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

Petco Correspondence: Petco, Phoenix AZ, August 1997

Sandy Rarick-Wallace to Melissa Kaplan; Don Cowan (Petco) to Mike Fry (Animal Ark); Kaplan to Cowan


Sandi Rarick-Wallace's letter to Melissa Kaplan
Follow-up to Melissa Kaplan
Response from Petco
"How bad does it have to stink?"


Sandi Rarick-Wallace's letter to Melissa Kaplan

August 13, 1997

Dear Melissa,

From time to time I go into my local Petco to see if there has been any improvement in the care of their reptiles. On August 1st my three sons and I went there around noon and what we saw was absolutely appalling!

The reptile enclosures were the worst I had ever seen them (and I have seen them pretty bad on numerous occasions). I had seen dead reptiles left in the tanks before, but this time my children and I counted at least five dead herps. The ones that were alive were obviously suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. The tanks were filthy with feces and urates that had probably been there since the previous animals inhabited them.

There were numerous tanks with improper heating and lighting for that species. If water was provided, it was dirty and murky with feces and urates. We also observed a juvenile Ball Python completely immersed (except for its head) in its bowl of dirty water. Being the owner of Ball pythons myself, I know that it is not usual behavior for that species of snake unless it is trying to get relief from mites.

There was a badly decomposing lizard which I think was an adult iguana; the poor thing had obviously been dead for some time and was beginning to dry out (the eyes were nothing but sockets and the skin looked like tanned leather), so it was difficult to tell.

Normally I would have brought all of this to the attention of the Petco staff but I have learned my lesson from past experiences. The other times that I have brought up the terrible conditions, I was either given no answer whatsoever, just a vague look, or I was told that the "reptile expert" doesn't come in until 11:00 and he cares for the animals then. On one occasion, I asked why there was no heat provided for the herps at night and the store manager told me that the heating and lighting was shut off at night to save electricity.

The only good thing that I can report to you is that at the time I was there, they were no longer selling juvenile iguanas (either that or their shipment hadn't come in); instead, in their place, were some small turtles in filthy water.

I was so disturbed by what we saw that when I got home I called everyone I knew, explained what we had seen, and started a boycott of all Petco stores until something is done.

I also started calling state and county agencies to report them. First I called the Arizona Humane Society and they told me to call the Maricopa County Health Dept. When I called there, all I got was someone's voice mail and I left a message (I never got a call back).

Then I called the Rabies/Animal Control and they gave me the number of the A.S.P.C.A., who then referred me to an animal cruelty hotline (602-997-7585 ext.109) which I called and got a rude and impatient woman who didn't seem the least bit concerned and even said, "Oh, your reporting about reptiles?" as if they were less of an important living creature than cats and dogs! She reluctantly took a report and when I inquired as to what would take place, she said "Someone will go out and take a look". She didn't sound very convincing.

I'm afraid that nothing will be done. That is why I'm writing you. I'm going to write a letter to Don Cowan and I am going to keep calling the health dept. until I get to speak to a human not just voice mail. I plan on going back to Petco with my camera to see if anything has been done.

I will keep urging everyone to boycott all Petco stores. My children start back to school this week and they are going to tell what they had seen to their teachers and their friends, asking them to join us in the boycott. I will also be sending copies of my letter to Don Cowan, to the Arizona Herp Society and to the Arizona Humane Society.

"If there is anything else that I can do, please e-mail me back."

Thanks Again,
Sandi Rarick-Wallace
Phoenix, AZ

Follow-up Letter From Sandi Wallace

Melissa, Here are the names and addresses of agency contacts I made, as well as a summary of my conversation with the director of the Arizona Humane Society.:

2320 E. Bell Rd.
Phoenix AZ 85032
(602) 867-1231

Maricopa County Health Dept.
Dir. Food Borne Disease Div.
Mike Williams (602) 506-6982
1825 E. Roosevelt
Phoenix AZ 85006
(602) 506-6900
(Complaint taken 8-15-97 1:30 p.m. complaint #14515)

Arizona Humane Society
Dir. Ken White
9226 N. 13th Ave.
Phoenix AZ 85021
(602) 997-7585

Animal Cruelty Hotline
(602) 997-7585 Ext. 109

Dir. Irene Harness
P.O. Box 33334
Phoenix AZ 85067
(602) 246-8280

Maricopa Co. Animal/Rabies Control
Dir. Carol Munroe
2320 S. 35th Ave.
Phoenix AZ 85009
(602) 506-7387

Just to update you a little bit. I was on the phone all day yesterday. I spoke to Ken White, the director of the Arizona Humane Society. It turns out (big surprise) he knew nothing about my complaint. However, he was quite helpful and very interested in our endeavor to clean up Petco. Mr. White is a fellow herp enthusiast of sorts. Recently, an article ran in the Arizona Republic (which I will be sending you a copy of) regarding the growing unintentional abuse of pet igs. The article was called Iguanas: Throwaway pets. The AHS, of which Ken is the director, were the ones speaking in the article, explaining the problem and giving somewhat primitive iguana care instructions.

