Tuesday, June 4, 2024

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The U.S. Department of Justice just announced that Inotiv will pay more than $35 million, including an $11 million fine for violating the Animal Welfare Act, the largest in the Act’s history, because of violations that occurred at a facility that bred dogs for use in animal testing in Cumberland, Virginia. Inotiv is the parent company of Envigo RMS, which owned the breeding facility. As a result of these violations and a federal investigation, during 2022, our team removed more than 4,000 beagles in a monumental effort.

Our teams coordinated the placement of these dogs with our invaluable shelter and rescue partners so they could become loving and loved companion animals. It was an incredible honor to lead this effort in helping these dogs start new lives, assisting with their transfer and care, and celebrating as one beagle after another—thousands of them―were adopted into loving homes.

The resolution stems from the investigation the DOJ carried out at the Envigo facility, which included executing a criminal search warrant in May 2022. At that time, our team assisted federal authorities with removing nearly 450 dogs and puppies in “acute distress” from the facility, which had been cited for numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Our shelter and rescue partners stepped up to find loving homes for these dogs in addition to the thousands of beagles who we helped to remove from the facility later that year.

Government inspectors also found that beagles there were being killed instead of receiving veterinary care for easily treated conditions; nursing mother beagles were being denied food; and the food that they did receive contained maggots, mold and feces. Over an eight-week period, 25 beagle puppies died from cold exposure. Several dogs suffered injuries when they were attacked by other dogs in overcrowded conditions. Records examined by the DOJ revealed persistent negligence in providing appropriate veterinary care to animals in need.

Here's how the $35 million breaks down: In addition to paying the fine for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, Inotiv/Envigo agreed to pay an additional $11 million in fines for violating the Clean Water Act, and $13.5 million in support for animal welfare and environmental projects, law enforcement expenses and facilities improvements; the latter figures includes approximately $1.9 million that Inotiv has agreed to pay to the Humane Society of the United States for our team’s role during the investigation.

We are relieved that another result of the plea agreement is that no Inotiv entities, including Envigo, will breed or sell dogs.

While ensuring the safety and ultimate adoption of the animals in distress at this site was our priority, we also never lost sight of the underlying problems that led to the investigation at Inotiv/Envigo. For dogs born into facilities like Envigo’s, the day they leave is often the beginning of even more suffering in laboratories, as we saw in an undercover investigation that took place over seven months in 2021. An HSUS investigator at one of Inotiv’s contract animal testing laboratories in Indiana documented dogs continuing to be given doses of toxic substances even when they were vomiting, shaking, unable to stand and had high fevers and labored breathing. The 250 dogs at the facility spent their days confined, were subjected to painful injections and multiple blood draws, and were force-fed substances through stomach tubes. Most of them were killed at the end of the experiments, a typical practice for drug testing.

An estimated 45,000 dogs are used in experiments each year in the U.S., and tens of thousands more are held in laboratory breeding facilities. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: The only way to ensure a more humane future for dogs and other animals used in testing labs is to replace animal testing with advanced technological alternatives. We continue to urge Inotiv and the others in the testing industry to implement humane replacements.

The case also shows how, when federal agencies work together, animals can benefit. Historically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been designated to enforce the Animal Welfare Act; however, the DOJ also has authority to issue injunctions. Recently, responding to increasing public demand for accountability and oversight, the DOJ has intervened in several significant cases, including complaints it brought against big cat exhibitors Jeffrey and Lauren Lowe and a licensed dog breeder in Iowa with at least 100 violations in just six months.

We have been working to secure passage of the Better Collaboration, Accountability, and Regulatory Enforcement (CARE) for Animals Act, which would strengthen the DOJ’s enforcement powers under the Animal Welfare Act, giving the agency more enforcement tools, such as the ability to pursue license revocations, civil penalties and, where appropriate, the use of seizure/forfeiture in cases in which animals are suffering because of evident animal welfare violations. (It would have been natural for the House Agriculture Committee to incorporate the Better CARE for Animals Act into its Farm Bill package, which traditionally has included such measures, but it didn’t, so we’ll keep advocating for its passage in the Congress where it already enjoys substantial support.)

The transfer of those thousands of beagles from Envigo was already a historic moment in our collective fight against animal cruelty. This settlement is historic in its own distinctive way as it underscores that there is a tremendous cost for animal cruelty and our society is increasingly becoming one that will not tolerate the mistreatment of animals. That is certainly something to celebrate. 

Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.