By Daphna Nachminovitch
People across the country are rightly outraged that PETCO left hundreds of caged animals to die in its Johnson City, New York, store during massive flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee overflowing the Susquehanna River. Despite highly publicized flood warnings and a mandatory evacuation order from the town’s mayor, PETCO managers abandoned terrified birds, guinea pigs, ferrets, hamsters, mice, reptiles and other animals to struggle to keep their heads above water as floodwaters rose. Nearly 100 animals perished.
PETCO’s refusal to evacuate these animals in the face of imminent danger is only the latest incident in the company’s long history of callous disregard for the lives and well-being of the animals it sells. PETA and the mayor of Johnson City are calling for a criminal investigation and appropriate charges against PETCO for abandoning these animals to die in the flood, but many other animals will continue to suffer and die in the pet trade unless caring people turn their outrage into action, by refusing to buy animals—or anything—from stores that treat living beings like inanimate objects.
To understand PETCO’s total indifference toward animal welfare, you only need to look at the deplorable mass-breeding mills from which it buys the animals it sells. PETA has sent undercover investigators into four animal suppliers to the pet trade, and every investigation found animals confined to crowded, miserable, factory-farm conditions; languishing in filth; deprived of the barest essentials, including food and water; severely neglected; abused and left to endure slow, painful deaths. PETCO is well aware of how animals suffer and die in these hellholes, yet it continues to do business with them.
At one PETCO supplier, Atlanta-based Sun Pet, Ltd., PETA obtained undercover video footage of a Sun Pet employee bashing a bagful of hamsters against a table to kill them, among other horrors. Prompted by PETA’s complaint, the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) inspected the facility and found rodents running loose, dead animals in enclosures with live ones, food thrown on top of bedding and rusty cages with sharp, dangerous edges, which Sun Pet was ordered to replace immediately, but didn’t. U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors confirmed many of these findings and the GDA slapped Sun Pet with a $3,000 suspended fine and two years of probation, but PETCO continues to buy and sell animals from this mill to this day.
PETA’s 2007 undercover investigation of another PETCO supplier, Rainbow World Exotics (RWE) in Hamilton, Texas, revealed similar abuse. We captured heartbreaking footage of a worker castrating inadequately anesthetized rabbits and bleaching their wounds, a manager stomping hamsters to death, live animals being tossed in the trash, a cockatoo starving and dying and more. PETCO has stood by RWE and continues to buy and sell animals from its warehouse.
And PETCO would probably still be selling animals imported by the now-defunct U.S. Global Exotics, Inc. (USGE), if PETA’s undercover investigation hadn’t resulted in more than 26,000 mammals, reptiles, amphibians and arachnids being seized from the facility and a municipal judge divesting the owners of all the animals. At USGE, PETA’s investigator documented animals confined to severely crowded and filthy containers, including soda bottles and milk jugs, litter pans, cattle-feeding troughs and barren wire cages, as well as employees who put hundreds of sick, injured and dying animals in a freezer to die. Some of them, including a squirrel whose neck had been severely lacerated and a chinchilla who was bleeding from a prolapsed rectum, languished for hours before succumbing.
PETCO may not care if animals are bashed against tables at its suppliers or if they drown in their cages at its stores, but it surely cares about its bottom line. It’s up to us to hit PETCO where it hurts—its bank account—by never spending so much as a cent in its stores until it stops selling all animals. People who are ready to care for an animal companion can help stop the flood of homeless animals by adopting from animal shelters and rescue groups instead and having their new companion spayed or neutered.
Daphna Nachminovitch is the vice president of PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Department.