When I spoke with Ken on the phone, he told me of the growing number of homeless igs. He and his staff have made a point to begin to educate themselves in reptile care. He assured me that the igs were provide full spectrum lighting and heat and adequate temporary housing. However I am a little concerned about their nutrition and with your permission would like to send him a copy of the recipe for ig salad. The thing I am concerned about is their advise on using hot rocks for igs. Ken requested I send a letter with detailed account of what I witnessed at Petco to him. So when I send him that letter I will inform him of the dangers of using hot rocks with igs.

He assured me that not only would he send an officer out to investigate, but that he himself would go with him.

We also discussed the lack of legislation regulating pet stores. He told me of law that was passed last year that regulates pet stores care of cats and dogs only. He said it does not cover any other animals because even though they wanted to, they knew trying to expand it to cover all animals it would never get passed so they figure this was better than nothing for the time being.

Ken is computer illiterate so I will have to snail mail my letter to him. And by the way I will be sending my letter to Cowan registered/return receipt, just in case. I also will be cc'ing the copies of my letter to Cowan to the people you have specified and also several news stations and the Arizona Republic newspaper.

I continue to put the word out about Petco and the boycott is spreading. I try to remember to tell everyone I can . My husband and I have been considering creating a web page about the Petco boycott to aid in getting the word out.

Well, that's it for now if there's anything else you can think of, don't hesitate to write!!

Thanks !!


Response from Don Cowan, Petco's Director of Communications

In a letter to Mike Fry (Animal Ark), Don wrote:

"Regarding the situation in our store in Phoenix, this is my understanding: First there were no dead reptiles in the store. There was a snake shedding its skin at that time, but there were no dead reptiles. The Maricopa County Health Department has been in the store following a report apparently from Sandra Rarick-Wallace and found everything in the store to be satisfactory. We have no phone number for Sandra, so no contact has been made with her that I know about. Do you have a phone number so we might have someone from the store contact her? There is no doubt that close attention must be paid to the condition of the habitats, and the District Manager for this store has reaffirmed that this is happening."

What makes this particularly interesting is that Sandi had already received an email from Don Cowan on August 21, stating that he had received her letter and asked who she talked to at the store so that they can call the store and "gather more information".

How Bad Does It Have To Stink?

In response to the above statements by Don in a letter to Mike Fry, I wrote:

"And as for the store in Arizona, Mrs. Rarick-Wallace mailed you a letter earlier this month. Her email address is above if you still have not received it.

"As for the store manager and Health Department saying everything was fine, I have gone into a pet store where there were dead and dying animals in feces-smeared enclosures where the police officer and state humane officers who saw the store in the hour before my site inspection both said that everything was "fine." The difference, apparently, is that while the police officer was an admitted herpetophobe and the SHO someone who believes that it is not a significant violation of the California penal code unless ALL the animals are dead, I believe that such conditions (you can read the full description of what I found at are not acceptable. From what Mrs. Rarick-Wallace told me of the conditions she saw in the AZ store, while it might not have been quite as bad as Sebastopol Pets or We Be Pets (in Windsor CA, now shut down; you can find the article on this store at, even one dead animal left for any length of time is unacceptable.

"And, please, don't insult her by claiming she couldn't tell the difference between several dead and decomposing animals and a single snake in shed...

"You might also want to check out your San Rafael, CA store...I understand that the birds were confiscated due to poor conditions in the last year. I also understand that the Marin County Humane society is being inundated with unwanted pet rats, many of them gravid, that were originally purchased at that store.

In Mike's letter to Don, Mike said:

"[I am glad you] are actively working on public education issues. After all, Petco has continually said that public education is the key to solving these problems. I agree, and feel the first step needs to be educating yourselves."

Mike also commented on the fact that they insist on keeping chameleons on hot rocks with bowls of water, despite being told repeatedly that it is inappropriate for them. Petco replied that that is their policy, period. Mike then pointed out that even the books they sell state that that is inappropriate care...and asked whether anyone at Petco has ever read any of them. My comments on this issue of the most basic of educational strategies (as in "RTFM"...):

"I couldn't agree more. The gross lack of knowledge is especially difficult to understand given that much of what we are saying is in the books you sell in your stores. As Mike said in a previous letter to you, at least start reading those books if you are convinced we are just a bunch of annoying animal rights activists who have nothing better to do with our time. Trust me, we do."

I included Sandi in on the cc's to the above letter. She responded:

"As for him wanting to know who specifically I spoke to at the store, I don't know their names but I do know that the person who told me about there being no heating or lighting at night was the store manager. And by the way, thanks! I do definitely know the difference between a shedding snake and a dead one. Do they?

"Another thing that they aren't considering is how long it took me to get someone out there to check it out. Almost three weeks had passed! I would hope that they would have taken the dead animals out by then!

"I received a call from the Health Inspector who went out there, he said that he couldn't see any violations but that the store had ample time to clean it up between the complaint and him actually going out there. Not only that, but he stated that there were no violations - by who's standards?! His, or the reptiles!

"Anyway, I'm really disgusted by this whole thing, it makes me love my reptiles a little more and humans a lot less!! Keep me posted."


If any of you readers live in the Phoenix area, please keep any eye on this Petco, and use the phone numbers and email addresses above (Don Cowan's is linked to his name in several places) to let these people know how things are going.

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