Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Don't Just Get Mad: Do Something!

Nobody ever made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
- Edmund Burke

©1997 Melissa Kaplan


I began this page when the number of phone calls a month from people trying to get rid of their green iguanas rose from a handful to over 30. That's one iguana a day in a county of less than 400,000 people.

While rescuing animals provides an easy way for the pet trade to abrogate their responsibility and accountability for the problems they create, if you are interested in adopting a dumped reptile, contact your local/regional herp society or rescue group.

In the end, we will conserve only what we love.
We will love only what we understand.
We will understand only what we are taught.
Baba Dioum
Senegalese conservationist


As many of you already know, most pet stores are not friendly to reptiles and other living things. Between wholly inadequate environments, inability to distinguish sick animals from healthy (and, too often, dead animals from the living), and imparting mildly incorrect to disastrously inaccurate species and care information to customers, pet stores seem to excel best at killing the animals they sell and for whom they sell products.

True, many stores have gone the "politically correct" route of not selling puppies, kittens, or even rabbits, but they fail miserably in understanding that the reptiles, amphibians, and too often, fish and birds, are wild caught animals with wildly varying environmental and dietary requirements. But how "p.c." do they think we think they are when the care they provide these animals, and the information they send home with customers who buy them, result in the death of so many vulnerable (CITES III) and threatened (CITES II) species?

The answer: an increasing number of former customers know that there is no political correctness in exploiting wild animals for corporate gain.

The two biggest offenders are the two superstore chains, PetCo and PetsMart. Both corporations have stores across the United States, with grand openings of new stores occurring almost monthly. By virtue of their size and buying power, they could be setting an example of how to do it right...but they aren't. By virtue of their size and industry influence, they could be effecting positive change in the industry...but they won't. (Allowing rescue groups to hold an Adoption Day on their premises is essentially worthless - especially when the stores still sell baby iguanas for $9.95, for example, or sick, wild-caught chameleons in improper environments, and whose employees still give the same incorrect information to customers).


So, Where Are The Animal Welfare Law Enforcement Agencies?
Ignorance apparently is a condition of bliss - or standard operating procedure - for most state humane officers and district attorneys. They conveniently reduce their work loads by steadfastly thinking that, since reptiles, amphibians and fish are "lower" animals who adapt to any condition of care (including hypothermia, filth, starvation, dehydration, parasites, burns, abscesses, and lack of clean water or appropriate food), they don't have to issue any warnings or, as should be done in too many cases, confiscate the animals, shut the store down, and prosecute the owners for multiple charges of neglect, abuse, and public health hazards. Even when they do call in local local experts, they won't pay any attention to the experts when the experts' statements and recommendations contradict the law enforcement officers desire to be shut of the situation as quickly and effortlessly as possible. That is the only possible reason so many pet stores are able to continue to stay in business despite horrific conditions that would have shut them done had they been keeping dogs and cats in such condtions.

This has been an ongoing national problem that both the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and the majority of of their independent chapters, have ignored apparently because the complaints involve ectotherms, rather than furred or feathered species. By continuing to not act, and to not establish guidelines for pet store reviews or vetting local experts, their silence and lack of appropriate action is taken by the rest of the animal and law enforcement community, and the general public, as tacit approval of these reprehensible conditions.

The ongoing abuses of reptiles and other "cold-blooded" (i.e., not "warm and fuzzy") animals sold at these stores has started to spur some actions on the part of people who are tired of the senseless deaths, who are overwhelmed with dumped iguanas, who work unceasingly to spread the information people need before they venture into such stores in the attempt to get prospective exotic animal buyers to make any animal acquisition a wise one, not an impulsive buy, or one based on an overeager and ignorant salesperson trying to boost the stores sales figures. The sad fact is, however, that the ignorant keep patronizing these stores, with some finding out only too late, after their herp has fallen seriously ill or died, that they were given the wrong information at the store or in the out-of-date books sold at many stores. The people who have learned to avoid these stores have, all to often, learned to do so the hard way.

What follows are letters, reflecting the attempts to open dialogues with the superstores. Such attempts often seem to fail because of the corporation's total lack of response or total lack of care or concern with what a few "animal rights whackos" have to say. One hopes that, in the not-to-distant future, these corporations will find out that, far from being "whackos", the people who have noticed their callous disregard range from young teens to grandparents, people of all ages and political persuasions.


