Federal officials making unannounced inspections this summer of a large beagle-breeding facility in Virginia found dozens of animal welfare violations: records indicating that hundreds of puppies had died of “unknown causes” over a span of months; dogs’ food dispensers teeming with insects; and reeking kennels with piles of feces, urine and food underneath them.

Based on the routine inspections conducted in July, officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited Envigo — an Indianapolis-based firm that breeds dogs and sells them as research animals to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries — for mistreatment of beagles and poor conditions at the facility in Cumberland, Va., about 50 miles west of Richmond.

Officials said records at the facility showed that in a seven-month period, more than 300 puppies died of “unknown causes.” There were incomplete records on the deaths.

According to inspection reports posted online on Nov. 15, authorities found more than 500 puppies and dogs kept inside a building and experiencing “discomfort, lethargy or stress” because the temperature was above 85 degrees for at least five hours, and there was no air conditioning.

The officials from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service also raised concerns about infrequent cleaning in areas where dogs nursing puppies could face possible disease and sickness. Flies, beetles and ants were found on self-feeders in some of the kennels. At least a dozen dogs had problems including eye conditions, “severe dental disease” and inflamed paws, according to the inspection reports.

An Envigo spokesman said the company has been working with the USDA to correct the issues it outlined and added, “The highest quality of animal welfare is a core value of our company.”

Envigo said the use of animals for research is “essential for developing lifesaving medicines, medical devices and biologics, such as vaccines.” Its animals, the company said, have “an integral role in the development of advanced pacemakers for heart patients” and in “critical research into Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.”

Institutions and universities often spend thousands of dollars to do medical research on animals. Beagles are bred for use in research because they are small and docile, according to animal welfare experts.

The Cumberland facility has been in operation since the 1960s and was previously run by another company called Covance. Envigo took over some of Covance’s operations in 2019.

USDA inspectors found other issues that violated the Animal Welfare Act at Envigo’s facility in Virginia:

  • Nearly 50 dogs had fight wounds.
  • Food was withheld for 42 hours from roughly a dozen female dogs that were nursing 78 pups. Officials at Envigo said it was the facility’s “standard operating procedure for weaning which they believe reduces the risk of mastitis” — inflammation of the mammary glands.

PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — had launched its own, roughly seven-month undercover investigation of the Envigo facility in Virginia and said its investigator found workers with no veterinary credentials sticking needles into puppies’ heads to drain hematomas without any pain relief for the animal, and cases in which puppies “fell through holes in the cages and ended up in drains, soaked with water, feces and other waste.”

Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA’s senior vice president of cruelty investigations, said her group’s work showed that “they never get to be dogs. They’re destined to exist in cages.”

Envigo’s spokesman said in a statement that the company believed that PETA’s allegations are “misleading and lacking important context.”

The USDA did not issue any fines or penalties after the inspections in July.

Envigo and its predecessor, Covance, had more than a dozen contracts potentially worth around $1.2 million with the National Institutes of Health to sell the agency dogs that were allegedly used in medical research, according to PETA.

A spokeswoman at NIH said the agency has purchased dogs from Envigo’s Cumberland facility “in the past, but no future purchases are planned.”

PETA said it also found online articles in recent years that it says show that several institutions, including Temple University, the Medical University of South Carolina, Virginia Tech and N.C. State University appeared to have done business with Envigo or Covance. The schools issued the following responses to the findings:

  • Steve Orbanek, a spokesman for Temple University in Philadelphia, said in an email that it is “committed to the care and humane treatment of research animals” but would not go into details about specific contracts or deals.
  • Montez Seabrook, a spokesperson at the Medical University of South Carolina, said that while the university was aware of concerns about animals’ conditions at Envigo’s facility in Virginia, MUSC had “stopped the use of these animals in research on our campus” in 2017.
  • At Virginia Tech, spokesperson Mark Owczarski said the institution has bought dogs from Envigo’s Virginia facility for its veterinary college in the past but ended that in 2020. This fall, he said, Envigo donated animal cadavers to the school’s vet college, but officials said they “did not seek or solicit this donation, nor did the college intend to purchase any cadavers from them but accepted them to aid in the education of future veterinarians.”
  • Mick Kulikowski, a spokesperson for N.C. State, said the university bought six dogs from Envigo in the past two years for research and “all were in good health.” After the research, he said, the dogs were adopted.