, spay/neuter, heartworm and medical treatment, and dental care.
“The dogs came to us with horrific teeth. Every dog required dental cleaning or extraction, which runs $300 to $800,” Bell said. All of those beagles have since been placed for adoption.
Some of the adult beagles have problems with house training, walking on a leash or going up and down stairs. But shelters are encouraging new homeowners to be patient.
“We still have some issues with Gracie. She seems to be really worried about food: getting it and protecting it,” Marchioli said. “She still has accidents in the house, but we’ve only had her for two weeks. The positives so outweigh anything 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 rescue beagles and hound dogs.
“She’s an amazing dog, very happy and fun, so easygoing, really sweet and snuggly. She’s super confident, not shy at all,” Christi Hast said. Like many of the adult dogs from Envigo, Dita has a green, six-letter serial number tattooed inside one of her ears.
“I know a lot of people want the puppies, but I think it’s important not to forget the mama dogs. They’re really 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 has helped her blossom,” she said.
“This is truly an unprecedented case and one of the largest dog rescue efforts ever coordinated,” Bell said. “To know that these dogs will get to have the lives they deserve and not languish in cages for the rest of their lives is just so rewarding.”
Another positive is that the public is learning more about how beagles are used in medical research. Envigo is the second-largest producer of dogs for medical research, and breeds roughly 25% of the beagles used in medical and drug research in the U.S., according to the Los Angeles Times.
“I’ve had so many people tell me they didn’t know that beagles were used for medical research,” Bell said. “We’re hoping to harness this momentum and educate the public.”
And while interest in the Envigo beagles remains high, Richmond shelters — and rescue dog owners like Hast — urge future pet owners to consider adopting one of the thousands of dogs available at area shelters.
“Many thousands more dogs find themselves homeless for any other number of unrelated reasons but are nevertheless in need of good homes,” said Tamsen Kingry, CEO of the Richmond SPCA. “Visiting a shelter or rescue in search of your next pet is always the best decision you can make.”