Bad as the Envigo kennels are, many animal shelter facilities are no better
CUMBERLAND, Virginia––Much of the attention of the animal advocacy world, as this is written, is focused on the impending evacuation of 4,000-odd beagles from the Envigo kennels, formerly the LabCorp kennels, formerly the Covance Kennels.
(See 4,500+ beagles freed from laboratory use by judge’s order.)
Located about five miles due east of Cumberland, Virginia, at 482 Frenches Store Road, the eleven kennel buildings in question have for more than 50 years bred beagles for biomedical research use.
U.S. District Judge Norman Moon on July 1, 2022 ordered that all of the beagles still at Envigo be released to the Humane Society of the United States within 60 days, and signed off on an evacuation plan on July 5, 2022.
But whether the 4,000-odd beagles whom the Humane Society of the U.S. is now planning to receive and parcel out among selected animal shelters and rescue groups are really all of the beagles who were on the premises a few months earlier is open to question.
Are all of the beagles really still there?
Drone inspection done on July 7, 2022 by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness [SHARK] showed what appeared to be both markedly fewer beagles in each cage, and far more completely empty cages, than SHARK found on previous droning missions.
After reviewing the Showing Animals Respect & Kindness video, ANIMALS 24-7 subsequently learned that while Envigo has been enjoined by court order since May 18, 2022 against removing beagles from the premises, no one seems to have maintained surveillance to ensure that the court order was obeyed.
Earlier Showing Animals Respect & Kindness drone video, collected in 2017, 2019, and 2021, consistently showed from four to six beagles per cage and few if any empty cages. Each cage consists of both an indoor sleeping area and a roofed outdoor run with a chain link fence in front.
As dogs often run back and forth between the two areas, the flaps between them swing almost constantly. Only if dogs are locked into the sleeping areas are the flaps not swinging for very long.
The Showing Animals Respect & Kindness drone video of July 7, 2022 shows no beagles in the entire eastern half of the kennel complex, and no swinging flaps, either.
The beagle housing density shown in the western half of the complex projects to a total dog population on site of about 1,400––unless, of course, about two-thirds of the purportedly resident beagle population were locked into their sleeping areas, or otherwise out of sight, when Showing Animals Respect & Kindness founder Steve Hindi repeatedly flew a drone up and down the length of multiple kennel rows.
The Showing Animals Respect & Kindness are also at odds with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] head count.
According to PETA, “A 2021 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals undercover investigation found 5,000 beagle dogs and puppies.”
No disagreement about conditions
But there is no disagreement between Showing Animals Respect & Kindness and PETA concerning the Envigo conditions.
PETA found the beagles “intensively confined to small, barren kennels and cages” with “no beds, no toys, no stimulation.”
“The dogs were kept in sheds that stretched as long as a football field and were deafeningly loud when hundreds of them barked at once. The noise level reached over 117 decibels—louder than a rock concert—and of course, the dogs have no way to escape from the virtually constant noise.” PETA reported.
USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service reports cited many other issues at the dilapidated facilities for years. The USDA-APHIS report findings were repeatedly amplified by the Cincinnati-based organization Stop Animal Exploitation Now.
What should have been the biggest scandal
But none of the many animal advocacy organizations addressing the conditions at the soon-to-be-closed Envigo kennels over the years have addressed, or even acknowledged, what should have been the biggest scandal of all associated with those facilities:
When built, they were state-of-the-art for humane society animal shelters, and are still not significantly worse than about half of the humane society animal shelters and public pounds in use today.
Except for being about 100 times bigger than the average animal shelter built to the same basic plan, the Envigo kennels follow a design scheme that almost any animal advocate can find used in much newer hometown “humane society” shelters, some of them just built within the past few years.
Shared bad design
The common features include a worn concrete floor, rusty reverberating steel roof, chain link cage fronts and dividing panels, swinging flaps or “guillotine” doors separating indoor from outdoor areas, service access provided from a long passageway behind the kennels with concrete block walls, ventilation furnished by nature in the “outdoor” portion of each cage, and by fans sucking air the length of the passageway on the indoor side.
Rows of cages directly face each other. Cleaning with high-pressure hoses exchanges the stench of dog poop for the stench of wet dog hair at least once a day. Use of bleach ensures the frequent release of aromatic hydrocarbons to amplify the odors almost as much as the vibrating metal roof amplifies the noise of barking.
ANIMALS 24-7 pointed out in writing as early as August 1, 2006 to several anti-vivisection organizations that the then-Covance kennels were no worse and perhaps even better than some of the “rescue” shelters to which they hoped the beagles could be moved, but to no avail.
Humane societies need to set the highest standard
The point was not that deficient conditions in laboratories should not be addressed, but rather that humane organizations need to set the highest standard for animal care, in order to be able to point the finger at laboratories, breeders, or anyone else.
Even among the approximately half of all humane society and animal control shelters that have come up to significantly higher structural standards since then, attempting to maintain a 90% “live release rate” to qualify for “no kill” status means today that the severe overcrowding for which Covance/Envigo was and remains justly notorious is now the animal shelter norm.
