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

Pet Store Investigation Report

Sal's, Highway 12, Santa Rosa CA

Melissa Kaplan, 1993


The following report and a formal complaint was filed with the Sonoma County Humane Society against this pet store that had previously had numerous complaints filed against it.

Date: November 10, 1993
Time: 10:50 - 11:30
Ambient In-Store Air Temp: 72F



Found: ORNATE HORNED FROG ("Pac-man") is being kept in an all-water tank, with no dry area on which to climb out.

Should be: Ornates live on the damp floor of the marginal rainforests. They must have a dry tank in which to lay in wait for prey, with a bowl of water in which to soak and defecate.

Probable Outcome: Slow starvation and probable drowning. Frog is barely 1.5" in length and is struggling to keep its nose above water in order to breathe.

Found: Ornate tank is not heated and there is no basking zone.

Should be: Juvenile ornates require a tank heated to 78-86 F all day and night.

Probable Outcome: Slow starvation due to lack of digestive processes; death from hyperthermia. Amphibians, being ectothermic, require external sources of heating. Their digestive processes begin at specific temperatures, in this case around 86 F. Without the proper temperatures, appetites are depressed, and what is eaten is not digested properly. The result is slow starvation and death due to the bacterial infection from the undigested food rotting in the digestive tract.

Found: No sign of any food in tank.

Should be: Juvenile ornate frogs require 7-12 small crickets daily.

Probable Outcome: Slow starvation. If fed, the crickets would not survive in the aquatic tank presently provided. The frog will slowly starve as, being terrestrial predators, ornates do not swim for food.

Found: PIXIE FROG in shallow water with no access to dry land. The water is not heated and there is no food in the tank.

Should be: Frogs require dry land with a pool or deep dish of water. They require a temperature range of 74-78 F. They require live crickets and newborn mice for food.

Probable Outcome: Slow starvation either due to the lack of food or hypothermia. Neither crickets nor mice can live in a water environment. Possible skin and stress-related infections due to being kept in the wrong environment.

Found: Too many NEWTS in a single small tank. Tank furnished only with a pile of rocks.

Should be: Either a larger tank should be furnished, or the group split into two populations. Newts need vivaria furnished with sphagnum moss, bark and damp leaf litter as well as free access to fresh water for swimming, and furnished with water plants, filter and air stone.

Probable Outcome: Bacterial skin or systemic infections from being in a wet environment. Possible early death from stress of overcrowding.

Found: No evidence of food in tank.

Should be: Aquatic newts require earthworms, Tubifex worms and aquatic invertebrates. Terrestrial species require earthworms, slugs and other suitably sized live prey.

Probable Outcome: Slow starvation.



Found: BOX TURTLES and RED-EARED SLIDER TURTLES are being kept in the same tank.

Should be: Box turtles are land turtles and require a dry environment with access to a large bowl of fresh water for bathing, drinking and defecating.

Probable Outcome: Shell rot and bacterial infections. Stress from improper environment leading to bacterial and systemic infections, including Salmonella sp.

Found: Water in tank too shall for the red-eared sliders to be able to eat properly.

Should be: The depth of the water in the tank must be slightly deeper than the length of the turtle's carapace (top shell). There must also be enough horizontal area to enable the sliders to swim after their live food.

Probable Outcome: Slow starvation; stress induced bacterial and systemic infections, including Salmonella sp.

Found: Water in turtle tank is murky with decomposing lettuce and fecal matter. The particulates are easily visible in the gravel substrate.

Should be: Water turtles are very messy eaters and their tanks should be cleaned out at least weekly as long as their tanks are outfitted with a filter powerful enough to keep debris within tolerable limits between cleanings.

Probable Outcome: High risk of systemic and bacterial infections, including Salmonella sp.

Found: The fifty gallon tank is too small for the numbers of turtles kept in it.

Should be: A single water turtle requires at least a twenty gallon tank, with an additional 10 gallon capacity for each additional turtle housed in the same tank (or, two square feed for the first turtle, with one additional square foot for each additional turtle). Thus, the nine water turtles require at least a 100 gallon tank. If the box turtles are going to be kept with them, a 150 gallon tank, with a dry land area big enough for the box turtles to live on and the water turtles to haul out on, is required.

Probable Outcome: High risk of systemic and bacterial infections, including Salmonella sp. due to stress of overcrowding and improper environmental conditions.

Found: The turtle tank and water are too cold, and no basking zone, nor aquarium heaters or subtank heating provided or in evidence.

Should be: Sliders require an ambient temperature of at least 75 F with a basking zone heated to 85-88 F. Box turtles require an under-tank heat source to keep the tank at 75-86 F as well as a basking area heated to 88 F for at least 12-14 hours a day.

Probable Outcome: Reptiles, being ectothermic, require external sources of heating. Their digestive processes begin at specific temperatures, in this case around 88 F. Without the proper temperatures, appetites are depressed, and what is eaten is not digested properly. The result is slow starvation and death due to the bacterial infection from the undigested food rotting in the digestive tract.

