fb-pixel Skip to main content

‘They fit in like they’ve been here all along’: Beagles rescued from breeding facility find new homes in Massachusetts

Susan Howe poses for a portrait with four of her beagles while the other two investigate the camera. Howe adopted two of the dogs who were among the thousands of beagles discovered in terrible condition in a research facility in Virginia. Hundreds of the dogs were brought to Massachusetts to be adopted by loving families.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Susan Howe was already the proud owner of four beagles. So when she learned recently that dozens of beagles were brought to Massachusetts from a controversial breeding facility and needed a home, she thought to herself, “Hey, what’s two more?”

Within a month, Gemma and Tinker Bell became the newest beagles to join Howe’s household in Belchertown. Howe said the dogs, who are 3 and 4 years old, fit right in with the rest of the pack.

“They’re really in great health and great spirits,” Howe said. “They just fit in like they’ve been here all along. It’s been a very easy transition.”

Advertisement



Howe is one of many adopters who have rushed to rescue over 4,000 beagles who were subjected to abysmal conditions in a Virginia research and breeding facility, Envigo. US authorities filed a complaint to a federal court in May after inspections of the facility revealed mistreated, sick, and even dead animals, The New York Times reported.

Throughout the past several months, MSPCA-Angell in Jamaica Plain and Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem brought 160 dogs from Virginia to Massachusetts. After receiving more than 1,000 applications from eager adopters, the organizations found safe and loving homes for 133 beagles, as of this week.

Welcoming the hounds with open arms was a no-brainer for Howe; this is her life’s work. She has been adopting and rescuing dogs since childhood. In 2021, she founded The Aisling Center, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the use of dogs for research and product testing.

“I focused my efforts on rescuing animals from laboratories or laboratory breeding environments, and they’re predominantly beagles,” Howe said. “Six dogs is not for most people. But it is what I love to do. ... It just comes natural to me.”

For Elizabeth Booth, adopting rescue dogs is also second nature. The Salem resident grew up fostering animals and working at an animal shelter, and at 18 she adopted her first rescue.

Advertisement



After learning about the Envigo investigation through social media and news coverage, Booth, 26, thought there couldn’t be a better opportunity to bring a puppy into her home. Last week, Booth adopted Agatha, a 9-week-old beagle whose mother was brought to Northeast Animal Shelter from Virginia.

“Rescuing is always something that is on the forefront of my mind ... My job [is] super pet-friendly,” Booth said. “A puppy is definitely a big undertaking, but I’m really lucky I have the schedule that accommodates that.”

In the short time that Booth and Agatha have been together, the beagle has managed to connect with the other household animals, terriers named Finnegan and Marnie.

“Agatha and [Marnie] definitely bonded, and so they sleep together,” Booth said. “They spend all of their energy playing.”

Also no stranger to rescue animals is Eileen Robertson, a Mashpee retiree who frequently volunteers at the MSPCA-Angell clinic in Centerville. Robertson officially welcomed Hannah, a 1-year-old beagle, into her family in late June after fostering her.

Robertson’s co-workers at the clinic know beagles are her favorite breed, so when they caught wind that Northeast Animal Shelter needed adopters, they knew Robertson would be first in line.

“I’m an absolute beagle lover, so I can’t see or be around enough of them,” she said. “I was definitely on board for whatever [the shelter] needed me to do.”

Advertisement



After hearing news reports about the mistreatment of the animals in Virginia, Robertson became alarmed over the disturbing conditions at the facility, which bred animals for product testing and research.

“I look at [Hannah] and it breaks my heart,” Robertson said. “I was horrified in that way, but I’m glad that this is a historic thing. I’m glad to be part of it.”

Now, Robertson said she always checks to see whether her cosmetics and other products were tested on animals. Following the rescue mission, Robertson hopes more people across the country will be aware of this type of animal mistreatment and fight to change it.

Governor Charlie Baker signed into law on Thursday a measure colloquially referred to as the “Beagle Bill.” It requires Massachusetts research and product testing facilities that use dogs and cats to offer healthy animals for adoption once their time in research has ended, allowing them to have a second chapter in life.

More animals are used in Massachusetts for research than in any other state, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Howe said she plans to use Gemma and Tink as ambassadors for The Aisling Center to lobby for further protections for animal welfare within research and breeding facilities. She is grateful to be able to provide unconditional care and support to her new pets, something they never received until now.

“These beagles are phenomenally loving. ... They are so easily forgiving and adaptable,” Howe said. “They may have some traumas they have to overcome, but they will if they’re loved.”

Advertisement



Material from State House News was included in this report.


Katie Mogg can be reached at katie.mogg@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @j0urnalistkatie