A Wings of Rescue plane touched down at the Portland Jetport on Sunday, delivering 100 beagles to organizations that will find them new homes in Maine.
The dogs are the last of the nearly 4,000 beagles rescued from a Virginia facility that intended to sell them to animal testing labs. Using dogs for laboratory testing is legal, but federal investigators found the beagles were neglected, mistreated and lived in horrific conditions, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
One by one, each crated beagle was offloaded onto a conveyor belt and placed in rows on the tarmac by staff from animal shelters and volunteers.
A few of them cried and howled. As of Sunday, most didn’t have names.
The dogs were then carried to 14 vans to be transported to shelters throughout Maine.
“We’re really honored to play a part of these beagles’ final destinations to our state to find wonderful homes here,” said Jeana Roth of the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook. Welcoming the beagles is one of the largest rescue efforts by the shelter, she said.
Of the 100 beagles, 25 went to the Westbrook shelter, including Fin, who had been at the Virginia facility the longest “and was the very last beagle to leave the facility,” Roth said. He spent his life in a kennel, used for breeding.
The remaining 75 went to nine shelters throughout Maine, from Kennebunk to Lewiston to Camden. The dogs range in age from puppies to about 5 years old, which is believed to be Fin’s age.
The dogs will undergo a two-week quarantine where their health and behavior needs will be assessed. The beagles at the Westbrook shelter “all have foster homes lined up,” Roth said, as do most of the dogs placed with other Maine shelters.
During the flight to Maine, the beagles did well, said Ric Browde, CEO and president of Wings of Rescue, a nonprofit that transports rescued animals.
“They were surprisingly quiet,” he said, adding that usually howling beagles go to the back of the plane. “These were the most pleasantly behaved. Whoever is lucky to adopt these pets wins the lottery.”
While using dogs for lab testing is legal in the US, it shouldn’t be, said Katie Hansberry, Maine state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
The dogs were bred in a mass-breeding facility owned and operated by Envigo RMS. In this case, the US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Envigo for numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Violations included nursing beagles being denied food and dogs being fed food that was contaminated with mold, maggots and feces, Hansberry said.
“Over the period of eight weeks, 25 puppies died because of exposure to the cold,” she said.
Also, because of overcrowding conditions at the facility, numerous beagles were injured in dog fights, and Envigo was not providing medical treatment to dogs with very treatable conditions, Hansberry said.
“Rather they were just choosing to euthanize them,” she said.
Earlier this summer, a US district court judge issued a restraining order imposing a series of restrictions on the facility and company officials have announced plans to close it.
Talking to reporters at the Jetport, Hansberry said she hopes her big smile conveys her joy of welcoming the beagles to Maine where they’ll go to loving homes.
“I have chills and goosebumps thinking about bringing these beagles home,” she said.
They had a horrible life at the Virginia facility, but these beagles “are the lucky ones,” Hansberry said. “They are ambassadors for the nearly 60,000 dogs, just like them, used in laboratories for medical testing across the country. We’re hoping this will raise awareness about that, and finally one day see a future when no dogs are being tested in laboratories.”
In addition to the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, the shelters that rescued beagles are the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston, the Animal Welfare Society in Kennebunk, the Franklin County Humane Society in Farmington, Kennebec Valley Humane Society in Augusta, the PAWS Animal Adoption Center in Camden, the Pope Memorial Humane Society in Thomaston, Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills in South Paris and Tall Tails Beagle Rescue in Mechanic Falls.
A few beagles will be placed for adoption. People who are interested in adopting a beagle should keep a close eye on the websites of the shelter near them, Roth recommended.
She predicts all will be snapped up, saying interest is high.
“This is a special state. Mainers love their animals,” Roth said. “They love their dogs and are treated like family. We will have no issues finding these beagles wonderful homes where they are cherished and have the life they deserve.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story
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