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U.S. | Animal Liberation

5 Things PETCO Doesn't Want You To Know
by Heather Moore
Friday Jul 23rd, 2010 12:10 PM
PETCO may put on an animal-friendly façade by not selling dogs and cats—which is a responsible decision considering the dog and cat overpopulation problem—but the company is in business to make money, not for love of animals. Here are five things you should know before choosing to shop at PETCO:
1. Undercover Investigators Have Documented Neglect, Abuse, and Deplorable Conditions at PETCO's Suppliers: The birds, reptiles, and other small animals that PETCO sells come from breeding mills and animal dealers that typically warehouse animals in crude, filthy conditions without adequate veterinary care or food or water.

An investigator from PETA recently went undercover at Sun Pet Ltd, an Atlanta-based wholesale animal dealer that supplies animals to PETCO, PetSmart, and pet stores. According to the investigator, hundreds of birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, mice, and rats were suffering in Sun Pet's enormous warehouses. The animals were treated as mere merchandise and some were killed in cruel, violent ways. One Sun Pet worker even put live hamsters into a bag and bashed the bag against a table to kill the hamsters.

Sun Pet not only purchased animals from unlicensed dealers, but from the now-defunct U.S. Global Exotics (USGE), the Texas-based warehouse that imported and exported hundreds of thousands of animals a year for eventual sale at pet stores, including PETCO. More than 26,000 neglected exotic animals were seized from USGE following another PETA investigation. (Shamelessly, PETCO even tried to profit off of these animals after they were confiscated.)

2. Sick and Injured Animals Have Allegedly Been Left to Languish in PETCO Stores: Through the years, PETA has received countless calls, letters, and e-mails from PETCO customers and employees who are concerned about animals at PETCO. Some customers claim to have seen live rats and mice lying next to dead ones in feces-covered cages, sick birds, and dead geckos, snakes, and other reptiles, as well as animals left with no food or water for days. A whistleblower at a Houston store revealed that employees there were not trained how to hand feed birds and, as a result, many were injured or died.

Sick and dying animals at many PETCO stores are allegedly not seen by a veterinarian. (Several former employees have even claimed that they were "not allowed" to take animals to the veterinarian.) A “Team Leader” at an undisclosed PETCO location, told PETA, "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."

3. PETCO Paid $1.75 Million to Settle a Lawsuit Over its Animal Care Record and Shady Consumer Practices: Four California counties filed a lawsuit against PETCO, alleging that PETCO failed to notice or treat sick animals, and that it overcharged its customers as well. The company shelled out $1.75 million to settle the suit.

In 2004, PETCO paid more than $850,000 to settle similar charges and was ordered by the court to implement a detailed daily animal care procedure in all its California stores.

After the 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 bay area stores, the city attorney of San Francisco said, “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.”

4. PETCO Has Also Been Sued For Negligent Grooming Practices: A Utah resident sued PETCO for negligence and loss of companionship when her dog 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 argued that damages, if any, should be limited to the dog's “fair market value,” a position that seems to contrast poorly with PETCO's claim that it understands that animals are "members of the family."

5. U.S. Marshalls Confiscated Contaminated Pet Food from PETCO's Food-Distribution Center: In June 2008, U.S. Marshalls seized pet food from PETCO's distribution center in Illinois because the FDA suspected it had been contaminated by rodents and other animals. People who purchased pet food from PETCO stores in 16 states were instructed to wash the cans and their hands with soap and water. The food didn't cause any illnesses that I'm aware of, but the situation did make me wonder: If the company couldn't even keep food clean and safe, how could it be trusted with living beings".

I might be willing to "give PETCO another chance" with regard to that last one if the company stopped selling birds, reptiles, and other small animals. PETCO could still make money and meet the needs of people with companion animals—PETA members included—if it sold only food, toys, and other supplies—not animals. Until then, PETCO is one place not to go if you care about animals.

Heather Moore is a research specialist for the PETA Foundation.
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