Found: There is no evidence of proper food being offered, only bits of decomposing lettuce floating in the dirty water.

Should be: Water turtles should be fed live feeder goldfish, water plants and commercially prepared water turtle foods. Box turtles require a diet of mixed shredded or finely chopped vegetables, fruits and greens, supplemented with earthworms, mealworms, snails and slugs.

Probable Outcome: Slow starvation due to the lack of food and cold tank and water temperatures. Stress induced systemic disease.

Found: ANOLES are overcrowded in a tank without proper furnishings or substrates.

Should be: Anoles require a tank lined with peat, pieces of bark and potted plants. This provides places for visual separation to prevent fighting and stress. They also require branches for climbing and basking. The same environment should be provided to anoles being sold for prey as well as for pets

Probable Outcome: Stress induced systemic disease and fighting; death due to disease, stress or injuries sustained in the fight.

Found: The bottom of the anole tank is filthy with dried feces and urates.

Should be: Community tanks should be cleaned daily, especially if the proper substrate has not been provided.

Probable Outcome: Bacterial and systemic infections.

Found: There was no sign of food in the tank.

Should be: Anoles of this size require a dozen or more small crickets daily.

Probable Outcome: Slow starvation.

Found: Anoles require ambient air temperature of 76-84 F with a basking zone of at least 86 F.

Should be: Subtank heating is required, as well as an above-tank spotlight over the basking area.

Probable Outcome: Slow starvation from inability to eat or digest food; hypothermia.

Found: GARTER SNAKES are being kept in a tank with no substrate; old fecal material has not been cleaned out.

Should be: Garters require peat soil, slabs of bark and hide boxes or caves. They must have a dry environment, furnished with a water bowl.

Probable Outcome: Skin and systemic bacterial infections from the damp, dirty environment. Stress induced illness due to lack of hiding place.

Found: The only water provided was a small (3"-3.5" crock) half filled with dirty water.

Should be: Garters require a large deep bowl for soaking and feeding on live goldfish.

Probable Outcome: Starvation from inability to feed; bacterial infection from ingesting contained fecal matter.

Found:The IGUANAS are in too cool an environment. The thermometer inside the tank reads 72 F, with the only basking area dimly and barely warmed by a low wattage (estimate 25-60) watt red incandescent bulb.

Should be: Young iguanas require a temperature range of 76-86 F with a basking zone of 88-90 F. This is supplied with an undertank heating pad and, depending upon the ambient air temperature, a 100 watt incandescent light bulb or a flood light. Red, green or blue bulbs are required if the lights are needed at night to maintain the minimum temperature range. The tank does have a Vitalite (full-spectrum/UV), but these fluorescent lights do not produce enough heat to warm up a tank, especially a 50-60 gallon tank such as the iguanas are being kept in. Most of these iguanas will die even if sold as most customers do not know they are sick, and do not know how to care for them properly.

Probable Outcome: Iguana digestive processes begin to function at 88-90 F. If they are not warm enough, they will either not eat, or the food will remain in their digestive system unprocessed and rotting. Only one iguana showed any signs of eating, and it was clearly bloated, a sign of decomposing food in it's gut. They are all slowly starving to death.

Found: The skin of fourteen of the iguanas are blackened. The skin of the one who is eating is somewhat more green.

Should be: Healthy, properly cared for hatchling iguanas are bright dark green, with markings of blue, turquoise, bronze and brown.

Probable Outcome: Blackened skin is a clear sign of environmental stress relating to overcrowding, cold and starvation.

Found: The food supplied to the iguanas was pieces of romaine lettuce, consisting primarily of the hard center rib portion, and 1/4 inch cubes of squash.

Should be: Iguanas are not able to chew food; in the wild, they eat only leaves which they tear from the trees and the pieces of which they swallow whole. In captivity, iguana vegetables and fruits must be shredded or finely chopped. While they may be able to swallow some large pieces, they do not get enough nutrition from the smaller overall volume of food. Additionally, the two foods offered do not begin to provide all the nutrients required by iguanas, especially young ones.

Probable Outcome: Slow starvation possibly preceded by nutrient deficiency diseases.

Found: The BULL SNAKE was in a glass tank with no substrate, a single branch, and a tiny 3"-3.5" crock half filled with scummy water.

Should be: All snakes need somewhere to hide; this can be furnished by a commercially sold "cave" or a cut-out cardboard box. A substrate, such as aspen or pine shavings, or Astroturf, should be provided as should a bowl large enough for soaking.

Probable Outcome: Stress induced disease or behavior from being unable to hide; may result in self-starvation and early death.

Found: The snake's enclosure is not heated.

Should be: All snakes in the Pituophis family require temperature ranges of 75-86 F degrees.

Probable Outcome: Lack of heat and being on a cold surface in a cool room increases the risk of respiratory infection and slow starvation due to inability to process food.

Found: The cage size does not allow the snake room to stretch out to at least one-half to one-third of its total length.

