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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

4,000 Rescued beagles, bred for research, found homes and best friends

Alli and Tyler Trent with their adopted beagle, Maple, in Dublin, Va. on July 28, 2023. They said that the dog trembled when released in their backyard, after having lived in a cage at the Envigo facility.

By Lauren McCarthy and Johnny Diaz

When a 2-year-old beagle named Fin was carried out in September from the Envigo breeding and research facility in Cumberland, Virginia, his exit marked the end of a nearly 60-day operation to rescue almost 4,000 dogs that had been living in highly distressful conditions.

Beagles that were among those kept there were underfed, had fallen ill or were injured, inspections of the research facility found, and some had been euthanized.

Nearly a year later, many of the beagles are thriving in new homes, their new housemates said. They roll on the grass, enjoy long walks and lick birthday cake to celebrate the anniversary of their rescue.

“He was the last one. I can’t imagine what that must’ve felt like for him,” said Suzanne Brown-Pelletier, who adopted Fin within weeks of his rescue. To make up for the lost years of love, “I give him all kinds of kisses on his nose and tell him I’m playing the beagle bugle,” she said.

Fin, whom Brown-Pelletier renamed Sir Biscuit of Barkingham (or Biscuit), and thousands of other dogs were released over two months to shelters, rescue organizations, foster owners and adoptive families after federal officials found that the breeding facility had safety violations. The beagles there were hungry, sick, mistreated and, in some cases, had died, and the survivors were headed to testing labs.

After a federal judge approved a plan to remove the dogs in July 2022, several rescue groups and volunteers stepped up to find them homes in an effort that drew attention nationwide. The news even inspired Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry to adopt a beagle named Momma Mia. Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey adopted a dog, Morty, from the facility.

Many others volunteered to open their homes to the rescues as well.

After Alli and Tyler Trent adopted a beagle named Maple, the dog shook uncontrollably in their backyard in Christiansburg, Virginia. Having lived in a cage, Maple hadn’t seen grass or eaten a treat before.

“The grass was very scary for her,” Alli Trent recalled.

Maple also cowered whenever someone approached.

“Nothing was easy,” she recalled, “but she just needed some extra patience and time.”

‘Learning to trust’

Maple found her footing with the Trents “and has learned so much and come so far,” said Alli Trent, 29. The beagle, who is 4, loves sunbathing and belly rubs, munching on crushed ice and, most of all, lounging in her bed.

“She’s learning to trust, and she’s learning that the only people in her life now are good people that love her so much!” she said.

The Trents’ other beagle, Lola, has also provided emotional support for Maple.

Last month, the couple attended a gathering in Wake Forest, North Carolina, to mark the anniversary of the beagles’ rescues. There, Maple reunited with some of her puppies, which had also been adopted. A photo Alli Trent posted on Facebook showed Maple and the puppies — which are bigger than their mother now — and their new owners, camping out together on the grass. Maple wore a bandanna that read, “Envigo survivor.”

In North Yarmouth, Maine, Sir Biscuit adjusted to his new life outside a cage with the help of Brown-Pelletier’s other dogs, Albert and Winston, both spaniels.

When the family first met Biscuit, he was drooling from anxiety and “pancaking,” or lying flat on the ground, out of fear. Brown-Pelletier, 60, noticed how Biscuit lifted his feet up with curiosity as he touched new textures around the house. “His little paws had never touched anything other than a metal cage,” she said, and “he didn’t know what a toy was.”

Albert, a 5-year-old English springer spaniel, modeled bravery for Biscuit and showed him how to play. Now, anything Albert does, Biscuit wants to do, Brown-Pelletier said.

“He has a best friend,” she said of the two, who share toys.

At 26 pounds, having gained at least 5 since he was in the facility, Biscuit has the stamina for long walks, while being small enough to be a lap dog. “His favorite place is my lap, and I love that,” Brown-Pelletier said.

Biscuit is the first dog Brown-Pelletier has ever rescued, and she swears he thanks her daily with his big, expressive brown eyes. “I am telling you it is the way to go,” she said.

Becoming a rescue parent

As Adam Parascandola, vice president of the animal rescue team for the Humane Society of the United States, worked on helping place the beagles rescued from the Envigo facility, he realized: “It just felt right to take one of them in.”

Parascandola and his wife, Stephanie Prete, adopted a 12-week-old male puppy at that they named Enzo. The dog now lives in Winlock, Washington, and while he’s still working on navigating how to get on the couch, Enzo has blossomed into being very social and happy-go-lucky.

Every dog and its circumstances are different, said Parascandola, and dogs that come from rescue situations will bring varying degrees of ability and comfort.

“People need to be aware of their ability and tolerance to deal with socializing dogs,” he said, particularly dogs that have had little contact with humans or other animals.

Shelters and rescue organizations are experienced in placing animals with the appropriate new family, Parascandola said. He recommends that prospective owners share their expectations for the new pet with adoption centers, so they can help facilitate the best lifestyle fit.

Puppies may be more unpredictable and require additional flexibility, whereas adult dogs will demonstrate their basic personality and needs. New owners can look forward to seeing transitions and growth, Parascandola said.

Above all, patience is key. “Let the dog take the lead,” he said, “on what they’re ready for.”

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