This animal rights lawyer helped Meghan and Prince Harry adopt a rescued beagle | Way of life

LOS ANGELES — In less than two months, Mamma Mia the beagle has gone from rags to royalty.

Her changed life began in July when federal authorities rescued her – with 4,000 other beagles – overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at the Envigo breeding and research facility in Virginia.

His new home is a vast estate in Montecitowhere the 7-year-old dog will roam around a lush 7-acre property.

Its new owners? The Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

“The Duchess called me personally,” said Shannon Keith, an animal rights lawyer who runs the Beagle Freedom Project at the Valley Village low house where she lived. But Keith said at first she didn’t know who the “VIP donor” interested in a beagle adoption was.

“She calls my cell phone without caller ID and says, ‘Hey Shannon, it’s Meghan,'” said Keith, whose nonprofit rescues beagles and other dogs as well as cats. , pigs, horses, rabbits, goats and sheep, most of which were used in laboratory tests. “We talked for 30 minutes, and I was like, ‘Is that Megan Fox?'”

But it was Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and her husband, Prince Harry, who paid an after-hours visit to the modest San Fernando Valley home on Hartsook Street this month.

The royal couple’s spokeswoman confirmed the visit to The Times; neither has commented on the adoption. It was a photoless affair, with two security guards joining Meghan and Harry in their search for a furry family member.

They played in the backyard with Mia, who had been transported with eight of her newborn puppies from Maryland, where the dogs had been taken after Virginia’s rescue, to Valley Village. But they didn’t want a puppy.

“The Duchess hugged Mia and said, ‘We’re going to adopt her,'” Keith said. “She was like, ‘No, we don’t want a Christmas puppy. … We want the ones we can help who are older.'”

Meghan had a rescue beagle for many years, and when she saw the story of Envigo closing she wanted to get involved, her spokeswoman told The Times. She knew it’s usually easier to find homes for puppies and wanted to help one of the oldest and most vulnerable dogs.

Difficult conditions in the “breeding prison”

Mia’s storybook ending followed a life at the Envigo factory described by the Department of Justice as a house of horrors. In a lawsuit filed in federal court against the company in May, authorities said beagles were euthanized or left for dead by a meager staff who routinely violated animal welfare law.

Investigators who visited the facility numerous times in 2021 and 2022 found nightmarish conditions, including beagles with serious and untreated medical conditions, insufficient food and housed in unsanitary conditions. Dogs were sometimes fed moldy food, and on two occasions inspectors found live maggots in their food, prosecutors said.

Some animals were euthanized without prior anesthesia, and hundreds were found dead at the facility, inspectors said. In addition to the euthanized dogs, investigators found that 300 dogs died at the plant over a seven-month period of “unknown causes”.

Envigo, the second largest breeder of dogs for medical research, breeds about 25% of beagles used in medical and pharmaceutical research in the United States. The company, purchased in November 2021 by Inotiv – an animal testing company that also be subject to scrutiny – did not deny allegations of non-compliance with animal protection law.

“There’s actually very little that should remain in dispute in this case,” Envigo’s attorneys said in court documents, adding that officials spent millions of dollars last year improving the system. facility. Envigo’s parent company, Inotiv, said it installed 1,200 new aluminum doors, upgraded and closed floor gaps, and installed cooling towers in buildings.

But Keith said that despite all the improvements to the facility, the beagles were still being mistreated.

“It’s basically a breeding prison,” she said of the Virginia plant. “Not only were the problems not fixed after the inspectors left, but they were getting worse.”

After filing the complaint, Envigo accepted to release 4,000 beagles from the factory and shut down operations. The federal government and the company agreed to transfer the dogs at the Humane Society of the United States.

Beagles are moved to shelters or groups such as the Beagle Freedom Project, which places dogs in foster homes for rehabilitation before they find their forever homes.

“We are here for the animals”

Hundreds of beagles made their way to Southern California.

Priceless Pets, which works with Envigo and the Humane Society, took in nearly 1,000 beagles from the Virginia factory.

Ashlee Sprague, who runs the Chino Hills No Kill Shelter, said she went to the Envigo facility and said she saw worse treatment of dogs at shelters in california.

Although she was not authorized to give details about the out-of-state factory, she said it was no way for beagles to live.

She also said rescued beagles are only a fraction of all dogs up for adoption.

“The beagle mission is like a tiny drop in the bucket for our organization,” she said. “We are here for the animals, and being able to save these dogs from euthanasia is truly remarkable.

“But I’m so grateful for the attention because through all of that…we’ve been able to get so many more dogs adopted, and that’s remarkable,” Sprague said.

The Beagle Freedom Project took in 25 of the rescued beagles. The puppies yelped and bit each other, played with toys and splashed their feet in a bowl of water in the backyard of Keith’s home on Monday as a few foster parents bustled around .

Mia’s 7-week-old puppies scurried across the yard and into the paws of Maya, Keith’s hulking but self-aware Great Dane. The eight puppies were apparently unaware that their mother had recently been crowned the Canine Duchess of Montecito.

Five older puppies joined the mix in the yard. They had been trucked from Cumberland, Va., to the Humane Society’s Atlanta outpost, where Malina Shirley, the Beagle Freedom Project transporter, picked them up and drove them to Los Angeles.

Older puppies had Envigo’s six-letter green serial numbers tattooed inside their ears. The younger pups weren’t tagged because they were born too close to the factory closing, Keith said.

With around 1,000 people on the waiting list to adopt the beagles, Keith expects his nonprofit will have no trouble finding homes for Virginia rescues.

But she is focused on finding the perfect home for everyone, a special match between owner and dog.

One last thing

As the Duke and Duchess prepared to leave the Valley Village home with the four-legged newest member of the Windsor household, Harry pulled over, Keith said.

“He’s just like, ‘Well, we can’t leave yet because there’s something in that back house that she needs. Does she have a favorite toy or something?'” Said Keith.

The royals and their entourage returned to find a box full of toys. They flipped it over, and Mia grabbed a fox toy she had been playing with on her cross-country trip from Maryland after leaving Envigo.

And with that, the Duke, Duchess and their dog left the Valley. “OK, now we can go home,” said Harry.

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