San Francisco Alleges Cruelty at 2 Petcos
Abysmal conditions led to deaths, suit says
Ilene Lelchuk, San Francisco Chronicle, June 19, 2002
Inspectors and customers found sick finches, a moldy dead turtle, dead birds and a toad "cooked to death" at two San Francisco Petco stores, according to a lawsuit the city filed Tuesday that claims the nationwide chain kept some animals in deplorable conditions.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera claims in the suit that the stores have ignored repeated warnings and citations about their care of animals since 1999.
Herrera hopes to bar Petco -- which calls itself San Francisco's "coolest" pet store -- from selling animals in the city. The suit focuses on Petco outlets on Bryant Street and Sloat Boulevard, and Herrera will seek a court order to block the stores from selling animals.
"What was most disturbing was the fact that the cruelty and pattern of brazen violations of San Francisco health and safety standards continued over three years," Herrera said.
Company spokesman Shawn Underwood said he was surprised by San Francisco's lawsuit, especially because Petco's own regional managers regularly visit their local stores and perform spot inspections.
"So I would think if a store was cited for something, it would come up the chain, and we would have some knowledge about it," he said.
Petco is committed to training its staff under a program called "Pet Authority," Underwood said. "As a retailer it doesn't do us any good to have dead animals in the store," he said.
But Petco does have dead animals, sometimes in the display cases and cages and sometimes in its backroom freezers, said city Animal Care and Control Capt.
Vicky Guldbech, who conducted many of the store inspections.
"The cause of all this is the lack of training and not taking animals' lives as seriously as you should," Guldbech said.
"The kids who worked there didn't know the light fixtures (provided for warmth in reptile cages) were turned off, or how to turn them on. The didn't know how old the food was in the cages," she also said. "They are untrained young adults who don't know animal husbandry."
The local store managers declined to comment and referred questions to corporate headquarters.
IN EXPANSION MODE
The draw is convenience, with aisles filled with pet food, treats, shampoos,
leashes, toys and smalls pets for sale -- snakes, birds, hamsters. The stores also offer grooming services on site. Plus, you can bring your dog in to shop.
The city attorney's lawsuit comes at a time when national animal rights activists are gearing up a boycott campaign against Petco's 573 stores across 42 states.
"Petco treats their animals like office supplies, like paper clips and staplers, with absolutely no regard for their well being," said Dan Mathews, vice president of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
PETA receives several calls a month from the public about dead or sick animals found at Petcos, Mathews said, yet Petco employees rarely respond.
At Petco's two local stores this week, the untrained eye might see little wrong except a few dead fish floating in tanks, which is not so unusual in any pet store.
At the Bryant Street location, at least 37 small white mice crawled over each other or slept in piles in a single case.
"Mice can't trample all over each other and urinate on each other all day long," Guldbech said.
Customers interviewed Tuesday said they'd witnessed no inhumane conditions, however.
"The two animals we bought here were in healthy condition," said Peter Susoev, who took home two bearded dragons from the Sloat store a few months ago.
Dave Collins, who was picking up supplies for a new puppy at the Sloat store, said he would stop shopping at Petco "if I saw animals were not their first priority."
-- Petco employees reported to Animal Care and Control officials that they were ordered by a store manager to place sick and dying animals in the freezer at the Bryant store.
-- Animal Care and Control seized three green iguanas and two rufus dwarf chameleons from the Sloat store. The iguanas, dehydrated and lethargic, had to be euthanized.
-- A customer visiting the Bryant Street store reported toads had "cooked to death" on heated floors of their enclosures because they had no water. The customer also said a dead, moldy turtle was floating in a tank with live turtles.
-- Animal Care and Control officers found three dead finches and four sick finches in a cage with dirty water at the Bryant store. They were dehydrated and had pneumonia. One of the sick birds died at a veterinarian hospital.
Settles Suit Alleging Abuse, Overcharging
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