Meghan, Prince Harry adopt beagle rescued from Virginia plant

In less than two months, Mamma Mia the beagle went from rags to king.

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

Her new home is a sprawling estate in Montecito, where the 7-year-old dog will roam on a lush 7-acre property.

The beagle Mamma Mia feeds her puppies.

Mamma Mia was saved from a life of breeding and now lives with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in Montecito. Above, Mia feeds her puppies at the Beagle Rescue Project after arriving in Los Angeles.

(Beagle Freedom Project)

your new owners? The Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

“The Duchess called me personally,” said Shannon Keith, an animal rights attorney who runs the Beagle Freedom Project from the low-rise Valley Village house where she used to live. But Keith said she didn’t initially know who the “VIP donor” interested in beagle adoption was.

“She calls my cell phone with no caller ID and says, ‘Hey Shannon, this is Meghan,'” said Keith, whose nonprofit primarily rescues beagles and other dogs, as well as cats, pigs, horses, rabbits, goats and sheep from them used in laboratory tests. “We talked for 30 minutes and I was like, ‘Is that Megan Fox?'”

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

The royal couple’s spokeswoman confirmed the visit to The Times; none commented on the adoption. It was a no-photo affair, with two security guards assisting Meghan and Harry in their search for a furry family member.

Two women are each holding a bunch of beagles.

Shannon Keith, founder of the Beagle Freedom Project, left, with Malina Shirley at the nonprofit’s Valley Village headquarters. Shirley drove from a Humane Society facility in Atlanta to pick up the beagles.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

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

“The Duchess held Mia and said, ‘We’re adopting her,'” Keith said. “She said, ‘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’s closure she wanted to get involved, her spokeswoman told The Times. Knowing that puppies usually have an easier time finding homes, she wanted to help one of the older, more vulnerable canines.

Mia’s picture book ending followed a life in the Envigo factory, described by the Justice Department as a house of horrors. In a lawsuit filed against the company in federal court in May, authorities say beagles were euthanized or left to die by a skinny staff who routinely flouted animal welfare laws.

Investigators who visited the facility on numerous occasions throughout 2021 and 2022 found nightmarish conditions, including beagles with severe and untreated medical conditions, inadequate food and housed in filthy conditions. The dogs were sometimes fed moldy food, and on two occasions inspectors found live maggots in their food, prosecutors said.

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

One beagle used for testing has six-letter serial numbers tattooed on the inside of its ears.

Beagles like Bluebell used for testing at the Virginia plant have six-letter serial numbers tattooed on the inside of their ears.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Envigo, the second largest manufacturer of medical research dogs, breeds about 25% of the beagles used in medical and drug research in the US. has not denied allegations of non-compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.

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

But Keith said that despite all the facility’s upgrades, the Beagles were still being abused.

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

After the lawsuit was filed, Envigo agreed to release 4,000 Beagles from the facility and cease operations. The federal government and the company agreed to turn over the dogs to the Humane Society of the United States.

The Beagles are placed in animal shelters or groups like the Beagle Freedom Project, which puts the dogs in foster homes for rehabilitation before finding their permanent homes.

Three young beagle dogs chew on a stick on the lawn of the Beagle Freedom Project headquarters.

Three young beagles chew on a stick on the lawn of the Beagle Freedom Project, which received 25 beagles out of 4,000 rescued.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Hundreds of Beagles have made their way to Southern California.

Priceless Pets, which has worked with Envigo and the Humane Society, has taken in nearly 1,000 beagles from the Virginia facility.

Ashlee Sprague, who runs the No-Kill Chino Hills shelter, said she’s been to Envigo’s facility and seen poorer treatment of dogs at shelters in California.

Though she wasn’t authorized to give details about the out-of-state facility, she said there was no way for the beagles to live.

She also said the rescued beagles represent only a fraction of all the dogs that need to be adopted.

“The Beagle Mission is like a tiny drop in the bucket of our organization,” she said. “We’re doing this for the animals and it’s really remarkable to be able to save these dogs from euthanasia.

“But I’m just so grateful for the attention, because through all of that… we’ve been able to adopt so many other dogs, 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 soaked their feet in a bowl of water in the backyard of Keith’s house on Monday while a couple of foster parents ran around.

Mia’s 7 week old puppies were crawling around the garden and between the legs of Keith’s massive but alert Great Dane, Maya. The eight puppies apparently didn’t know that their mother had recently been crowned Dog Duchess of Montecito.

Shannon Keith, center, is surrounded by a group of staff and volunteers.

The Beagle Freedom Project’s new arrivals are held by staff and volunteers including Wendy Wood, left; Malina Shirley, back row, second from left; Jennifer Keith, in red; Shannon Keith, center; Kristin Rawson, back row, third from right; Emily Clayton, second from right; and Shannon Warner, right.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

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

The older pups had Envigo’s green six-letter serial numbers tattooed on the inside of their ears. The youngest puppies were not tagged because they were born too close to the facility’s closure, Keith said.

With about 1,000 people on the waiting list to adopt the beagles, Keith expects her nonprofit should have no trouble finding homes for the Virginia rescuers.

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

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

Two dogs are playing in a meadow.

Spanky, right, a beagle rescued from a testing lab by the Beagle Freedom Project, plays with another dog.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

“He’s just like, ‘Well, we can’t go yet because there’s something in that back building that needs her. Does she have a favorite toy or something?’” Keith said.

The royals and their entourage made their way back and found a box full of toys. They turned it over and Mia grabbed a fox toy that she had played with during her overland trip from Maryland after leaving Envigo.

And with that, the duke, duchess, and their dog left the valley. “Okay, now we can go home,” Harry said. Meghan, Prince Harry adopt beagle rescued from Virginia plant

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