Governor Glenn Youngkin (seated) signs animal welfare bills, with Del. Buddy Fowler (R-55e), Del. Rob Bell (R-58th), Senator Bill Stanley (R-20th) and Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-33rd)
Known as the “Beagle Bills,” the bills specifically protect the research dog breed of choice, beagles and cats, bred for medical and scientific research and testing. Previously, research breeders were exempt from most Virginia animal welfare laws. The newly enacted bills will subject commercial research breeders to the same requirements as other regulated commercial breeders. The new laws cover both cats and dogs; and require new record keeping, adoption before euthanasia for unnecessary animals, coverage under pet cruelty penalties; and a ban on further sales if found guilty of a certain number and type of welfare violations, after July 2023. Several of the beagles rescued from a life of research and cleared for adoption attended the signing ceremony with their new owners or host family. parents.
In recent years, the advocacy for legislative action on animals in Virginia has been the sale of puppy mills at pet stores. This year, the majority of animal bills have focused on protecting research dogs and cats. Members of both parties have sponsored bills to protect dogs and cats bred for research. Five of those 11 similar bills survived and received unanimous votes to be introduced into the governor’s desk, and were signed into law on April 4.
Many aspects of similar Democratic-sponsored bills have been altered in the language of these final signed bills for which Republican Sen. Bill Stanley (R-20th) and Delegate Rob Bell (R-58th) were lead bosses. Working toward a compromise, Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-33rd) became joint chief patron of the Stanley Bills, and Delegate Kaye Kory (D-38th), chair of the General Assembly Animals Caucus, became the godmother of three of the bills. , ensuring that all provisions of the safeguards have been included.
Virginia’s only commercial search dog breeder, Cumberland-based Envigo, has clashed with federal inspectors from the US Department of Agriculture. During the nine-month period, USDA inspectors found 73 animal welfare law violations, nearly half of which fell into the most serious category. Documented violations included withholding food from nursing females, euthanasia without the required anesthesia, over 300 puppy deaths, injured dogs, and poor housing and sanitation.
The original House bills sought to shut down the offending Cumberland operation, while the Senate bills, after subcommittee amendment, authorized a faint hope philosophy. Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37th) took the position that Virginia should deal with the bad breeding operation rather than chase them out of state to become the problem of ‘another.
Envigo’s abuses have also come under scrutiny from US Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. In a letter dated March 31, 2022 to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the senators urged “aggressive enforcement action” and set April 20 as the deadline for answering a list of questions related to the case.
Companion animal issues often make up a significant portion of the bills considered by agriculture committees each session at the state and federal levels. Interest in animal welfare is high, given that 68% of U.S. households had a pet in 2021, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.