A note to the few good pet stores...
Please: before you send me a scathing letter informing me that not all pet stores are bad, I know that. But, in my experience and that of other knowledgeable herpers and birders, most stores, unfortunately, are. If you don't believe it, take a day and make in cognito visits to other pet stores in your county. Make like you are the typical customer who knows nothing about reptiles or birds other than the fact that you want one. Look carefully at the animal's setups. Listen carefully to the information imparted. If you are not that knowledgeable yourself about reptiles and what to look for, take a look at my Rules of Thumb for Evaluating Pet Store Conditions, Picking Healthy Iguanas, and Picking Healthy Reptiles articles before you go or, better yet, print out copies to take with you to read and refresh your memory before going into the stores.

The way to effect change, especially to get me and others to stop being so vocal about the bad stores, is not to complain to us about the terrible things we say. If you want to see change, get out there and start to demand change within your industry. If change is going to happen in a way that is least punitive to the stores and the industry, it is going to have to come from the industry itself. Otherwise, if change is effected by city councils, state or federal agencies, local or federal health departments, or district attorneys, the industry will not fare as well.


A note to the many bad pet stores
One of the dilemmas of anyone doing pet rescue is that sooner or later, you realize that you are sleeping with the enemy. By taking in sick and dying animals, mostly animals that the human should never have acquired in the first place, one realizes that one is enabling the system to continue as it is: the pet trade exploits animals by selling them inappropriately, humans buy what they are misled into thinking is appropriate, and the poor schnook of a rescuer is left holding the bag (or crate or feces-soaked cardboard box) and a hefty vet bill to clean up someone else's mess.

Well, I don't need to be hit over the head for more than seven years, no sirree! As a result, I've recently revised a little article I wrote last year. Originally titled Rescuing Iguanas from Pet Stores, it is now, in its new and expanded form, called Rescuing Reptiles from Pet Stores.

This isn't too far away from Animal Ark's revised policy on taking in unwanted reptiles. We think that this is something that all rescues and herp societies need to start thinking seriously about. After all, if you aren't out there concocting solutions, you are part of the problem...


Writing your own letters
For a discussion of what should be included in your letter, and suggestions as to whom to send copies, please see the Writing Complaint Letters article.

For the chains, their corporate addresses are:

9151 Rehco Rd
San Diego CA 92121

10000 North 31st Av.
Phoenix, AZ 85051


Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC)
PIJAC also has a lot to learn about reptiles: just before Christmas two years ago, when they told various media organizations that "iguanas are easy to care for," I called to find out why they would say such a thing. I was told that "our vet says they are easy to care for." When I asked to talk to someone about this, I was told everyone was in a meeting. I was hardly surprised when no one called me back... PIJAC is an industry organ, encouraging the continued exploitation of wild populations without forcefully pushing for quality care and education. True, they have a Reptile Specialist certificate program, but the information they impart through it is woefully inadequate and often inaccurate. While it does make some good points ("stores should have veterinarians experienced with reptiles check out all new animals") it appears they they are just giving lip service to conscientious care - after all, it is all to apparent to anyone with a modicum of knowledge about herps that most stores are not interested in doing it right, let alone having to spend money to do so.

Keep in mind that most reptiles wholesale for less than $20, with an astonishing number wholesaling for less than $10, especially to bulk purchasers like the superstores/ (Example: three years ago, Gulf Coast Reptiles, a wholesaler, was selling "farmed" green iguanas for $2.50 each in lots of 100. Two years ago, it was found that wild caught El Salvadoran iguanas were knowingly (and illegally) being purchased by Florida-based importers for $2.25 each, so the importers could save a whopping $0.50 over what they were paying for legal "farmed" iguanas from the same country.)

Note: Their U.S. website is usually down for some reason....

1220 19th NW., Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-452-1525
Fax: 202-293-4377

2442 St. Joseph Blvd., Suite 102
Ottawa, Ontario, K1C 1G1
Phone: 613-834-2111
Fax: 613-834-4854

An organization equivalent in function (if not attitude) to PIJAC in the United Kingdom may be:

Pet Trade & Industry Association
170 Mile Road
Bedford MK42 9TW
Phone: 01234-273933
Fax: 01234-273550.

