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

Petco Correspondence: February 28, 1994

Melissa Kaplan to Brian Devine, President, Petco


February 28, 1994

Brian Devine
Petco Animal Supplies
9151 Rehco Road
San Diego CA 92121

Dear Mr. Devine,

I have mailed in two postcards yet have never heard from you. My understanding was that sending these cards to your office was the way to start a dialogue, not just request your stores order a new product.

And it is about one of your products that forces me to write you yet again. Your stores continue to keep the iguanas in inappropriate environments and feed them inappropriate foods.

I was told you have a reptile specialist on staff who is the arbiter of iguana care and the supplies ordered by your stores to both keep the iguanas while they are in the store, and for sale to customers who buy iguanas. I would very much like to know who this expert is because it is very apparent that s/he knows absolutely nothing about iguanas. If s/he were the expert s/he claims to be, then they would have read Fredric Frye, DVM's book Iguana: A guide to their biology and captive care. S/He would be a member of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians wherein there appears numerous articles by true experts such as Drs. Thomas Boyer and Stephen Barten. S/He would also no doubt subscribe to the Journal of Small Exotic Animal Medicine, wherein Drs. Barten, Boyer, and Douglas Mader, another exotics vet with extensive reptile experience, regularly contribute articles. At the very least, s/he would have read and kept on hand the 1992 edition of Philippe de Vosjoli's The Green Iguana Manual. And since this vet is now responsible for Petco iguanas, surely s/he is now a member of the International Iguana Society.

I am, and I have the above referenced books (and Dr. Frye's 700 page Reptile Care: An atlas of diseases and treatment) and subscribe to the those journals. I also work with exotics veterinarians in my area, have consulted with Dr. Barten, have taught and conducted workshops for wild life rehabilitators, and work extensively with sick, injured and stunted iguanas and consult with iguana owners.

My writings on reptiles -- especially iguanas -- have been published in the newsletter of the Southwestern Herpetologists Society, the Northern Ohio Association of Herpetologists, in North Bay Pets, the newspaper published by the Humane Society of Sonoma County. I am the reptile host of the reptile and amphibian forum on American Online computer network, and my notes and care information are regularly posted there and on other computer networks (including CompuServe and HerpNet) as well as being reprinted by herpetological societies and used by veterinarians around the country.

I am, at the request of the executive director of the Sonoma County Humane Society, developing a series of workshops for humane officers and animal control personnel on how to evaluate the status of reptiles and amphibians in the pet store and home setting. I am consulted by the Marin County Humane Society and the San Francisco SPCA and they refer callers with reptile and amphibian questions to me. I have also met with the District Attorney's office regarding my giving testimony as an expert witness.

If your vet had read any of the material in any of these sources, s/he would know that:

A temperature gradient has not been provided inside the enclosures in which the iguanas are kept and, from we have been able to see, the temperature within the enclosure is too high, averaging 100 F. A read through the above sources will show that iguanas require a temperature gradient during the day ranging from 75-86 F, with a basking area of 88-95 F, with a night time drop down no lower than 73-84 F, Anyone with any knowledge about reptiles will know that the only ones who can sustain temperatures over 100 F for any length of time are animals from desert areas, not rain forest animals like the iguanas.

The iguanas are being offered foods which are inappropriate and, in at least one instance, contraindicated for proper growth. Reed's Iguana Chow is not served with anything to soften it. How would you like to eat Grape Nuts without milk every day for the rest of your life? I thought not. And yet, that is what your expert vet has decreed for these iguanas.

It doesn't matter how nutritious a food is, nor how many iguanas the manufacturer claims to have raised on it (Mr. Reed used to feed his iguanas lettuce and bananas until he met the owner of American Reptile, who produces Nutri-Gro), if the animal won't eat it, or eats barely enough to support is basal metabolism, then it is worthless.

Your iguanas are being fed cabbage. Both human and veterinary medical literature has given evidence that consuming excessive amounts of certain cruciferous vegetables causes impaired thyroid function (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, kale). Hypothyroidism causes lethargy due to the slowed metabolic rate and stunts growth (both due to the slowed metabolism and the reduction in activity, which in turn reduces appetite). The effects of the impaired thyroid function is generally not discernible to someone inexperienced in iguana husbandry nor to vets who rarely see enough iguanas to be able to recognize the difference in growth rates and activity levels.

For you and your vet's information, here is the nutritional breakdown of cabbage as compared to collards.

1 Cup:






Protein (gm)



Fat (gm)



Vit A (IU)



Vit C (mg)



Calcium (mg)



Phosphorous (mg)



Source: Dunne, L.J. (1990) Nutrition Almanac, Third Edition, Mcgraw-Hill, NY. pp 302-305.

While iguanas come from a humid environment, too much humidity can cause bacterial skin infections. The enclosures in your stores often have moisture condensed on the inside surfaces--this is far too wet.

The signs posted on or above the iguana enclosures are completely misleading, indicating as they do that iguanas are "easy to care for" and can be sustained on packaged foods. What your signs (and staff) neglect to say is that:

  • Those cute little munchkin iguanas ranging from 3.5 to 5" snout-vent length (svl) will get to be 22-24" svl. When people who are considering buying one of those little iguanas see my not quite three year old iguana who is 14.5" svl, they are incredulous to find that that is how big theirs will get.
  • Regardless of the size--and cost--of the iguana, to properly set the iguana up with the proper lighting and heating equipment (not to speak of a big enough enclosure and furnishings) it takes somewhere between $200-$250 to buy an enclosure big enough that a properly cared for iguana will not outgrow it within a few months. As far as I can tell, your stores are selling 10-20 gallon tanks. A properly maintained iguana should outgrow a 60 gallon tank within one year; babies should outgrow a 100 gallon tank within 16 months.

