Without barking, and with just a bit of whining, a brave new passel of puppies took their first steps in Clark County early Saturday afternoon.
The 15 juvenile beagles brought to the Humane Society for Southwest Washington in east Vancouver were among nearly 4,000 rescued from a mass breeding and animal testing facility in Cumberland, Va., earlier this summer.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck situation,” said Sam Ellingson, the shelter’s director of communications, as staff and volunteers carefully took the pups out of a van one by one, greeting them with a soft towel and complimentary whipped cream.
Liz Everling, the shelter’s director of animal care and population management, picked up the beagles from Portland International Airport on Saturday morning, where they had flown in via propeller plane from Sioux Falls, S.D. Representatives from a handful of other regional animal shelters stood alongside Everling in receiving the estimated 148 total dogs on the flight.
“I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. My arms are definitely a little fatigued,” she said, referencing the 60 or so crates she’d lifted earlier. “But this was a really nice representation of our animal welfare community.”
Each of the dogs, Everling said, was wiggly and social while riding in the van on the way back from the airport. Once the doors opened and it was time to go into the shelter, however, she said she could sense their demeanor change a bit.
“These things need to go slowly,” she said. “Every experience they’re having is novel. We need to make sure we’re going at their pace.”
A life-saving rescue
In May, the thousands of beagles were turned over to the Humane Society of the United States after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit alleging violations of the Animal Welfare Act against the Indiana-based company Envigo RMS LLC. The dogs, they said, would have been the subject of medical lab experiments and would have eventually been put down.
The months that followed consisted of identifying partnering shelters across the country, such as the Humane Society for Southwest Washington, that had the capacity to take in about a dozen of the dogs.
“This is the largest rescue we’ve been a part of,” said Ellingson, the communications director. “We’ve never worked with the Humane Society of the United States before on something of this scale, so this is big for us. We’re fortunate to have the space and the staff to do this.”
Though the majority of its rescues are local, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington has taken in a handful of animals from far farther than Virginia, such as South Korea and Israel, Ellingson said.
Once the dogs are settled, they’ll work with staff and volunteers to get to know their new surroundings. Because the beagles were entirely raised in a facility, they’ve only ever lived in kennels — meaning they’ve likely never seen things like dirt or grass before.
They’ll then get spayed or neutered and receive their microchips and necessary vaccines so they can begin the process of finding new homes. Depending on the dogs’ individual personalities and speed with which they adapt to life at the shelter, some could be ready to adopt as soon as next week.
“This is the pinnacle of exciting things we do,” Everling said. “This is why we get involved in animal welfare.”