Humane Society of the United States
Many of the animals sold (or killed before they make it out the door with a customer) by pet stores are listed as CITES III and CITES II. As such, they are of interest to the HSUS. Copies of letters can be mailed to them at:

Dr. Teresa Telecky
Wildlife Trade Program
Humane Society of the United States
2100 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037

Don't, however, expect to get a response from the HSUS. While they have taken positions on native US reptile wildlife in terms of export, for a humane organization, they have been strangely and resolutely silent to any correspondence related to pet trade issues relating to non-US species and to pet store abuse of reptiles and amphibians. 2001 Update: The HSUS did an extensive report on the state of the reptile trade, Reptiles as Pets: An Examination of the Trade in Live Reptiles in the United States.


Letters we get, letters we send...
Here are some letters, and one press release, that have already been exchanged with the superstores.

Product Manufacturers



Melissa Kaplan's 1994 letter to PetCo and Follow-up

July 28 (1): This series of letters, starting with an Adoption Day Animal Ark held at a PetCo grand opening, started three-way dialogue, between Mike Fry (Animal Ark), Don Cowan (Petco), and myself.

July 28 (2): When I received a copy of Mike's letter, I sent him a copy of my 1994 letter.

July 29: Mike sent a copy of it to Don, with some cover comments.

July 30 (1): Mike received a response from Don in which it appears that Don was missing Mike's points. Mike's response is an attempt to clarify the issues and intent.

July 30 (2): As a result of my comments and Don's, Mike wrote us both, suggesting opening up the dialogue to an online discussion, involving the three of us and representatives from other iguana and reptile rescues around the country, with a facilitator/moderator.

Minnesota Herpetological Society Press Release - Iguana Return staged at a Petco store

Petco's Conference Call Recap

Melissa Kaplan's Notes of Petco's Conference Call Recap

George Richard's Conference Call Synopsis

Correspondence on Conditions at Phoenix AZ Store

June 2002: San Francisco Files Abuse, Cruelty Charges against 2 Petcos; Melissa Kaplan's Letter to SF Chronicle and City Attorney

[And, just for fun, in 1998 Petco was sued for materially misrepresenting facts to stockholders and investors]

Take Action:
The Petco Boycott
The Petition to Petco: Stop Live Animal Sales



Open Letter to the President, PetsMart
Phone calls to the local store, and dropping off printed materials for their review and use, has never changed a thing. After stumbling upon their website, I sent a letter...


A note about pet product manufacturers...
They aren't above sharing some of the blame for high reptile morbidity and mortality rates. From focused marketing of inappropriate products (i.e., Zoo Med's hot rocks with an iguana on the package - despite the fact that Zoo Med's own customer service person, who states he is a long-time herpetoculturist himself, says they shouldn't be used for iguanas), to products that never seem to work (like ESU's expensive nocturnal reptile bulbs that consistently burn out within a few days of properly installing them), they too seem more interested in separating a herper from his or her money rather than providing the best possible product to ensure the herps' longevity.

No change is possible, however, unless herpers start lodging complaints with these manufacturers. Most people who end up with seriously ill or injured animals because of certain products, or worse, whose reptile or amphibian died despite following a manufacturer's apparent recommendations (remember those packaging and advertisement illustrations), even when following stated instructions, just shrug it off. Don't. If you don't let them know that their product or recommendations are seriously flawed, you will have done nothing that will perhaps save someone else's reptile or amphibian from dying.

By the same token, the stores where you buy such products, and the herp magazines who advertise and often promote them, must also be made aware of the dangers.

Okay, so you don't have time to sit down and draft a letter. No sweat. See the complaint form letter already devised for your use by Yvette Ferry. You can find the addresses for the herp magazines inside the magazines themselves, or, if you are really pressed for time, at my Herp Magazine page. You are on your own, however, in getting the address of the pet store where you bought the product!

Pet Product/Manufacturer Complaint Sites
Expose Zoo Med

Related Articles

Rescuing Reptiles from Pet Stores

Pet Store/Manufacturer Complaint Form Letter

Animal Ark

California Penal Code Animal Welfare Section

Ethology and Critical Anthropomorphism

Need to update a veterinary or herp society/rescue listing?

Can't find a vet on my site? Check out these other sites.

Amphibians Conservation Health Lizards Resources
Behavior Crocodilians Herpetology Parent/Teacher Snakes
Captivity Education Humor Pet Trade Societies/Rescues
Chelonians Food/Feeding Invertebrates Plants Using Internet
Clean/Disinfect Green Iguanas & Cyclura Kids Prey Veterinarians
Home About Melissa Kaplan CND Lyme Disease Zoonoses
Help Support This Site   Emergency Preparedness

Brought to you thanks to the good folks at Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

© 1994-2014 Melissa Kaplan or as otherwise noted by other authors of articles on this site