Their eyes blink as they are carried out of the sterile enclosure of the quarantine centre in Pallikaranai into the world beyond.

Seventy beagles, who spent nearly two months in cells, were freed on Saturday evening, after a sustained campaign by animal rights activists. Animal welfare board officials, who had been waiting since Saturday morning, finally received their little charges around 6 p.m.

“There is really nothing left to say,” said Chinny Krishna, chairperson, animal welfare board. The puppies, bred by Beijing Marshall Biotechnology Company Limited were imported by Advinus laboratory. They arrived at the Chennai airport on October 19 and have been in quarantine ever since. Their release from the centre was withheld after a Central government panel regulating experimentation on animals found some violations in their import documentation.

"The puppies will now go to good homes — some have already been identified, while volunteers of non-governmental organisations are looking for others.

“We are not just giving them away to anyone,” said Sathya, a volunteer with the People for Animals. “People who want to adopt a puppy must be ready to spay, neuter and vaccinate them within six months. We are doing background checks and will also be conducting home visits to ensure the puppies are being looked after.”

Dawn Williams, general manager, Blue Cross India, said: “We are all very happy.” And going by excited woofs of the puppies as they finally taste freedom, he wasn’t the only one.

Arun Mohan, who has just adopted the smallest puppy, is another happy person. “Our puppy is settling in very well. He was very quiet at first but once he got used to us, he became very active and frisky,” he said.

Priya Rajesh who waited all day to get her puppy is thrilled at the new arrival. “He’s a little jittery and nervous but I’m sure he will get over it. He is now part of our family,” she said.