If you have witnessed pet store abuse, first and foremost, do SOMETHING. Don’t just think “What a Shame!” and then walk away! I have received NUMEROUS emails from people with horrible compaints, with lots of details about neglected animals, and their feelings on the matter, but no mention of any action that they had taken other than writing some random website owner (me). When I have the time, I have followed through with a phone call to the store, just to let them know that I had been made aware of some issues in their store. I tell them about my website and about several websites with up to date animal care guidelines. A week later, I contact the people that sent me the original complaint and find that the store has improved. Imagine that! One little phone call (that the original complaintant could have made) and the lives of the animals in the store have been improved!
Of course, there are some stores out there that have employees or owners that just don’t care. They think they are above the law and that no one is actually going to do anything about their abuse and neglect. One phone call is not going to make a difference here – but I can guarantee the list of actions below WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE. You just have to be prepared to go the extra mile for the innocent animals in these stores.
- Do NOT attempt to “rescue” animals. Taking an animal only frees up space for another one and tells the manager that they may need more! Even if they give you the animal for free, you are just making their jobs easier. Instead of bailing pet stores out by buying their sick animals, we should encourage them to carry higher quality animals and provide veterinarian care to animals that need treatment. It’s also a good idea to go somewhere else for pet supplies. If you have nowhere else to shop for pet supplies, consider buying from one of the many reputable online suppliers.
- Document neglect or abuse with detailed notes BEFORE you bring attention to yourself. If you complain to management before you document your concerns, you may lose your chance (they will likely fix the problem temporarily or even ask you to leave). Things to look for include sanitation, physical health of the animals, and overcrowding. (For a list of guidelines, visit: General Pet Store Guidelines.) Also note the exact time(s) you were in the store. If possible, take photos or video of the animals. To avoid breaking the law, stay in public areas and, if filming video, keep your microphone off. Make sure the timestamp feature of your camera is enabled if it has one.
- Ask to speak with the store manager. After you’ve documented the abuse, find the manager. Calmly explain to them what is wrong, giving clear solutions and referring to reliable resources. Listen to any excuses . If the manager seems unreceptive, contact the store owner. A common “excuse” is that the animals were received in bad condition from the supplier, and therefore it’s not the store’s fault. If that were true, the pet store should be able to show they have the animals under a veterinarian’s care, or that they have made arrangements for the supplier to take the animals back.
- Research laws governing pet stores. To protect animals in pet stores, several states have enacted pet store animal welfare laws. These laws also exist on the federal and municiple level. (Visit this page for more information on pet store laws.) Have copies of all applicable laws on hand when you are filing a complaint.
- Call your local animal control agency. If possible, make an appointment to accompany the investigating officer to the store and point out the individual animals in distress. Call the next day to find out what is being done. Some areas (especially more rural parts of the country) may not have a designated Animal Control Department and the power to investigate cruelty cases may have been assigned to the local humane society or the local police. If you are unsure of who to contact, try the checking the government pages of your phonebook, or you can use the ASPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement Lookup page to locate the agency in your area.
- If the store is part of a chain, complain to corporate headquarters. If the store is a chain (such as Petco or Petsmart), call the 1-800 number for headquarters and talk to an “animal care coordinator”. Make sure you write down the names of everyone you talk to. You can find the number online if you don’t want to ask store employees for it.
- Write a complaint letter. It’s important that you leave a paper trail in case future cases are brought against the store. In your letter, write down your list of complaints, giving dates and approximate times, and copies of any pictures or video you’ve taken. Outline any laws that are being broken. For an example, click here.
Send copies to the store, the corporate offices (if applicable), the store’s landlord (if applicable), the local animal control agency – EVEN IF YOU’VE ALREADY CONTACTED THEM VIA PHONE – and:
1. Your state’s veterinarian. Each state has a State Veterinarian who is hired by the state government to oversee animal health matters within the state. To find your state’s, visit: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/vs/sregs/official.html
Your county or state health department. Animals kept in unclean conditions can create serious public health risks by being more likely to transmit zoonotic diseases and parasites (salmonella, monkeypox, psittacosis).
2. Your city council or county board of commissioners. Send them a letter about how the store is an embarrassment to your county. They might then choose to deny a renewal of the store’s local business license.
3. If the store sells exotic or wild animals, the USDA. If the pet store sells wild or exotic mammals (degus, sugar gliders, prairie dogs, flying squirrels, etc.), complaints concerning ANY mammals in the store should be reported to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service office in your state. For contact information, visit http://www.aphis.usda.gov/contact_us/ac.shtml or call (301) 734-7833. For more information on the USDA’s connection with pet stores, click here.
4. If the store sells native species, your state’s Department of Natural Resources (or Fish and Wildlife). In some states it is illegal for pet stores to sell any native species of reptiles and amphibians. Use Google.com to locate the appropriate website.
- If the store is in a shopping mall, the mall manager. Ask the mall management not to renew the store’s lease. Send them copies of all complaints.
- Notify the local media. Some news stations and newspapers will do investigative reports on neglectful pet stores.