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The Newsroom: Issues : Petco - Nationwide Hell for Animals

Petco: Nationwide Hell for Animals
By Heather Moore
Staff Writer People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

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Petco, the largest pet store chain in the country, puts on an animal-friendly facade by not selling dogs and cats because so many of them are killed in shelters each year, but don't be fooled by Petco’s public relations whitewash—the company is in business to make money—not for love of animals. Every week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) receives calls, letters, and e-mails from Petco customers and employees who are concerned about sick and neglected birds, reptiles, and other small animals at Petco. Here are just a few of the incidents that have been
reported:

Needham, Massachusetts
A Senegal parrot was badly injured by another bird. Upper management did not seek any veterinary care for the bird and instructed employees to get rid of her. She was bleeding profusely and employees tried to stop the bleeding by applying Kwik Stop all over her body, which burned her.

Battle Creek, Michigan
Petco customers have repeatedly found live rats and mice lying next to dead ones in feces-covered cages, and dead geckos, snakes, and other reptiles infested with mites, as well as animals with no food or water for days.

Eatontown, New Jersey PETA staff members saw rats bleeding from their nostrils and writhing in pain. When they approached an employee about the animals, they were told, "There's nothing [the store] can do. We sell pets. We're not an animal hospital."

Elk Grove, California Petco visitors found nine parakeets in one cage without food or water. Witnesses say that the birds were eating their own feces through the grate.

Des Moines, Iowa A hamster with a severe ear infection and blood dripping from her nose was not given any veterinary care. A Petco employee simply put a sign on her cage that said, "Dying, just leave her alone."

Round Rock, Texas
An unweaned baby caique parrot was seen crying and begging for food, unable to reach the feeder. An employee admitted that she had not been taught how to hand-feed the bird.

She and other store employees reportedly refused help offered by customers and, after several days of ceaseless crying, the bird died.

Washington, D.C.
Customers reportedly returned a parakeet after they cut off her toes and clipped her wings and tail too close to her body. Even though they had maimed the bird, they were sold another one.

Tualatin, Oregon
Newborn hamsters were seen in a tank with their mother, who was being pestered by another hamster. When an employee was notified, she scooped the tiny animals out and stated that they would either be flushed or frozen to death “because breeding in captivity is illegal for pet stores.”

Conditions are so bad at bay area stores that the City of San Francisco has filed a lawsuit to bar Petco from selling animals in the city. San Francisco Animal Care and Control found dying and dead birds, a dead turtle molding and left to rot, dehydrated and lethargic iguanas, and a toad “cooked to death” at two area stores. Dennis Herrera, the city attorney of San Francisco, feels that “Petco has proven that it is not capable of caring for the animals it sells in a humane manner. If they can’t treat living things with care and consideration, they sure shouldn’t be in the business of selling pets.”

In September 2002, a producer and photographer with KPIX Channel 5 in San Francisco, visited three South Bay Petco stores and one on the Peninsula at least three times over a period of several weeks, armed with hidden cameras. Time after time, on visit after visit, they found animals that were sick or living in conditions that can make them sick. The hidden cameras showed cages filled with feces, birdseed left on cage bottoms so long the seeds had sprouted, and frogs crowded in soiled water.

After seeing KPIX’s undercover footage, Sally Stork, the Vice President of Operations on the West Coast, said that she was "surprised by some of the problems…I plan to take action immediately....These shots are not typical of Petco...These are not things I see on my store visitations..."

Yet, veterinarian Pat Latas, who specializes in birds and reptiles, told KPIX that she has been aware of problems at Petco stores in the South Bay since the mid-1990s.

KPIX aired a follow-up report featuring Chandra Case, a former bay area Petco employee who also revealed that, in 2000, the manager of her Redwood City store instructed her “to put 14 turtles into the freezer to kill them.”

Written statements by other former Petco employees who were also allegedly told to freeze animals are included in the lawsuit filed by The City of San Francisco and Latas claims that she wrote Petco headquarters in 1997, upset because she had learned that their corporate policy for euthanizing animals was “refrigeration then freezing.” However, Stork maintains that these allegations were never brought to Petco’s attention and if they were, Petco “would immediately investigate and take appropriate action up to, and including, termination.”

