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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Don't patronize any store that treats
animals like merchandise.
Support pet supply stores that do
not retail live animals.
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:
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)
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.