Despite all the reptilian veterinary and International Iguana Society literature to the contrary, you are selling hot rocks for heating. Again, these are not desert animals who bask by flattening themselves against rocks that may exceed 120 F in surface temperature. Instead, iguanas are heliotherms, absorbing radiant heat from the warm air that surrounds them. Hot rocks are notorious for malfunctioning and causing serious ventral burns on other than desert reptiles. In addition, hot rocks do nothing to heat up a properly sized iguana environment.

When the enclosures were originally designed (and I am sure most have never been corrected) no substrate or non-white radiant heat sources were provided. Consequently, store management has two choices: turn off the lights at night, thus creating a drop in temperature well below the lowest tolerable by the iguanas (which should never drop below 73 for hatchlings), or they leave the lights on. It doesn't take a great deal of sense or education to figure out that if any animal is subjected to twenty-four hours of light, stress results due to the non-stop glare and the interruption of their normal circadian cycle.

The bowls provided for food and water are too big. If the iguana does explore and is strong enough to scale to the rim (with the assistance of other iguanas or piled-up substrate), they risk drowning due to their inability to climb out and the resultant stress and panic. The food bowls are equally inaccessible and, since what you are offering is nothing like what they have been fed upon prior to coming into your care (and I use that term in the fullest sarcastic sense), many don't even bother trying to get in.


I could go on about the lack of proper facilities, equipment, false and misleading advertising but I believe I have given you enough to think about for the moment. It has been several months since I mailed in my first postcard. Certainly long enough for your staff to contact me, or any of the other people who have also sent in postcards and whom have never been contact.

In closing, you may wish to have your attorneys look into the wording of California Penal Code 597(a) and (b) which relates to felony and misdemeanor crimes against animals.

I look forward to hearing from you within the near future.


/s/ Melissa Kaplan


The postcard referred to in the opening paragraph are ones available at all stores - you know, the ones where Petco invites customer comment, so you take the card home, complete it, and drop it in the mail if you don't feel like filling it in at the store.

I received no response to this letter. Finally, after several phone calls to Mr. Devine's office and getting shunted around to people who never returned my calls, I was finally connected to a woman whose name I forget (Bonnie was her first name, I believe). As a result of our conversation, I sent her a package of material - extensive care information, copies of articles, veterinary references, and the name, address and telephone number of a local iguana breeder, researcher and author, David Blair. (I have talked to David periodically in the ensuing years, and he states he was never contacted by anyone from Petco on this matter.)

When I again heard nothing, I followed up a couple of months later - only to find out, from Craig Walker (then a VP of Marketing), that Bonnie had been fired several weeks before and no one had gone through "the mess" in her office. So I sent another packet, addressed to Craig.

During one of our conversations, I was informed by Craig that Petco's consulting vet is the one who dictates iguana care and that they weren't interested in what any other vet had to say.

I related to Craig my experiences with the local Petco manager, which were less than professional, on the manager's part. I was assured that the manager had no problem with me...despite the fact that her subsequent actions, and Petco's in general, showed otherwise:

I received a call from the manager, who screamed at me, claiming I was lying to her customers when I was in the store. "What did I lie about, Debbie?"

"You told people that the iguanas we sell are the same species as the one you were holding!"
They are, Debbie. (I was holding a healthy 3 year old, 13" svl male, which admittedly looked a bit different from the sickly, scrawny 2-3" svl hatchlings they were selling).

"You told them iguanas get to be six feet long!"
They do, Debbie. Well, okay, the females may reach only 5 feet....

"You told them they shouldn't buy hot rocks!"
That's right, Debbie. Iguanas are not belly baskers and generally end up with severe thermal burns, many dying from them, thanks to hot rocks.

"You told them iguanas are vegetarians!"
That's right, Debbie. They are.

What makes the above truly amazing is that Debbie had, prior to this incident, asked if I would conduct a workshop for her employees. She told me that she wanted them to be knowledgeable enough to help customers who came in to shop for supplies for their reptiles. An admirable idea, indeed. However, not only did she not bother to attend herself (I guess Petco managers aren't required to know anything...reminds me of a well-known reptile and fish store in Los Angeles where both the manager and assistant manager, equally as ignorant as this Petco manager, were so terrified of reptiles that they couldn't even walk down the reptile aisle!), but she "neglected" to mention that her store was going to start selling reptiles, starting with green iguanas...

The store had a large board with dozens of business card holders for local breeders, groomers, vets, rescues, etc., to place stacks of their cards for customers to take. I found out that every time I or a friend left a stack of my Reptile & Environmental Education/Iguana Consultation cards there, Debbie took them out, or ordered her employees to take them out, and dump them in the wastebasket. I told this to Craig, who assured me that he would, through the area general manager, have Debbie stop this. It did not stop. Well, not until they just took down the entire board and stopped letting resource people put their cards up...

For awhile, I called and left a message for Craig after every call I received from a Petco customer whose iguana died within days of purchase or after their reptile vet worked valiantly to save it. I never received a response to any of those calls. Unfortunately, the calls I received from despairing iguana keepers didn't stop.

And you can imagine my joy when a PetsMart opened up a couple miles away from the Petco - and I started receiving the same types of phone calls.

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