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

Pet Store Rating Program

Northern Ohio Association of Herpetologists Initiates Pet Store Rating Program. Can NBHS be far behind?*

Melissa Kaplan, News from the North Bay, May/June 1995, North Bay Herp Society


For those of you who remember the "What a Way to Spend a Day" story of a visit to a Willits pet store, the answer to this question is obvious. Many of you know that developing a rating program has been one of the projects we have been working on.

Last month's issue of Notes from NOAH ran an article about the program NOAH launched in January 1995. I had an opportunity to speak with Steve Frantz, the president of NOAH, about their program design, criteria, etc. Their program is much like ours, but with a few twists that will make it easier to implement.

NOAH members can nominate a store for review. They obtain a rating form from the NOAH board, and make an anonymous visit to the store. Based on what they see, they complete the form, including the store's name and address, and submit it to NOAH's executive committee. A committee member then makes a site visit to the store, completes a rating form, and the two reviews are considered together.

Many stores do not have a full-time staff person who is their "reptile expert." Some stores may not do heavy cage maintenance on a daily basis. Some stores may just have a bad day. By reviewing the store on two separate occasions, a more accurate picture of the store operations may be obtained. If the results of the two reviews are drastically different, a third review is done.

The stores are rated on a scale of 1-10, from worst to best. There are only sixteen criteria upon which the stores are rated. The criteria cover housing, temperatures, water/humidity, species identification, cleanliness, apparent healthy and more.

The rating form is filled out as soon as the reviewer leaves the store.

Once the 2-3 reviews have been compiled, they are sorted into two categories based on their total points:


140-126 points (100-90%)


125-112 points (89-80%)


111-98 points (79-70%)

Needs Improvement

97-0 points (69% or less)


Superior, Excellent, and Good stores are sent a letter congratulating them on their efforts and a certificate which they may display in their store. The store also gets a free business card-sized ad in the monthly Notes from NOAH and are listed in Noah's White Pages, Noah's annual membership directory. At the end of the year, the stores will get another letter, again congratulating them for work well done. They will also get a list of all the stores that attained Good, Excellent, and Superior ratings.

The stores which rated below 70% will also get a letter at the end of the year. While it is anticipated that during the course of the year these stores will have heard about the rating program, the program will be described to them, and they too will receive a listing of the stores which rated 70% and above. While the NOAH board is not yet sure just how they will phrase it, the below 70%ers will know that they had been rated and been found wanting.

The differences between the NOAH program and the one we have been working on is that only stores nominated by members will be rated, rather than every store within the area being rated. NOAH will not contact those stores rating 69% or less until the end of the year; we were going to contact such stores after the rating, letting them know about the program and generally what we found, and offer to work with them to improve their conditions and train staff. Noah's way is certainly easier and less labor-intensive, and may be the way that we too will start.

Forms and information sheets which expand upon the criteria will be available at meetings and by mail to members who want to rate one or more stores.

Based on conversations with other herp societies and with herp people (and even some pet stores) around the country, this is an idea whose time has come. I was talking to a veterinarian who has a herpetarium where he sells captive bred herps, and to a pet store owner who takes great efforts to do things right. Both objected to the way that many people talk about pet stores, stating that it was not fair to paint them all with the same brush. And they are right as far as that goes. But it still felt like they didn't really understand what was out there. After several suggestions to do so, the two of them finally went out into their respective communities and found what many of us all too often find: store owners and managers who do not respond positively to anyone who even remotely suggests that they could be doing a better job. The veterinarian was so incensed that he not only revealed that he was an exotics vet and herp breeder, but the fact that he was also a county humane officer! It was only when he finally came out with that last bit of information that the two worst stores (conditions and attitude) grudgingly came around.

Good pet stores generally belong to one or more herp societies, attend workshops and lectures, and sponsor workshops and lectures for their customers. They care about the animals they sell and who they sell them too.

I rarely buy animals, but I did buy a lizard at East Bay Vivarium. The salesperson who was helping me grilled me about how I was going to care for the animal: did I have a tank? what size? how was I going to furnish it? lights? what temperatures? what types of food was I going to feed it? At first I was aback a bit, but then it hit me: I want them to do that! This store employee was making sure that I knew what I was getting into, that I was prepared to house and care for the animal properly when I got it home (not several weeks or months hence), and that I understood its needs and requirements. (On the flip side, however, I saw some things there that disturbed me, such as housing tortoises in the same enclosure as green iguanas...)

There is a store back east which administers tests to its employees before allowing them to sell and care for animals. There are pet stores who have knowledgeable veterinarians come in on a regular basis, or who take their animals to vets when needed. It can be done. Good stores get that way not by accident, but because their owners and management have a commitment to something we don't often see in the business world: humane ethos, the respect for and valuing living things. While some may argue that living animals should not be sold or kept as pets, the fact of the matter is that they are, and the good stores work hard to do it right. The bad stores jut treat them as merchandise to be sold, or as loss leaders to get people to buy pricier products.

I hope you will help us find and recognize those excellent stores. NBHS has members scattered across California and throughout the U.S., many of whom belong to other herp societies or know other herpers. Please: spread the word, use the forms, give us feed back on what works and what doesn't. I hope that you, as do I, look forward to going through lots of forms!

* Can the NBHS Be Far Behind?
The answer, unfortunately, is yes. Despite the positive response from the membership, only one person - an 11 year old boy - actually did any pet store visits and rating besides me. As I became increasingly reactive to even brief exposure to mammals, birds and invertebrates, I had to stop visiting pet stores.

If there is going to be a change in how pet stores operate, or any change in their their being held accountable for their actions - or lack of them - it is going to have to come from pressure being asserted by knowledgeable, articulate, persistent herpers across the country.

The Pet Store Rating form is available to view as an web document , and is available for viewing and downloading in PDF format. You can save it to your computer and print it for your own use.

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