Search AWC

Search WWW

 

CafePress
National Bird Day

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

 

Animals in the Retail Industry

by Monica Engebretson

 

Every year, millions of animals ranging from mice to monkeys enter the pet trade through retail stores that capitalize on people's love for animals. But make no mistake. The pet industry has nothing to do with making people happy and certainly has nothing to do with the welfare of the individual animals. After all, it's really about money.

 

Few people realize that by shopping at a store that sells animals they may be supporting cruelty. The fact is, in a retail environment animals must be treated like commodities in order for the store to realize a profit. Animals are living, feeling beings who should not be treated like mere merchandise.

 

Some animals are shipped to pet stores over long distances, which can be very stressful and can cause illness and injury to the animals before they reach the sales floor. Many pet stores claim that they hold their suppliers accountable for the condition of animals by refusing shipments of sick or injured animals. But is it really ethical to send sick and injured animals back to the supplier like a damaged bag of cat food, rather than providing veterinary care and finding homes for the animals?

 

Animals housed in retail pet facilities are not afforded protection by the federal Animal Welfare Act — legislation passed in 1966 that extends protection to certain warm-blooded animals maintained by certain animal dealers, transporters, exhibitors, and research facilities. In the absence of federal regulation each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia has enacted its own unique animal anti-cruelty statute and 24 states have enacted laws that establish some form of humane care standards for animals kept at pet shops. The quality and the scope of these laws vary from state to state as does enforcement. For example only five states (AZ, CO, KS, NH, VA) specifically require that sick or injured animals receive veterinary care, and while fifteen states prohibit the sale of some unweaned animals (animals unable to feed themselves) most limit the restriction to puppies and kittens under the age of eight weeks and only one state (CA) addresses the sale of unweaned birds despite the serious animal welfare concerns associated with the practice.

Incidents involving substandard care of animals in pet shops are routinely reported to animal welfare organizations but few are actually investigated by law enforcement authorities and often the conditions, while cruel and inappropriate, do not actually violate any laws in the state where the store is located. Moreover, many complaints come from employees or other individuals who "don't want to get too involved," and without their testimony or "proof" in the form of pictures or other witnesses the situation is easily covered up before a humane investigator arrives. When reported to management authorities, cases are often downplayed or outright denied.

 

The in-store care of animals in pet shops is always suspect because store managers are often faced with conflicting responsibilities of making a store profitable and caring for animals — even when sick. Since the cost of veterinary care can easily exceed the commercial value of an animal, common sense leads to the conclusion that profits and animal care inherently conflict, especially in a retail environment.

 

For some animals the danger and suffering does not end at the point of sale. Individuals who purchase animals in pet stores often do so on impulse without full understanding of the commitment required to provide life-long care for the animal. Only one state (CA) requires that information on the care and feeding of animals sold be supplied to the purchaser. As a result of humane irresponsibility, thousands of animals are surrendered to local shelters and rescues each year only to be destroyed due to a lack of space, funds, and adoptive homes. Moreover, many species sold by pet stores require specialized care that very few people are capable of providing — leading to a lifetime of suffering for the animals. Captive birds frequently suffer from captivity-related stress, leading to behavioral and physical problems. Reptiles sold as pets also very commonly suffer physical maladies because very little is known about their dietary and environmental needs.

 

Birds

 

• 

 

Some birds languish in pet stores for years before finding a permanent home. These birds often develop behavioral problems that further reduce their chances of finding a home.

 

• 

 

Very few people are capable of meeting the special needs of exotic birds. Nor do they comprehend the seriousness of committing to care for birds for their entire life span — which can range from 20–70 years or more, depending on species. In consequence, many birds spend their lives isolated and confined to their cages, bounced from home to home, or abandoned.

 

• 

 

Breeding facilities that supply birds to pet stores often resemble little more than warehouses in which birds are held in barren cages for mass production. There exist no legal standards governing bird production facilities.

 

• 

 

Currently, over 100 self-described bird rescues or sanctuaries operate in the United States. Many of them have come into existence in the last few years to care for the influx of unwanted and abandoned birds. Selling more birds simply exacerbates this critical problem.

 

Reptiles

 

• 

 

Wild-caught reptiles or reptiles that are offspring from wild-caught parents make up the majority of reptiles held in private hands. In fact, according to an American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) survey, 17% of "pet" reptiles in the U.S. were captured from the wild by their possessors. Although some reptiles are captive-bred in the U.S., the numbers are insignificant in comparison to the amount of reptiles kept as "pets." Hundreds of species are imported.

 

• 

 

Reptile breeding facilities typically house and stack reptiles in small to mid-sized barren aquariums or clear plastic containers in which some will spend all or most of their lives. One reptile farm boasts that it houses reptiles in plastic containers that range in size between 12.5 X 6.75 X 6.75 inches to 16 X 10.75 X 6.5 inches. While such housing may be standard in the reptile industry, it is hardly capable of accommodating and/or facilitating natural reptile behavior.

 

• 

 

Reptiles kept as pets frequently suffer from nutritional deficiencies due to the ignorance of those who purchase them. Moreover, because little information exists on the habits of exotic reptiles in the wild, meeting their physical and behavioral needs in captivity may be impossible.

