On a Monday morning in late March of 2022, two inspectors from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) rolled through the gate of Blue Ridge Kennel and parked near the building.
They had come to the Wetumpka, Alabama facility nearly one month after the USDA issued official warnings that Blue Ridge was operating in violation of federal animal welfare laws. Earlier inspections had found the dogs at Blue Ridge, a pet food research facility and boarding kennel, were not receiving adequate veterinary care. They also found animal care staff lacked appropriate training, that the dogs on premises were acquired through unlicensed animal dealers, and that research protocols were incomplete.
On this March morning, no one came out of the doors at Blue Ridge to walk the inspectors through the facility. The inspectors made a phone call to the chair of Blue Ridge’s institutional animal care and use committee (IACUC). The chair was unavailable to help. In fact, despite the dozens of dogs housed inside Blue Ridge, no one was available to help walk the inspectors through the facility. After a half hour of waiting, the inspectors left because “a responsible adult was not available to accompany [them] during the inspection process.” Inside, dozens of dogs were waiting. They needed help.
During an inspection the previous year (2021), an APHIS official captured photos of some of the unclean, uncomfortable, and unsafe conditions at Blue Ridge.
In the dogs’ outdoor space, platforms were “cracked, peeling and rotting.” “Deep holes” dug underneath the platforms posed further safety risks.
Fencing was “rolling up revealing an opening” where dogs might escape or become injured. Paint was flaking and chipping “where the dogs came in contact with surfaces.”
Inside were “rusted racks that [the dogs’] feeding bowls would dry on.”
And even at rest, the dogs at Blue Ridge weren’t safe: “Several beds were torn and shredded with scratched-up legs and corners.”
These 2021 photos make it clear that Blue Ridge should never have been allowed to continue to hold dogs, subjecting them to feeding trials and research services for the pet food industry. They couldn’t even maintain a clean, comfortable environment for the animals relying on them for care.
In July 2022, months after the attempted (and failed) inspection, APHIS officials returned to the Blue Ridge facility. Inside, they found dogs in awful conditions of poor health.
A redbone coonhound appeared malnourished, her ribs, hips, and backbones highly visible.
A black lab suffered, her ears “thickened […] extending into the ear canal.”
A yellow lab, his hips dropped, struggled to stand.
Among the 123 dogs inside Blue Ridge, even more were suffering from ailments, but inspectors did not capture photos of all of them. They turned their attention to the dogs’ medical files, finding over and over again their records were incomplete. Some were damaged, crinkled, and ripped.
What records were kept show the dogs at Blue Ridge had names: Pearl. Echo. Cotton. The names these dogs had been given are sweet-sounding, as if they were loved companion animals. But the inspection photos don’t lie. Pearl, Echo, Cotton, and the dozens more dogs at Blue Ridge were treated like they were disposable, like they were undeserving of the love and care they so deserved.
Blue Ridge Kennel just one of hundreds of research facilities across the U.S. holding animals captive and experimenting on their unwilling bodies.
We have work to do. Our team at Rise for Animals won’t stop working until we shut down every animal testing lab and end animal experimentation once and for all, but we need your help to achieve our mission and save dogs and other animals who are languishing in labs across the United States.