ANIMALS 24-7 has repeatedly reminded the humane community for more than 30 years now that when an animal shelter of any sort invites the public in to adopt dogs and cats, that facility is inviting important guests not only into the animals’ temporary home, but also into those guests’ own homes, in a sense, because they will form their impressions of how animals should be kept and how animals will affect their lives from what they see, smell, and hear.
Any shelter can be clean, neat, attractively lighted, odor-free, and quiet
If the shelter looks like a prison, stinks like a cesspool, and sounds like hell in full cry, it will not rehome as many animals as it should, because people do not want to invite misery and chaos into their lives.
There is no animal shelter or pound which cannot afford to be clean, neat, attractively lighted, odor-free, and quiet.
The only kind of poverty that causes a shelter to be bleak, stinking, and intolerably noisy is poverty of the imagination.
It is especially appalling that newer laboratory designs often incorporate concessions to animal welfare that many newer animal shelters do not.
This is really just a matter of paying attention to what animals seek out and ask for.
Cats need vertical space and a comfortable bed.
Dogs crave company. They want to be part of a pack, so it is quite all right––indeed essential––to house small groups of compatible dogs together; but it is never all right to house large, aggressive dogs with small dogs and non-aggressive dogs.
Dogs killing dogs
Dogs killing each other in shelters was almost unheard of 30 years ago, but in this era of two-thirds or more of all shelter dogs being pit bulls, and shelters struggling to stuff as many pit bulls into cages as will fit, rather than euthanize any, dogs killing dogs has become so common that some standard shelter tracking sheets include a column for this form of “shelter exit.”
Any dog will be psychologically and physically healthier––and more easily adopted––if kept in almost any sort of facility other than conventional cinder-block-and-chain-link runs with tin roofs, like those at Envigo, and probably like those at the nearest or second-nearest shelter to anyone reading this.
A mad scientist vivisector, trying to find out how fast he could drive dogs, cats, and people insane, would put them all into a typical animal shelter, in which the cats cannot climb or escape the sound of barking, the dogs can only run madly back and forth and bark for exercise, the tin roof amplifies noise to the level of a jet engine revving up, and the air circulation is inferior to the air exchange level achieved by any functional flush toilet.
Medieval hunting kennels
Kennels of conventional design, like Envigo and those at most animal shelters, unconsciously reflect the medieval practice of keeping hunting packs in otherwise empty stalls at the end of a horse stable.
When humane societies began sheltering dogs about 160 years ago, they blindly copied the arrangements of hunting kennels, not pausing to consider that hunter attitudes toward animals are fundamentally opposite to the humane ideal.
Shelters of 21st century design no longer have barred cages or narrow linear runs for dogs. Instead, each dog room is designed to hold small compatible groups of dogs, and the dog rooms are enclosed in storefront-grade shatterproof window glass, not chain link.
Stale air is pumped out from floor fronts and fresh air is blown in from outdoors at the top, to promptly remove odors, with air exchange at a rate of not less than a complete change every half hour.
Windows instead of bars
Hong Kong SPCA architect Jill Cheshire, an innovator in shelter design, well over 20 years ago discovered and publicized the advantages of using glass instead of chain link fencing or bars by watching and listening to her dogs in various different environments.
“To lower the volume of noise inside a dog shelter,” Cheshire explained, “you have to realize that dogs see with their noses. Bars or chain link allow them to be stimulated by everything that goes on in your shelter. Because what stimulates them most is the presence of other dogs, and there are always other dogs in a shelter, they bark all the time. Then shelters often try to deal with the noise by restricting what their dogs can see. They end up putting their dogs inside boxes, with no visual stimulation at all––so what do they have left to do? They bark some more.
“What we have learned to do instead,” Cheshire told anyone who would listen, “is to put the dogs inside glass, so that they can see everything but cannot smell anything. This encourages them to spend a lot of their time up looking around, using their other senses and being in front of their enclosures where the visitors will see them and maybe adopt them.
“If you look inside a glass-enclosed shelter, what you see are lots of alert and attentive dogs, who are always watching everything very carefully, but are rarely barking,” Cheshire finished.
Cleanliness is next to dogliness
Enough shelters listened that variations on the Hong Kong SPCA dog housing plan now can be seen throughout the world, including in newer laboratories.
The advantages of that plan, however, come with caveats.
Cleanliness is paramount. Glass kennel walls must be cleaned every day. This is standard protocol in newer laboratories, because contamination from wet noses, splashed food, urine, and fecal matter can corrupt research findings. Animal shelters often sacrifice cleanliness, unfortunately, to economize on labor.
This brings up the most important point of all: it is not necessary, albeit desirable, for an animal shelter––or any other sort of kennel––to be of state-of-the-art design for it to be clean and in good repair, with high-wear surfaces kept freshly painted, all surfaces washed clean at least daily, and sick animals isolated, not only to protect the health of the rest of the animal population, but also to keep sneezing and diarrhea in more easily cleansed and sanitized areas.
