It was a regular day at work when I saw someone was at the door. When I opened it, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex were on the doorstep of my home in North Hollywood, California, which is the base of my organization, the Beagle Freedom Project.
They gave me a hug. I’m still in shock that I met them, especially because they were just so gracious, sweet, loving and compassionate. Mia, the dog they had come to collect, ran to them immediately, with her tail wagging. She’d never done that with anybody before. It’s like she knew they were her people.
Mia is a seven-year-old beagle who has a really sweet, quiet demeanor and gorgeous eyes. She’s such a loving girl with a very gentle nature.
Yet Mia had a horrible, tortuous life before she came to us. She was born and raised in a cage in the Envigo breeding facility in Cumberland, Virginia. She was bred over and over again inside those walls and had her puppies stolen from her and sold into animal testing.
Mia is one of 4,000 beagles to be rescued from the breeding facility, after federal authorities found it had violated dozens of regulations and ordered for the dogs to be rehomed.
These dogs’ lives were absolute hell. They were born in dingy, dark cages—where they slept, ate and went to the bathroom. They never had a soft bed or kind touch, and they were always either overheated or freezing cold.
We campaigned for 10 months for this facility to be shut down. So when the Department of Justice sued Envigo, and the dogs were released, I felt elated. The fact we helped save so many beagles’ lives has been one of the greatest highlights of my life.
But it has been bittersweet, as we now have 4,000 dogs to place, which is a magnificent feat. The dogs are in shelters all over the U.S. but a lot of them don’t have enough space, so we have taken in dogs at the Beagle Freedom Project headquarters.
The public has been super supportive. Everyone wants to adopt one of these dogs because of the horrors that they have been through. However, people need to understand that these dogs have special needs. They’ve been traumatized. They’ve never seen the outdoors, so the world is overwhelming. When they see sunshine for the first time, they’re often scared and run, hide or tremble. They’re not potty-trained, either. We call them newborns in adult bodies.
People need to be patient with them. Yet I could tell from my initial conversation with Meghan Markle on July 29, 2022, that she would be the perfect kind of person to adopt one of our dogs.
I had received an email a few days before from someone from her camp, saying that a VIP supporter wanted to have a phone conversation with me about possibly adopting one of our dogs. I had no idea who it was, but we set a time and she called me on my cell phone.
She said it was “Meghan” but I didn’t realize who she was until I got off the phone. I don’t know too much about celebrities and royalty. As soon as we hung up, I Googled some of the things she had mentioned: her being a former actress, and living in Montecito. When she popped up on my screen, I was like, “Oh my god!” I felt so stupid.
During our call, I thought she was so sweet and that she sounded like a normal person. We had a great conversation for about 30 minutes, where we talked about animal testing, the Beagle Freedom Project, and the rescued slaughterhouse chickens she has at her home.
She also mentioned that she had children, so I asked if she wanted to adopt a puppy. She said, “No, no, no. We don’t want to adopt a dog that is easy to place. We want to adopt a dog that is harder to place—the ones who have been traumatized, the older ones, we want to help rehabilitate them. We want to support your mission.”
I was really impressed by that. It’s very hard to find people who want to adopt the mothers, the older dogs, the traumatized dogs. So we love the people who do.
We discussed a time for her to come over to our place and meet Mia, and she turned up with Prince Harry. They both introduced themselves to me and my eight employees who were there. We were excited to meet them, and Harry and Meghan were so sweet and talked to everybody. They hugged people, and thanked us for our work. They didn’t act like they were royalty, they just acted like regular people who had come to adopt a dog. It made my heart swell.
Harry was asking me all the right questions about Mia. He wanted to know about her medical issues, her likes and dislikes, and what they could do to help her. He was so sensitive and sweet.
I asked Harry and Meghan if they wanted to go to the backyard and spend some time alone with Mia, and they went outside with her. Within five minutes, they came back into the house and the Meghan was carrying Mia in her arms. She was like, “We’re definitely adopting her.”
Harry agreed but said that they couldn’t leave yet, as he thought there was something in the back house in my garden that Mia wanted. While they were outside with her, Mia had kept going over to the door. “Did she have a favorite toy or something?” he asked.
“No, she loves all toys,” I replied.
“Well you’ve got to come back there with me because we’re not leaving until she gets what she wants,” he said, “and there’s something in that back house.”
So we went into the back house and turned over a bin full of toys. Mia sniffed at all of them and then grabbed a toy fox and ran off with it. My colleague recognized it as the toy she had bought for Mia when she had rescued her from the facility. Harry said: “See? I knew there was something she wanted. Now we can go home.”
I was so impressed because that goes above and beyond a lot of our adopters’ intuitive nature. He really wanted to make sure that Mia had that something special, that toy he knew she wanted. That brought tears to my eyes.
Harry and Meghan have kept in touch with me consistently, and I’ve heard from them several times about how amazingly Mia is doing. She’s happy and getting along with the other dogs. I already know she’s just living the life and doing great.
This whole experience has been amazing. First of all, I love when anybody with that kind of reach and platform uses their status for good. And when Meghan told me that she wanted to make this public, so that people could be aware of these issues and adopt older dogs and dogs in need, I was so impressed. It meant the world to me and obviously to the animals. To know there’s people out there, like Harry and Meghan, it just gives me hope.
Shannon Keith is the founder and president of the Beagle Freedom Project. For more information, visit the organization’s website: bfp.org.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Katie Russell.