In less than two months, Mamma Mia the beagle went from rags to royalty.
Her changed life began in July when federal authorities rescued her — along with 4,000 other beagles — from the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at the Envigo breeding and research facility in Virginia.
Her new home is a sprawling estate in Montecito, where the 7-year-old dog roams a lush 7-acre property.
Her new owners? The Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
“The Duchess called me personally,” said Shannon Keith, an animal rights attorney who leads the Beagle Freedom Project from the low-slung Valley Village home where she used to live. But Keith said she didn’t know who the “VIP donor” was at first who was interested in a Beagle adoption.
“She calls my cell phone with no caller ID and says, ‘Hey Shannon, this is Meghan,'” said Keith, whose nonprofit rescues beagles and other dogs, as well as cats, pigs, horses, rabbits, goats and sheep, most of which were rescued. used in laboratory tests. “We talked for 30 minutes and I thought, ‘Is this 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 this month.
The royal couple’s spokeswoman confirmed the visit to The Times; no comment on the adoption. It was a no-picture affair, with two guards accompanying Meghan and Harry in their search for a furry relative.
They played in the backyard with Mia, who had been transported with eight of her newborn puppies from Maryland, where the dogs had been taken after the rescue of Virginia, to Valley Village. 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 those we can help who are older.’”
Meghan had a rescue beagle for years, and when she saw the story of Envigo’s closure, she wanted to get involved, her spokeswoman told The Times. She knew that puppies are usually easier to find homes and wanted to help one of the older, more vulnerable canines.
The end of Mia’s storybook followed a life in the Envigo factory described by the Justice Department as a house of horrors. In a lawsuit filed in federal court against the company in May, authorities say beagles have been euthanized or left for dead by a meager staff who routinely violated the Animal Welfare Act.
Investigators who visited the facility repeatedly in 2021 and 2022 found nightmarish conditions, including beagles with serious and untreated medical problems, insufficient 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 of the animals had been euthanized without first being sedated, and hundreds were found dead at the facility, according to inspectors. In addition to the euthanized dogs, researchers found that 300 canines died in the factory over a seven-month period from “unknown causes.”
Envigo, the second largest producer of medical research dogs, breeds approximately 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.
“There’s actually very little that should be up for debate in this case,” Envigo lawyers said in court documents, adding that officials have spent millions of dollars in the past year to improve the facility. Envigo’s parent company, Inotiv, said it installed 1,200 new aluminum doors, upgraded and closed in floor openings, and installed cooling towers in the buildings.
But Keith said that despite all the upgrades to the facility, the beagles were still being abused.
“It’s basically a breeding prison,” she said of the Virginia plant. “Not only were the problems not fixed after the inspectors left, but they got worse.”
After the lawsuit was filed, Envigo agreed to release 4,000 beagles from the factory and cease operations. The federal government and the company agreed to turn the dogs over to the Humane Society of the United States.
The beagles are moved to shelters or groups such as the Beagle Freedom Project, which places the dogs in foster care for rehabilitation before they find their forever homes.
Hundreds of beagles have made their way to Southern California.
Priceless Pets, which has partnered with Envigo and the Humane Society, has taken nearly 1,000 beagles from its Virginia plant.
Ashlee Sprague, who runs the no-kill shelter in Chino Hills, said she’d been to the Envigo facility and said she’s seen worse treatment of dogs in California shelters.
While she was not authorized to provide details about the out-of-state factory, she said it was no way for the beagles to live.
She also said that the rescued beagles represent only a fraction of all dogs that need to be adopted.
“The Beagle mission is like a little 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 prevent those dogs from being euthanized.
“But I’m just so grateful for the attention because through all of this…we’ve been able to get so many other dogs adopted, and that’s remarkable,” Sprague said.
The Beagle Freedom Project has taken in 25 of the rescued beagles. The puppies howled and bit each other, played with toys and dipped their feet in a water bowl in the backyard of Keith’s house on Monday while a few foster parents scurry around.
Mia’s 7 week old puppies clambered across the yard and between the paws of Keith’s massive but attentive Great Dane, Maya. The eight puppies apparently were unaware that their mother had recently been crowned Dog Duchess of Montecito.
Five older puppies joined the mix in the yard. They had been taken from Cumberland, Virginia, to the Atlanta Humane Society, where Beagle Freedom Project transporter Malina Shirley picked them up and drove them to Los Angeles.
The older puppies had Envigo’s six-letter green serial numbers tattooed on the inside of their ears. The youngest puppies were not marked because they were born too close to the factory closure, Keith said.
With about 1,000 people on the waiting list to adopt the beagles, Keith expects her nonprofit to have no trouble finding homes for the Virginia rescues.
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.
“He just says, ‘Well, we can’t leave just yet because there’s something in that secret annex that she needs. Does she have a favorite toy or something?'” Keith said.
The royals went back and found a box full of toys. They turned it around and Mia picked up a fox toy she’d played with on her cross-country trip from Maryland after she left Envigo.
And with that, the duke, the duchess, and their dog left the valley. “Okay, now we can go home,” Harry said.