Envigo: Cumberland dogs are well cared for

The Virginia State Capitol. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

By Dr. Helmut Ehall

There is a lot of confusion, and at times misinformation, across Virginia and the nation about the use of animals in the advancement of science and medicine. Now, more than ever, it is essential to share the facts about what is being done, how it is being accomplished and who is leading the way.

Envigo is a U.S.-based company, with a significant presence in Virginia, that provides animals to researchers in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, government, universities and other life sciences organizations.

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Envigo works together with researchers to build a healthier and safer world, for both humans and animals.  That mission has never been more important than now, as we assist medical researchers in the fight against COVID-19. The development of a vaccine and effective treatments against this terrible virus, as well as protections against future pandemics, are not possible without animal research.  Governments in the U.S. and around the world require animal research, within appropriate animal welfare guidelines, as a first step to ensure the safety of new medicines before they can be used in human trials. Our animals play a crucial part in finding an end to the current pandemic and therefore saving the lives of thousands of people in the U.S. and around the globe. 

According to the National Association for Biomedical Research, purpose-bred dogs were essential in the development of 22 of the 25 most prescribed drugs for human health, including drugs for diabetes, epilepsy, dementia and schizophrenia. In addition to their impact on human health, the dogs used in research are vital to ensure the health of our country’s 70 million pet dogs as well as the health and safety of our livestock. Without them, vaccinations for infectious diseases such as canine distemper, rabies, coronavirus and Lyme disease would not be available .  

Our purpose-bred dog facility has been in Cumberland County for more than 50 years.  During that time, we have been a valued member of the community, employing more than two generations of Virginians. Some of our longest tenured employees have worked at that facility for their entire working careers. They strive to care for the dogs at work as they do their pets at home.

At Envigo, animal welfare is a top priority. We adopt a humane and compassionate approach, actively fostering a culture of care towards our animals, and aim to operate to the highest professional standards. Animals that are well cared for allow laboratories to produce better science and more reliable data.  Envigo’s Cumberland facility is fully accredited by the independent authority, AAALAC (Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care). AAALAC is a private nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals.  AAALAC’s well-trained veterinarians audit animal facilities to a recognized global gold standard of care. 

In addition, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and OLAW (Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare at NIH), regularly inspect Envigo’s animal facilities to stringent standards.  The USDA inspected our Cumberland facility in 2018 and 2019 and found that we firmly met their requirements. The most recent USDA inspection of the Cumberland facility was conducted on August 19, 2019. The resulting Inspection Report stated that “no non-compliant items were identified.” 

Some would have you believe that Envigo is trying to avoid regulatory oversight of its Cumberland facility. 

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That is not the case.  In addition to the numerous federal inspection processes described above, Envigo is already subject to inspection by the State of Virginia; no new law needs to be passed to do so. Section 3.2-6502 of the Virginia Code provides “The State Veterinarian…shall have the power to conduct inspections of…any business premises where animals are housed or kept…for the purposes of determining if a violation of….state law governing the care, control or protection of animals…has occurred”.  Envigo welcomes animal welfare regulations that would hold all industries to the same stringent standards that Envigo already lives by.

While Envigo welcomes legislation that raises the standards of animal welfare, we opposed the governor’s amendment to SB891 only because it would have inadvertently resulted in Envigo falling under a law intended for pet stores that limits the number of dogs at a commercial dog breeding facility to no more than 50.  Indeed, both the sponsor of the bill and the governor’s office agreed that the proposed amendment should not be implemented, after they fully understood the unintended consequences. 

Envigo is proud of the way it cares for the dogs housed at its Cumberland site.  The facility is regularly inspected by external organizations.  We welcome inspection by Virginia state authorities under appropriate animal welfare guidelines and Virginia law already authorizes that. For those reasons we are puzzled by  protestations to the contrary – and all Virginians should be too.

Dr. Helmut Ehall is the senior vice president of veterinary services of Envigo. He can be reached at [email protected]