Just over one year ago, we reported on the adoption, by area families, of research beagles rescued from a medical research breeding and testing facility in central Virginia. Their saga drew national attention and prompted one of the largest ever companion animal rescues, with adoptions for about 4,000 dogs. After the breeding facility was shut down by federal inspectors for serious violations and cruelty, many Northern Virginia families were among those across the country willing to offer loving homes to the traumatized beagles. Hidden behind adorable faces and cute floppy ears, many of the dogs had physical and behavioral issues related to their early treatment. Each pair of cute ears hid ominous tattoos on their undersides, marking their research lineage and their association with an unimaginable life.
Some of the beagles had spent years at the facility, either as breeding stock or test subjects. Others were there for various lengths of weeks or months after their birth, pending sale to overseas research or testing enterprises, due to shipments forestalled by Covid impacts. After their rescue in groups beginning August 2022, adopter families sought connection and advice from other adopters through social media groups. Their comments from that time were a mix of the heart-warming and the heart-breaking.
Adopters described seeing the impacts of life in a place that was loud, crowded,
and where human contact more often meant pain than warm affection. In early days, adopters noted: Lucy “is a little scared of things. She doesn’t understand stairs or mirrors; working on potty training.” Rocket is”terrified of doors, cats, linoleum, and toys.” Sage: “If we don’t catch her right away, she eats her poop.” Ashton “will only poop on the sidewalk.” Snoopy Dog: ”Potty training will take some time, but we love her.” Loki: ”He’s been adapting well, but tonight he started tearing at the couch pillows. Any advice? Need more chew toys.” Ruthie: “I was ready to cry yesterday because our girl was so scared and wanted to hide in the corner.” Enzo is ”hypersensitive to noise. Growls and barks at the TV.” Pete “winces at opening of a soda can.” Fergus: “Four, but vet says he has teeth of a nine year old.” Mango: “He had a broken left bone that was never treated. He has a bit of a limp at seven months old.” Pluto: “We can’t get our beagle to come inside. He’s still really scared. I just wish he’d come inside and live with us.”
An inkling of human effort and the resilience of the dog breed that must be behind adopter comments after the first early weeks and months passed. Adopters began to share heartwarming progress and small successes: Milo: ”After a month, today was our first day without an accident.” Lacey ”has mastered the steps.” Juno ”really likes the backyard.” Jennay “has us wrapped around her little paw.” Bailee “spent nap time together for a bit.” Winnie “now grasps the ‘sit’ command.” Rocket “earned his name by launching himself from the ground to your arms to get kisses.” Winnie: “In past month only two accidents, down from five times per day.” Unnamed: ”Spent $25 at doggy bakery on treats of all flavors — nothing. My family brought welcome treats — nothing. Tried fruit and veggies — got the ‘beagle eye.’ Likes goat milk blueberry ice cream — must be homemade not store bought.” Winnie ”rolls in leaves and grass. No longer cowering in fear when the wind blows.” Winslow “walked over the threshold into the house completely on his own. It was such a big deal that he wagged at me, then went to his bed. He’s been asleep for over an hour. That hurdle was huge in his beagle mind.”
Although some particular anxieties continue, and backsliding from time to time, a year later, most families are declaring success and expressing happiness about adopting their beagles. Birdie: “We are still working on the scary noises of the garbage trucks, her possessiveness and trusting strangers, but she is getting better. She’s a sweet pup and I’m glad she’s a part of our family.” Max: “He is one of the best things that has come into our lives.” Happy “is doing so well and he’s as beagle as he could be.” Polly Wog: “Become a true dog in 365 days or less - accomplished! What a sweetheart! We love her.” Gunner: “He is the sweetest, most lovable dog I think we have ever had. Even with all the beagle craziness we could not love him more.” Shiloh: “Now you are a lovable goofball that runs our home. We love you so much.” Pumpkin: ”It took four months to get that tail to come up when we walk, now it is hardly ever down.” Matcha: “A year later she's made so much progress and acts like a dog now; a little skittish but she's also curious now! Today she is spoiled, happy, playful, and sometimes a little mischievous.” Kelce Pooperini: “You are loved beyond words.”
A year ago, in Chantilly, beagle lovers Donna Ann Winterling and her husband Andy Crook were the first to adopt from the Beagle groups sent to Fairfax County Animal Shelter. (See their adoption story at Springfield Connection, Sept. 1-7, 2022, pg 6-7). They named him Vermont. He had assistance from an older family beagle, Utah, to show him the ways of being a family dog. This companionship likely aided Vermont’s transition from sterile kennel to warm home. Winterling says, “Given his early life he quickly became accustomed to all the comforts of home living, including knowing when he needed to go to the front door to go out — no small feat given we live in a four story townhouse.” Although Winterling describes Vermont’s behavior as generally good with food, furniture and shoes, she adds “given the chance, he is lightning quick when he knows he has something he shouldn’t.” Winterling echoes the feelings of other beagle rescuers, “There’s not a day goes by when we don’t smile because of the way he has changed our lives. He is certainly a lover. We both have plenty of cuddle time with Vermont’s particular style, where he has to curl into your neck.”
We met Ashton last year, soon after his human mom, Angela Domingos, and her existing rescue dog, Jimmy, collected Ashton from Richmond to begin his new life in Springfield. Early on, Ashton was too anxious to eat or sleep. He sat on his dog bed for three days. He was afraid of doors, would not go into a crate, and didn’t understand potting outside. Sudden noises put him into a body stiffened low crouch, going almost flat with his tail tucked. He was most comfortable flattened on the grass. But he loved long walks, running at the dog park, behaved well on-leash and was interested in people, dogs, and cars.
Today Ashton is still an anxious dog, who Domingos says sees her as his security blanket. His family has grown to include a four month old puppy, Hawkeye, a “failed foster” by Domingos. The three dogs, Ashton, Jimmy and Hawkeye, play together and especially like walks. Ashton and Jimmy get doggie day care outings once per week; to be joined by Hawkeye when old enough. It’s such a joy for Ashton to play with large groups of dogs that he refuses to leave doggie day care and must be carried out in protest at the end of the playtime.
Domingos says although Ashton has adapted, she suspects he always will be a ball of anxiety. “If you drew a picture of what anxiety looked like, it would be a picture of Ashton.” His fear of men continues; even after ten weeks of specialized behavioral training, he still cowers with strange men, and has not fully acclimated to her husband. Domingos admits, “he has his set of idiosyncrasies”. Even though life with Ashton includes making on-going accommodations, Domingos says, “The fact that we saved him makes everyone in the family happy. Seeing him do something new, knowing that if not here with us, if his old life continued, he’d never have experienced that new thing.”
The nature of the beagle breed might have doomed them to selection as research animals. They are described as merry, amiable, even tempered, intelligent, gentle, determined and happy-go-lucky. It appears those same traits have made it possible for them to come back from the worst of bad situations and give the love and companionship looked for from any family dog. As Domingos says, “He’s my cuddlebug,” a common comment from beagle adopters.