FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (7News) — By the end of this week, the first of about 4,000 beagles rescued from a Virginia breeding facility will start arriving in local shelters.
7News has been following the historic rescue operation from the Envigo breeding facility, said to be the largest animal rescue the Humane Society of the United States has ever done.
The Humane Society said the Envigo facility bred dogs to be sold to laboratories for animal experimentation.
The facility is shutting down after being accused of repeated violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, and a judge approved a plan to safely remove thousands of dogs that remain at Envigo.
RELATED: Rescue of 4,000 beagles in Virginia will be 'largest ever' for Humane Society of the US
DMV-based 'Homeward Trails Animal Rescue' is one of the partner organizations that's stepped in to assist, and says this beagle rescue would never have happened had it not been for Virginia state lawmakers.
"I mean without the legislators in the Virginia General Assembly passing the bills they did, without them calling on the federal government and the Department of Justice to take steps to put an end to this abuse, we would not be here today," said Homeward Trails founder and executive director Sue Bell.
She's referring to five pieces of bipartisan legislation now known as the 'Beagle Bills', that were approved by the Virginia General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Glenn Youngkin in April.
The bills are intended to protect animals that are bred and sold for experimental purposes.
SEE ALSO: Local organization to help rescue 4,000 beagles from Va. breeding facility
Republican Senator Bill Stanley and Democratic Senator Jennifer Boysko teamed up to introduce those bills, and worked together to get them passed. Both lawmakers told 7News the legislation is in direct response to their concerns about the Envigo facility.
"One hundred percent, that was the entire reason we were addressing it," said Senator Boysko (D-Fairfax). "Because we understood these dogs were not being taken care of."
Senator Stanley (R-Franklin County) has visited the Envigo facility on several different occasions and felt compelled to do something to help the animals there.
In fact, he's now the proud owner of two Envigo beagles, that his family named 'Daisy' and 'Dixie'.
"These beagles are loving, they're great," Stanley said of the dogs he now considers part of his family.
But he didn't stop there.
"We're not going to allow companies to come into Virginia and breed these dogs and then abuse then and discard them like they're pieces of trash," Stanley said.
The 'Beagle Bills' require more regulation and strict record-keeping at breeding facilities like Envigo. They also aim to close loopholes that previously existed in Virginia's animal cruelty laws.
"Treating these facilities like the rest of Commonwealth citizens," Stanley explained. "Because if a member of our community harms a dog, treats them cruelly, they can be charged with felony cruelty to animals. But inside that facility they were not. They could do the same thing and they could not be prosecuted. And so we are going to apply animal cruelty laws in Virginia to them."
7News asked Stanley and Boysko to break down the language in the legislation that really made a difference in the case of Envigo.
"Senate Bill 87 makes it very clear, that it bans the selling of research animals if a facility has received citations under the federal Animal Welfare Act," Boysko explained. "That was the lynchpin."
You can read Senate Bill 87 here.
"If they have a serious violation from the USDA, that would act like a kill switch and stop their business, and they would have to fold up their shop and go somewhere else," Stanley added.
Senate Bill 90 was also a key part of the legislation as it relates to Envigo, because it says that "any breeder or animal testing facility that no longer has need for a dog or cat in its possession" must offer to release that animal for adoption.
"That one bill, that demands adoption if they can't be sold, is the impetus of the federal court now mandating that they [Envigo] are shut down, they can't sell dogs, and under Virginia law, they now must adopt out those 4,000 beagles that are currently in their possession," Stanley said.
The 'Beagle Bills', all five of them, were unanimously approved in the state legislature.
"I think that a lot of people care, and when we exposed the atrocities going on with these sweet little dogs, I think everyone felt, well, we've got to do something about it," Boysko said. "When we work together, we can really make big things happen."
Senator Stanley echoed that message, saying this is something all Virginia state lawmakers should be proud of.
"When we started getting momentum and traction through the Virginia General Assembly, the federal government took notice," he said. "Senators Kaine and Warner took notice. They sent letters, and the USDA went back for another investigation at Envigo and found more serious violations, and that started the court case in federal court, which has now resulted in a court order that says Envigo, you're not going to do this anymore."
The rescue of all 4,000 dogs that remain at the Envigo facility is expected to take six to eight weeks to complete, with a couple of hundred dogs removed at a time.
Senators Stanley and Boysko said their offices are already getting thousands of calls from people across Virginia and the country who are interested in fostering or adopting.
"It's pretty exciting," Boysko said. "I would encourage people to go to the Humane Society's website. There is an opportunity for people to make donations to assist, or to apply to foster or adopt."
For more information from the Humane Society of the United States about potentially fostering or adopting of beagles, click here.
If you live in the DMV area and would like to contact Homeward Trails directly, click here.
"The joy that comes out of these beagles once free, and the trust and love that comes out, is just such an experience," Stanley said. "It has been a real meaningful experience for my family, my kids, and my wife, and I hope it is for every single person that opens their heart."