The key to accomplish all of this is avoiding overcrowding. Maintaining cleanliness in facilities with too many dogs or cats becomes exponentially more difficult as more animals are added to the mix.
Odor control is accomplished primarily by cleanliness, including frequent indoor air exchanges, keeping drains clear, and using cleaning solutions other than bleach.
(See What a world-class humane society looks like.)
Odor control is especially important for adoption shelters because, globally, more than 80% of animal protection donors and animal shelter volunteers are female. Most are between the ages of 20 and 50.
Women in that age range have up to seven times the olfactory acuity of most men. If an animal shelter stinks, it will be repelling the very people who otherwise would be most likely to become animal adopters and donors.
Animal advocacy organization statements about Envigo, to date, focus on the cruel practices of the breeding operations and the experiments to which the Envigo beagles have been subjected after being told to laboratories.
Celebrating the anticipated impending demolition of the Envigo facilities, some animal advocates recite the phrase brought into common discourse by World War II concentration camp survivors: “Never again!”
But “Never again!” needs to be applied to animal shelters, especially those run by humane societies and rescues purporting to set a higher standard, as well as to breeding kennels that supply laboratories.
The mere fact that the sign in front of a building resembling the Envigo kennels says “animal shelter” does not make the facility any better.
Karen Davis says
Thank you for showing how animal shelters could be vastly improved ethically and aesthetically for the sake of the animals who sadly end up in these places, often as the last “home” they will ever know, as well as for staff and visitors. The typical animal shelter is so typical in fact that one hardly imagines there could be another way of maintaining them.
Several years ago, I drove to the Montgomery County animal shelter outside Washington, DC to pick up a few chickens who’d been brought in there and was surprised to see the chickens in a roomy enclosure with plenty of straw, clean water and food bowls, and no confinement odor.
As I once noted in a previous post, in the 1970s, I worked for about 6 months in a deplorable “no-kill” shelter in San Francisco, called Pets Unlimited – a wretched, cruel place with ignorant staff, metal cages, constant barking, the paradigmatic institutional milieu for “the hopeless.” This place led me to have an automatic reaction against the “no-kill” shelter concept, but while I haven’t been in once since then, I understand that Pet Unlimited is not the standard “no-kill type of place. Perhaps I am wrong. Between this Animals 24-7 article and Ed Duvin’s article, “Unfinished Business,” which I cited a few weeks ago in a comment, I see that animal shelters can (and of course should) be models of compassionate care and rational self-interest if the goal is to increase adoptions to good homes for the animals, and, meanwhile, as they await whatever fate befalls them.
Resistance on the part of an animal shelter to upgrade their facilities seems to fit with their refusal to stop using dead animals as bait at fundraising dinners. Still seeking to entice members to attend these functions, they offer “chicken,” “”ribs,” etc. and become incensed if asked/urged to PLEASE stop doing that.
While killing (“euthanizing”) any creature of any species should be a last resort, forcing anyone of any species to stay alive in hopeless situations is not, however well meant, a compassionate action. Watching dogs and cats languish and deteriorate at Pets Unlimited, and be yelled at or ignored by staff and volunteers for their “noncompliance” with one thing and another, was as terrible as seeing the light be extinguished from their eyes in death.
Thank you again for your informative and engaging discussion.
Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns. http://www.upc-online.org
Sallie Scott says
I’ve done consulting to many area shelters near San Antonio and emphasized appealing to the five senses of people! I’ve spoken of our having a product (precious animals) and we must market them as we would if we ran a department store. Most often they disagree – that the care of the animals is most important.. Thank you for, for me, stating the obvious.
Connie Mogull says
50 years ago, I and a group of about seven other animal loving people joined together to address our local animal shelter, which was a garage of cages with stalls, outside runs, and oh yes, three workers who played cards all day, frozen water and food, I don’t know. Cats were in cement pits on the floor, there was a not great working gas chamber, no shots, no spays, no lost and found, etc. We overthrew the board of directors. They wanted no part of us and the feeling was mutual. We started all of our programs, shots, a low cost spay neuter program, adoptions, working on getting a new building. By some miracle, we did a good job and things improved and a few years later we got a nice state-of-the-art small shelter, still near the garbage dump but a 100% improvement. It took a while and many bumps in the road to get the proper manager and improve upon our programs, but fast forward to today, a shelter that just completed a $5 million makeover. Please check it out: Humane Society of Westchester in New Rochelle, New York, https://humanesocietyofwestchester.org/history/. It has taken about 50 years, but it is paradise. It shows how a few dedicated citizens who commit to making the lives of our pets the best there is work. We serve 20 suburban communities. I have retired!! It cannot be done without volunteers who are willing to enlist the interest of all local politicians, local vets, donors, and adopters, and put policies that are in place so that there is no doubt that our animals come first and the need for interested citizens does not waver. I am not writing a book and hope you find this interesting––any question can easily be answered.