Should be: Colubrids have only one functioning lung. If they are unable to stretch it out periodically, they develop respiratory problems and potentially problems associated with mild oxygen deprivation.

Probable Outcome: Chronic muscle and joint pain. Increased risk of respiratory infections which are difficult to treat and are easily fatal in colubrids who are not otherwise being cared for properly.




Found: FINCH cage bottom encrusted with urates and feces.

Should be: Kept clean and free of organic wastes.

Probable Outcome: Bacterial build-up and probable food contamination as birds walk on fecal material and track it into the food and water. Possible systemic infection and failure to thrive.

Found: The insides of the water bowls in all bird cages are brown with bacterial buildup from decomposing seed.

Should be: Bowls should be thoroughly washed out at least every other day, and whenever soiled by fecal matter.

Probable Outcome: Bacterial buildup Possible systemic infection and failure to thrive.

Found: Six finches are housed in a single small cage. One bird has had all the feathers plucked off the top of its head by the other birds.

Should be: Overcrowding leads to stress and can precipitate attacks by one animal upon another. The bird who has been attacked in this cage must be separated, housed alone or, preferably, with a companion bird. Colonies of birds should be kept in larger cages.

Probable Outcome: Compromised immune system leading to systemic infections and failure to thrive. Pecked bird may eventually die from stress or self-starvation, and even if sold, may not survive if the owners are not knowledgeable about the special care needed to remedy the situation.

Found: COCKATIEL seed bowl is topped off with at least one-half inch of empty seed hulls; no whole seed visible.

Should be: Cockatiels are bottom-feeders who are unable to dig down through empty hulls to find whole seed.

Probable Outcome: Slow starvation; nutritional deficiencies.



Found: A single young HAMSTER is being kept in a small enclosure on the front desk. Both the shavings and the hamster are soaking wet from an improperly placed water bottle. The hamster is shivering and hyperventilating. No food is present.

Should be: Hamsters should be kept in clean, dry shavings with access to a properly mounted water bottle and a readily available source of food.

Probable Outcome: Respiratory infection; probably systemic infection due to stress and soaked litter.

Found: RABBITS are crowded into a hutch displayed outside the front door. The bottom of the hutch is filled with fecal pellets heavily mixed in with the food pellets.

Should be: Cage cleaning should be done daily when a number of rabbits are housed together.

Probable Outcome: Possible bacterial and systemic infection.

Found: The shavings in most of the RODENT tanks are soaked from leaking or improperly placed water bottles.

Should be: Rodents require dry, fresh bedding and access to properly mounted water bottles.

Probable Outcome: Bacterial and systemic infections as a result of the damp and bacterial buildup in the urine- and water-soaked shavings.

Found: Five of the eight rodent tanks smell heavily of ammonia as a result of the lack of proper and timely cleaning.

Should be: Rodents are odoriferous by nature, but when their bedding is not regularly replaced, ammonia from their wastes builds up.

Probable Outcome: Bacterial and systemic infections which may result in terminal illness and premature death. Failure of young to thrive.

Found: Rats are being kept on cedar shavings.

Should be: Pine or aspen shavings should be used as the cedar oils are toxic to most animals, including rats.

Probable Outcome: The aromatic oils cause skin and respiratory infections.

Found: The rodents are being kept in glass tanks with perforated metal tops which sit within a few inches of the shelf above, resulting in a lack of ventilation.

Should be: Rodents require a well ventilated though draft-free environment to reduce the risk of colonial infection. If solid sided tanks are used, they must have low sides with the upper portion made of mesh and Plexiglas.

Probable Outcome: Bacterial, viral and fungal infections can spread throughout the colony. Symptomatic onset may be gradual, seen initially as reduced appetite, reduced activity, reduced grooming and failure to thrive.


Copies of this document were sent out by the local humane society with whom I filed the complaint to three vets in the area who were asked to read it, visit the store, and report back to the Humane Society. They did, and it did result in a meeting between the Humane Society, Deputy District Attorney, and the store owner. This resulted in positive changes during the period in which the owner was subject to close scrutiny. Once the "probation" period was over, he basically resumed his prior standard of care. Further complaints yielded no action. Two years later, the owner died and his son took over. There is still no appreciable improvement in care.

Update: A year or so after the son took over, he sold the business. A new pet store specializing in reptiles opened just down the street about the same time. Neither are shining examples of what pet stores should be, especially the reptile specialty store.

More than a year after I filed this report, I made an appointment to see a new vet. The vet himself answered the phone when I called. When I gave him my name for the appointment, he asked if I had been in before. I explained that no, I would be new to him. He said my name was familiar but couldn't pin it down. When I did go in to see him later that day, he had recalled where he knew my name from. He had been one of the vets who had received a copy of this report and had been asked to visit the store and file a report. He told me that after reading the above, he called the HS and told them that I knew more about the fine points of husbandry than he and to go ahead and follow my recommendations. They insisted that he visit the store. He did so, and came back and told them the same thing. He was less than thrilled, but not greatly surprised, that after the short term change, the conditions had returned close to what they had been before.


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