Petco Correspondence: July 28, 1997
Mike Fry (Animal Ark) to Don Cowan (Petco)
At the same time, we are committed to calling them on the carpet for their herp activities. Nearly every Petco store here sells their igs for $9.95. They also nearly all carry C. calyptratus and C. jacksonii (wild-caught from Hawaii). They clearly no nothing about caring for these animals. . . To their credit, they do let us pass out care sheets, etc. to their clients while we are their. When we are in their stores, they refer most ig questions to us. Long-term, I would like them to buy *our* care sheets and sell them in their stores. So I have been "planting seeds" in all of the stores, usually by aligning with a store manager or other staff person in the store. These people generally have no purchasing power, but infiltration is a powerful tool.
At the last adoption day even we attended (it was a "grand opening" of a new store), I met Dean Baarda from our regional corporate headquarters. A friendly staff person in the store pointed him out to us and helped coordinate a semi-public "accidental" encounter. I talked to him for quite a while. Seemed nice enough. But not much substance. Following that meeting, I sent a similar, probably more threatening letter, to Dean here in MN, telling him that if they did not discontinue their current mode of working with herps, Animal Ark would be forced into dealing with the issue in a "public" way.
Shortly after that, I learned that the MN Herp Society had sent a press release (nationally), asking people to not do business with Petco. I got a call from a reporter in New York covering the story. With this tidbit of info, I climbed the Petco corporate food chain pretty quickly, which is how I made the San Diego contact (Don Cowan).
The phone conversation I had with him indicated to me he had no intention of changing things at Petco. It was basically a blow-off. But I followed up with what I considered to be a fairly polite letter, anyway (benefit of the doubt and all that).
If I do not hear back from him, or if I get a blow-off response, I will put the letters at our web site, along with an e-mail link to Don.
I may also collect some e-mail addresses of news organizations and provide links to these, too. We will certainly have something about this in our next newsletter. . .
July 28, 1997
To: Don Cowan
I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with you this morning. While the conversation was fresh in my mind, I wanted to follow-up in writing to provide to you the URLs of the Animal Ark Web site, and to clarify a few points from our conversation this morning.
The URLs for the Ark Web site are:
If you check the "Thank You" section of the Ark's web page, you will see that we have gotten some support for our rescue efforts from those in the pet trade. Farnham Pet Supply and Zoo Med Labs have both contributed to our efforts. We expect the list of contributors to grow.
Animal Ark differs from other reptile rescue groups in several ways:
1. we operate with a "no-kill" policy toward our rescue efforts;
2. because our main focus is working with all companion animals, we have a broader base of networking and support than most reptiles-only groups;
3. through our newsletter, web site, and other public education programs, we have the potential of reaching a very broad audience.
I personally have been working with reptiles for more than 25 years. I have been a keeper, a seller, a professional educator (lectured in 5 states), and rehabilitator. I have seen a huge shift in people's attitude toward reptiles. Twenty five years ago, hardly anyone was keeping reptiles. By far, the most challenging role I have played to date is that of rescuer of abandoned reptiles. You probably know it is estimated the USA will import about 2 million Giant Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana) in 1997. I am also sure you know that there are simply NOT that many good homes for these animals. The overwhelming majority of these animal will die within the first year; will be abandoned; or will be dumped on rescue groups like ours. Giant Green Iguanas are currently listed by CITES (Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species) on Appendix II ("Threatened" status). They are being considered for inclusion on Appendix I ("Endangered" status). The reason for this listing by CITES is the huge volume of trade they are experiencing. Millions are literally being destroyed in captivity while their numbers continue to decline in the wild.
Petco, as one of the nations largest retail chains selling iguanas, is, no matter how you word it, responsible for a large piece of this problem. While you talk about educating the public that these animals need very special care, and that their owners should think seriously before getting one, you negate that education by selling iguanas for as little as $9.95! I have yet to see an animal larger than a hatchling in your stores -- or, for that matter, even a photograph of a large, adult animal next to the iguana enclosures.
I have never seen an adequate chameleon enclosure (see the article "Caring for your Jackson's Chameleon" which is available free of charge from the Animal Ark web site) in any of your stores. You simply continue to sell these animals while talking about public education, despite the fact that your stores do not even know how to care for the animals they are selling. You, by the way, do not even sell proper food or supplies for caring for true chameleons. Therefore, customers who purchase chameleons from you have nearly a zero chance of being successful with their new pets.
In February of this year, the New York Times' Parade Magazine featured a 10 page, color cover story dealing about some of the problems with the reptile trade in the United States. Other stories have been done by National Geographic, and other national and local news agencies.
Animal Ark is 100% committed to encouraging these news groups to continue covering these issues. We will continue to spread the word through our newsletter, our web site, and at special events we attend. We strongly believe the public attitude about this problem is changing, and will continue to change, very quickly. Petco is going to need to decide what role it wants to play, and how it wants to be perceived. Does it want to be seen as a commercial entity destroying millions of animals for profit? Or do you want to take another path?
Animal Ark has ideas for how Petco can remain an active participant in the reptile trade, while doing something to solve these problems, instead of being a contributor to them.
I am grateful for the local resources within Petco you pointed me to. I will certainly follow up with Michelle and Kevin. I have to tell you, though, that since I network with rescue groups from all over the USA, I know the problems I have seen in Minnesota Petco stores are not isolated to Minnesota. Petco has NATIONAL problems with the mode of operation regarding reptiles that really should be addressed nationally. You are causing many people and animals huge problems.
Thanks again for your time. If you would like to discuss any of this in more detail, please feel free to call or e-mail me.
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