Animal rights activists have long been blowing the whistle on animal abuse in industries like food, pharmaceuticals, and clothing, and in entertainment as with circuses, zoos, and aquariums. Many of us have pets or farm animals who we love dearly. They are members of our family and we do not wish harm or suffering on them. While many are aware of the dark side of the pet industry – like puppy mills, cage neurosis, overcrowding, and unnecessary euthanasia – some people are unaware of the animal cruelty that takes place in their local pet supply stores.
Institutional Mistreatment and Neglect of Animals
Former Petco employee Angela Petrus, 20, of Oneonta, New York, recently spoke with Dauntless Dialogue to shed light on the animal cruelty that goes on behind the scenes at the nation’s largest pet emporium franchise. Petrus worked at the Watertown, NY Petco location from February 2012 to August 2013.
“It’s a mixed bag,” says Petrus, “Some people want to work there because they genuinely love animals, and others just need the money.”
Petrus, who describes herself as an animal lover, says she loved the job but disliked what she witnessed. She is compassionate about pets and always wanted to be around them, which is why she applied at Petco, to be involved with them. “It should be a requirement to love animals and be passionate about pets to work at a place like Petco if you are to be directly involved in their safety and wellbeing.”
According to Petrus, the amount of dead animals that each retail store disposes of each week would make the average shopper’s stomach turn.
“People were fired for stealing, or for being lazy on the floor, but I have never seen anyone fired for neglect or accidentally killing animals which happened virtually everyday.”
“Fish perished most often of all the animals,” Petrus says, “mostly from inadequate caretaking, although largely due to the breeders Petco buys them from. Rodents would get huge outbreaks of wet tail. When that happens, there is a two day window to treat and cure a hamster, for instance, and if you aren’t diligent they expire really quickly. That would happen weekly. Certain things like that should not have been overlooked and could have easily been prevented.”
Skinny and malnourished frogs were a frequent and disappointing discovery. Petrus would often find them after days of neglect, and even after speaking to her superiors about it multiple times, feeding the frogs would continue to be forgotten about.
Customer Service Before Animal Safety
“Customer service comes first before animal safety. It is all about money and movement of ‘product.’ Under-staffing was definitely a part of the problem. There was easily enough work to share between 40 employees but we only had 15. We were always scrambling about to get everything done which often resulted in overlooking things.”
“There was one time when an employee overwatered the hermit crab cage and many drowned as a result. Overcrowding, with ferrets for example, was commonplace because there was such a push to sell them. They couldn’t all get food or water or have adequate space to move around.”
Petrus remembers hearing about an event at another Petco location in the Catskills in which there was a flood in 2012 which caused massive damage to the store. All of the animals were left behind in the store and most were allowed to drown because they were replaceable.
One of the worst things Petrus recalls happened during a routine check of all the animals. She discovered a bird that was covered in its own blood. The blood was dry, indicating it had been in that state for many hours, if not days. “It should have been noticed, taken care of, taken to the vet hours and hours earlier,” she insisted. The bird apparently had a night terror due to cage neurosis which caused it to freak out.
Apparently, many birds arrive at Petco and are noticeably traumatized from transit to the store.
“The birds have no stimulation, they cannot fly, they cannot interact with other birds. I realize that their cages in the back of the store are simply holding stations before owners buy them, but sometimes parrots and other pricey birds will stay with the store for over a year. These birds have the mental capacity of a 2 year old and they develop psychological problems because it is like caging a young child.”
To Be Fair – Petco Has Many Good Practices
Petrus insists that the franchise has done a tremendous job in many ways. “Their commitment to cleanliness is remarkable.” Each cage receives general cleaning everyday as well as two full cleanings per week.
“Petco does not sell dogs or cats,” she says. “They recently added an adoption center to take in animals from the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), so they are not supporting puppy mills or improper breeding methods.”
Additionally, employees were encouraged to exercise their discretion and refuse to sell pets to shoppers who they deemed as careless or abusive. “It is quite common for customers to come in and reveal that they have no regard for the animal’s wellbeing. Sometimes parents will come in and ask what would make a great pet for their child to ‘maul.’ Once, a girl tried to buy a live rat because she told me she wanted to ‘gut it.’ As unbelievable as it sounds, that actually happens. And in those instances, we deny them the ability to purchase animals.”
Some may agree with this, others may not, but Petrus discloses that vets visit Petco’s wellness center about once a week to euthanize animals that are beyond saving.
Not the First Ex-Petco Worker to Blow the Whistle
Petrus is not the first to come forward with serious concerns for animals’ safety and wellbeing in Petco stores.
In 2013, a former employee sued the franchise after she was fired for reporting dog abuse and how she was sexually harassed by her manager.1
Earlier this year, four store managers in a VA location were cited multiple times for animal cruelty, dehydrated pets, and dirty conditions.2
Make Your Own Pet Food and Toys
“One thing I really want to tell customers is to boycott most of the brands of pet food Petco sells. Especially the ones that misleadingly say ‘natural’ or ‘veterinarian recommended’ because it is well known that vets have stock in the companies they recommend. Although they are the higher priced varieties, they are lower quality food.”
Learn what food scraps are best for your pet. Fruits and vegetables are often best for rodents and small cages animals. Bones contain minerals that are great for dogs and their teeth. Chicken liver and fat are great for cats. The idea is to provide fresh, raw, unprocessed food for your animals as close to what they would eat in nature.
Pet toys and beds are easy to make, also. Old blankets can be stitched together with some stuffing to make dog beds. Old socks can be stuffed with catnip to make cheap toys for cats.