 

Rabbits and Rodents

 

• 

 

Rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas are commonly purchased for children, however, these animals are fragile, can bite, and generally do not like to be held; therefore they do not make the best companions for children. In addition, many purchase these animals under the false impression (encouraged by the retailer) that a cage is a suitable habitat for them, when in fact confinement in a cage in extremely inappropriate for the highly active and social animals.

 

• 

 

Many pet stores carry rats and mice primary to cater to those individuals who feed live rodents to captive reptiles. Because there is an unfortunate tendency for people to treat animals destined to become food for another with less concern than is afforded to animals intended to become companions, rats and mice may be the most abused animals in the pet industry by the sheer number of animals produced and the degree of cruelty endured.

 

• 

 

Some stores have policies that instruct employees to allow sick rodents to languish in backrooms until they can be used as food for in-store reptile stock. In an effort to cut costs, pet stores have even been accused of placing sick, unwanted, or otherwise unprofitable small rodents including rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils in the freezer to freeze to death.

 

Dogs and Cats

 

• 

 

Puppies and kittens sold in pet shops come into contact with numerous animals at breeding facilities, broker holding facilities, and during transportation by truck, van, or airplane, and ultimately at pet shops, exposing them to a variety of illnesses and stress.

 

• 

 

Many dogs sold in pet stores come from "puppy mills," where dogs are bred solely for profit. These dogs spend their entire lives in tiny cages, often with wire floors that hurt and deform their feet. Many times these cages are stacked on top of each other, so that the urine and feces from animals in the top cages fall through onto the animals below. There are also "kitten mills" where cats endure the same deplorable conditions.

 

• 

 

Most pet stores don't spay or neuter the puppies and kittens they sell. An estimated 8–12 million dogs and cats enter shelters each year. 55% of dogs and 76% of cats entering shelters are killed for lack of a home. Whether purebred or mixed, all breeding contributes to overpopulation. In fact, 25% of all animals entering shelters are purebreds.

 

Fish

 

• 

 

Recent studies on pain in fish confirm that indeed fish have conscious, cognizant pain experiences similar to higher vertebrates such as mammals. If fish are similar to other animals in their ability to feel pain, then it is not unreasonable to assume that they share other sensations such as fear, joy, and sadness.

 

• 

 

Many marine (salt water) species seen in home aquariums are wild-caught. 70–100 tons of wild marine fish are captured each year for the aquarium trade. Not surprisingly, many exploited species are on the decline. Captive-bred salt water and fresh water fish are typically mass-produced, leading to associated welfare and disease problems and environmental risks.

 

• 

 

The release of exotic fish by well-intentioned or disenchanted aquarium hobbyists into the nearest body of water creates problems for native fish and the ecosystem in general. Over half of the 185 different species of exotic fishes that have been caught in the open waters of the U.S. are due to the release or escape of aquarium fish. 

 

What YOU Can Do

 

• 

 

Don't breed, don't buy, adopt! Never purchase an animal from a pet store or breeder. If you feel you are qualified and prepared to provide lifetime care for a animal, adopt one from an animal rescue group, humane society, or individual who has lost interest or ability to care for an animal in their possession.

 

• 

 

Don't patronize any store that treats animals like merchandise.

 

• 

 

Support pet supply stores that do not retail live animals.

 

• 

 

Investigate pet shops for violations of state pet shop and anticruelty laws. Contact API for assistance.

 

• 

 

Report any inhumane conditions observed at a pet shop to the appropriate animal control agency and to the appropriate local business bureau or consumer affairs agency.

 

• 

 

Contact your state senator or representative or local city or county council member and ask him/her to enact legislation that will protect animals in pet shops from inhumane conditions. See API's Model Legislation for a pet shop law or contact API for assistance.

 

• 

 

Support legislation on all levels that enhances the humane treatment of animals.

 

Ask the following retail pet store chains to stop selling animals. Tell them to assist customers in finding companion animals by referral, and by working with animal rescue groups and humane societies instead of retailing live animals like mere merchandise.

 

• 

 

PETCO operates more than 570 stores in 42 states and the District of Columbia. It sells birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and small mammals including rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits. Contact: Brian K. Devine, Chair and CEO, PETCO, 9125 Recho Road, San Diego, CA 92121. Phone: (858) 453-7845. Fax: (858) 677-3095.

 

• 

 

PETsMART operates more than 560 pet superstores in the United States and Canada. It sells birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and small mammals including rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits. Contact: Phil Francis, CEO, PETsMART, 19601 North 27th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85027. Phone: (888) 839 9638.

 

• 

 

Petland is a major retailer of puppies, kittens, birds, reptiles, fish, and small mammals including rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits. It operates 123 stores in the U.S. and 57 foreign outlets. Many of its puppies come from large Midwestern puppy mill breeders and dealers. Contact: Petland Corporate Offices, 250 Riverside Street, P.O. Box 1606, Chillicothe, OH 45601. Phone: (740) 775-2464. Fax: (800) 221-5935. 

 

 

Copyright © 2004 Monica Engebretson