In the wake of the lawsuit, PETA filed a 13-page complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission citing Petco’s failure to disclose statistics or discuss the risks and liabilities relating to the company’s sale and husbandry of small animals in Petco’s Prospectus and 10-K Annual Report. PETA, a Petco shareholder, claims that the company has not disclosed systemic problems in its operations, including untrained and poorly qualified staff, inadequate veterinary care, contracts with animal breeding mills, the use of inhumane methods of euthanasia; and the implementation of an inventory “auto-replenishment” system which treats animals as stock without regard to overcrowding or inhumane living conditions.

That’s hardly the end of Petco’s legal problems. The company is also being sued by a district attorney in Las Vegas, Nevada, who feels that Petco knowingly sells sick animals and should be held accountable for consumer fraud.

Utah resident Daina Pitts is suing Petco for damages in excess of $20,000 for negligence and loss of companionship because her dog, Tawney, was hanged to death from a leash at a Petco store after employees left the dog unattended and she attempted to jump out of a grooming tub.

Petco’s attorneys argue that damages, if any, should be limited to Tawney’s “fair market value,” a position that Pitts feels contrasts poorly with a statement on Petco’s Web site:

"We understand that our customers are pet lovers, not just pet owners. They view their pets as members of the family and believe they deserve the same level of care and comfort."

Of course, some Petco employees insist that their store takes good care of animals. On November 8, 2002, PETA received an e-mail from a “Team Leader” at an undisclosed Petco location. The team leader disputed a former Petco employee’s claim that Petco will not pay more than the cost of the animal for veterinary bills. She went on to say that

"a lot of times if an animal appears sick, it isn’t our fault. We may have just received it in off a shipment. We have a back room for the sick animals so they are taken off the sales floor as soon as an employee sees it. We have an in-store vet come in frequently to check out our animals and dispose of the “deads” in the freezer. I have never heard of putting dead animals in the freezer either. I was actually shocked when I read that. If an animal is dead or on the brink of it in our store, we are supposed to put them in a holding tank until they do die... The only time we really ever get sick animals is if they are shipped that way or if a customer returns them...."

On the contrary, an employee at store #469 in Houston, Texas revealed that because employees are not trained how to hand feed birds, “many are injured or die because they are not fed enough or the temperature of the food is too hot and they die from crop burns.” The employee also contended that “No store employees are allowed to take any animal to the vet unless they get permission from the Companion Animal Coordinator (CAC). Our CAC handled over 70 stores…It would normally take one to two days for her to get back to you. By that time the animal usually died.”

The employee stated that animals are given a 15-day guarantee, and “if they come back sick, they are usually put in the back room until they die or appear to recover…then placed back on the sales floor.”

On April 2, 2002, another former Petco employee told PETA that,

"Everything you wrote about Petco is true. ... Ferrets were always coming in dehydrated, with diarrhea, and they didn’t know how to eat hard food, way too young to be away from their mothers. Rats and mice came in suffering from upper respiratory infections, and since they were ‘cheap’ animals, we weren't allowed to take them to the vet; it was either sell them as is, or send them back to be destroyed. Birds constantly came in with growths on their legs or deformed beaks as a result of bad factory breeding."

Although every Petco store may not be responsible for such gross neglect and abuse, all Petco stores contribute to animal suffering. Exotic animals have very special needs, and if these needs are not met, the animals pay the price. Too often, birds, who are meant to fly free, are stuck in small cages where they go mad from loneliness and boredom. Non-native lizards are frequently placed in small cages that aren’t properly heated and fed diets that are completely foreign to them. Exotic animals often wind up in climates they are not suited for and are tossed aside when a new fad arises.

Animal shelters and bird and reptile rescue groups are overrun with animals in need of good homes. Anyone seeking a companion should adopt a homeless animal instead of purchasing one from a pet store. Many supply stores simply sell “pet” food, toys, and other supplies, but not animals. While the best scenario is for Petco to stop selling animals altogether, at the very least, Petco needs to properly train employees, provide adequate veterinary care, and screen prospective buyers. Until then, consumers need to say no to Petco. For more information, please visit PetcoSucks.com.

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