Virginia Company to Pay $35M in Landmark Animal Cruelty Case

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Embroiled in an animal-welfare scandal, a Virginia-based company infamous for raising beagles for medical research consented on Monday to shell out a staggering $35 million. This decision came alongside a criminal plea wherein the company confessed to the unchecked maltreatment of thousands of dogs within its remote breeding facility. Authorities have acclaimed the hefty fee as the most significant ever imposed in an animal cruelty case.

Under this plea agreement, the company managing the offending facility, Envigo RMS, and its parent unit, Inotiv, faced prohibition from future operations in dog breeding or selling. This ruling comes in the wake of an investigation that caught the nation’s spotlight in May 2022 when federal authorities aired appalling conditions at the company’s breeding outpost in Cumberland County, Virginia. Investigators discovered nearly 450 animals in severe distress.

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In a subsequent act of surrender, the company relinquished its four thousand beagogles. The once captive dogs found new homes around the country, where they were eagerly accepted into adoption.

Christopher Kavanaugh, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia who brought the case against the companies, castigated Envigo and Inotiv, accusing them of elevating profits and convenience over the rule of law. Kavanaugh detailed how between 2019 and the fateful search in May 2022, the company earned $16 million from selling 15,000 beagles.

However, Kavanaugh highlighted that the company fell short in investing the necessary funds for satisfying the animals’ basic necessities. Gritting cages were hardly cleared twice a month, a gross deviation from the daily cleaning mandate. Animals faced inhumane euthanization methods, including direct heart injections without sedation. Severe injuries were commonplace due to metallic grated flooring, which proved dangerous for the dogs’ paws. Clean food and water, too, were routinely scarce.

An estimated 300 puppies reportedly lost their lives over a seven-month span leading up to 2021. The reasons behind these deaths remain obscuringly unknown. Despite the recurrent errors and anomalies, the company clung to a veterinarian responsible for botched surgeries and nurturing countless violations, under the pretext of replacement difficulties.

In the words of Todd Kim, assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division of the Justice Department, Envigo had “unlawfully enriched itself by refusing to allocate funds for necessary upgrades and denying the requisite employment of enough trained and competent staff.”

Nearly 40 individuals who made up the workforce at the defunct Cumberland facility proved insufficient for the care of thousands of dogs. The plea deal demands an $11 million fine each, for violations of the Animal Welfare Act and the Clean Water Act. Furthermore, Inotiv is obligated to spend $7 million over the three upcoming years to enhance its facilities and supersede the standards set by the Animal Welfare Act.

Accusations of violating the Clean Water Act by discharging far too much improperly treated wastewater also loom over Envigo’s guilty admissions. The plea deal encompasses a $3.5 million provision for repairing the environmental damage in Cumberland County and mandates that the company shoulder the cost of a compliance monitor throughout its probation, estimated to stretch from three to five years.

As part of the deal, the companies are required to compensate roughly $1.9 million to the Humane Society of the United States for its contributions to the investigation. Meanwhile, prosecutors chip away at their persistent probe, leaving open the possibility of pursuing criminal cases against specific staff members.

In the wake of the plea hearing, Indiana-based Inotiv issued an unassuming “statement of contrition.” They expressed regret for the crimes verified in the charges, conceding they “fell short of our standards for animal and environmental welfare and apologize to the public for the harm caused by our conduct” and vowing to uphold the highest standards of animal care in the future.