Pet Store Pets: Some Considerations

Some thoughts on pet stores and the sale of live animals

I had a conflicting problem of morals today. I shopped at a pet store.

My puppy (human error) ate my bait bag and I had to see two very large, aggressive dogs as clients this afternoon. I wanted to have my Friend-Making Treats instantly accessible, so I could not order a new bait bag online in time and had to use a walk-in box store/pet store.

My objection to pet stores that sell live animals is two-fold. 

Firstly, many employees are young people, students, or persons with very little education or experience with the vast range of live animals that they sell. These can range from goldfish, marine fish, guinea pigs, exotic parrots, ferrets to venomous snakes requiring special handling techniques. 

All of these animals have varied and highly specialized needs, and persons not familiar with their specific needs often do more harm than good. I worked at an exotic veterinary clinic for 11 years. We often saw pet store animals in dire need of help. As an example, we would frequently see iguanas of all ages and sizes suffering from calcium deficiency, affecting their bones and joints. Calcium is a very necessary part of their diet that is so easy to provide, but unwitting owners are unaware.

My second objection is the impulsivity of the purchase. I am a very, very experienced animal handler, having grown up overseas among a variety exotic animals. I attended Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching College for several years and have been heavily involved in animal rescue of both domestic and wild animals for my entire adult life. 

Even so, I am often tempted to bring home "just one more". My rescue background is the only thing that keeps me from doing this - I realize that someone else is going to do the same thing, and a few months later, IF that animal is lucky, it winds up in one of my rescue programmes. "Just one more" adds up when you figure the time that is required for personal attention for them, exercise and mental enrichment needs, food and bedding, any veterinary attention that is necessary and the subsequent time to medically treat the animal.

Sources of procurement for these animals can often be heavily suspect. Animals, particularly parrots, are often factory farmed (like a "puppy mill") and taken too early from their natural weaning processes. And these are low-dollar sales animals, very few veterinarians are contacted when a for-sale pocket pet or reptile, avian or amphibian gets sick.  Fortunately, I have heard of several of the larger box stores employ the services of local veterinarians. My own vet clinic works with one such store.

Lastly, if you shop with your dog, and take them to the little critter acrylic cage "doggie TV" entertainment section, spare a thought for the little critters inside. They are prey animals, trapped in a cage of windows with no place to run or hide for safety. I used to think that it was really fun for my dogs to watch these scampering little critters until I realized that they were running in panic for their lives, and I felt like the world's most insensitive, blithering idiot and don't do that anymore.

The large pet store near me is progressive, and I complimented them on that. Their birds have toys and bowls of food are kept feces-free. All cages are clean, but the MOST impressive thing that I find is that they have little barriers for all the Bettas (Siamese Fighting Fish) who display their beautiful, long fins in aggressive displays to one another in agitation of territorial dispute. By providing them barriers to one another's line of sight, the store is keeping them from the mental and physical agitation of fighting one another for space. 

Please talk to people about their choices of locale for purchasing animals, and how to financially support the businesses or individuals who sell animals with their best interests in mind, including educating and advising the buyer as to the proper care and needs of the pet.

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Anne Moroh April 16, 2012 at 02:18 PM
So what is the large pet store near you? Let's reinforce their good choices with business....
Dorene Olson April 16, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Anne, I think that you post a very valuable question, and I am all in favour of putting our money where our mouth is! I called my editor and asked the protocol of answering this, since I believe there are rules about self-promotion and endorsement, and I do NOT work for pet stores and in general, I DO NOT endorse any that sell live animals, the possible exception being aquarium stores. So, I am able to answer your question: it is the Petco on Olive and Tempe, just west of 270. My bar is very high, and I am a NOT frequent shopper but am an ardentnt critic. The "other" Petco that was on my side of Olive, which closed not too long ago, and was wretched! It was dirty, what staff was there were non-educated, and I was always dismayed at little escaped finches etc - the reply was, when I would ask about how to re-catch them: "Oh, they'll die in a week or so". WHAT!??!? Do you know how painful it is to die of thirst or - in this case AND/OR!!!! - starvation??? They refused my demands to put out food and water to catch them - "too much trouble". So yes, PLEASE ask questions, look around, think outside the box, and put your money where your morals are. Thanks, Dorene
Kevin West April 17, 2012 at 03:12 PM
My Biggest Problem with large or big box chain pet stores is the lack of knowledge the employees have before hitting the sales floor. To go further, the public in general, trust in these larger stores with the knowledge they provide in which many case is not good solid advise. Just my opinion and 2 cents.
Dorene Olson April 18, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Kevin, I agree. Since I do not frequent them - in fact, I actively avoid them - I cannot speculate broadly. But the store that I have mentioned does have two VERY knowledgable fish section employees, and I have been very impressed. One exception to this that I have noticed are two aquarium-only and two parrot-only stores in the area. I feel that part of the quality of advice and knowledge with these stores may be that in three of the four cases, they are family owned and run, so there is perhaps more of an investment to the creatures. Happily, one of the bird stores now has devoted a large section to rescue parrots, which are a HUGE problem, and have been even harder hit by the economic woes that have been bothering us for so long now. I also think that focusing on only one animal - birds only, fish only - helps as well. Having said all that, it is also completely the responsibility of the person acquiring an animal to educate themselves fully, and when needed, seek qualified veterinary care.
The Wallyboy Company September 20, 2012 at 04:36 AM
Very good article and fantastic points. Being that Missouri is the king of the horrible puppy mill, you should definitely not purchase a pet at a pet store. To avoid having to experience the horror that is a pet store, you can shop for pet supplies online at www.wallyboypetproducts.com


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