Undercover pet shop investigation

In late 2010 Animal Liberation Campaign Co-ordinator Jacqueline Dalziell took a position as a employee in a well known Sydney pet shop. Over a 3 month period she took observations and filmed breaches of the Code of Practice.

The TV report was screened on Today Tonight  and can be viewed on COMPANION ANIMAL NEWS click here

( Please nb to click at the bottom to go direct to some other Animal Liberation pet shop diary stories.)

In February 2011 she presented this report to the RSPCA NSW:

RSPCA Report

Location: XXXX

Store Owner: XXXXXXX (DRP note: this store is one of a well known  large chain of  Pet Stores across the country)

In efforts to expose how animals suffer in pet stores, this year I took a job working undercover in a XXXX store. I worked approximately 2-3 shifts (approx. 6-8 hours) per week, for approximately three months. I was hired having no formal qualifications in animal care. I recorded everything I saw and heard.

The following encompass some of my experiences and the relevant Animal Welfare Code of Practice: Animals in Pet Shops breaches that I witnessed during every single one of my shifts.

Welfare

Code of Practice Breaches: 7.1.1.4, 7.1.1.5, 7.1.1.6, 7.1.1.2, 8.1.1.1, 8.1.1.3, 8.1.1.4, 8.1.1.5, 8.2.1.3, 12.1.7.

On my first day at work, a colleague casually told me that a kitten had been sick and wasn’t eating, and as no staff had noticed it eventually starved to death and was found dead in its cage in the morning.

Legally, puppies in store must have the opportunity to exercise for at least 20 minutes everyday. In several months of employment, I never witnessed this occurring. The only animals ever taken out of their cages were puppies, where they would be placed in small playpens where they could barely run, largely to entice potential buyers and get customers into the store. In fact, I was actively discouraged from putting the puppies in play pens as they would sometimes urinate on the floor. I never witnessed any other species given the privilege to escape the monotony of their cages.

I was told that employees often did not bother to use proper disinfectant when cleaning out the rabbit and guinea pig cages, which would result in rabbits and guinea pigs dying of ammonia poisoning. I found out that in one week four rabbits had died because of this simple negligence.

‘Dead Fish Runs’ is a daily procedure in which all fish tanks have to be inspected for dead fish and remove them before the customers see, of which there are some everyday. One day I came in to find over 30 fish had died overnight, for which there was no explanation or concern.

Dirty and unsafe cages were very common. One puppy cage had several wires from its electric ceiling hanging down within reach of the puppies (and their water bowl). When I pointed this out I was told not to worry.

Throughout the day, and especially during the mornings during opening, prey and predator animals are often placed next to each other or within olfactory range (for example, Labrador puppies placed centimetres away from baby rabbits). This is a major stressor for prey animals, and just contributes to the overall stress that animals face when living within a pet store.

During the mornings when staff come in before the store opens to clean the animal cages, the animals (puppies, kittens, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters) are all placed in plastic tubs while the cleaning is taking place. These tubs are far too small for more than one puppy- sometimes, up to five puppies would be placed in these tubs, and can be inside for up to forty minutes. They do not have stimulation, food or water while inside. As some of the breeds of puppies (Labradors, for example) can be quite large, it is incredibly cramped and is obviously very stressful for them. The animals cry consistently from the moment they are placed inside until they get out, and constantly try to escape. Furthermore, these tubs are stacked on top of each other, further inhibiting the already limited air supply and circulation. These tubs also do not get adequately cleaned from day to day, making the spreading of viruses across species and different litters/cage mates inevitable. (See photo).

I found out animals had suffered from canine cough, cat flu, hernias, ringworm, worms, vomiting, dehydration, viruses, bloody diarrhea, lack of appetite, ear mites, and more under the care of those working in store.

Conditions

Code of Practice Breaches: 5.1.1.5, 5.1.1.6, 5.2.1.5, 5.2.2.5, 13.1.5.

I twice opened the store in the mornings to find that staff from the night before had neglected to turn off the lights within individual puppy cages, meaning puppies had been under bright, hot lights for over 24 hours, severely compromising their welfare. When I reported this to my manager it was shrugged off. Sometimes the constant light generated so much heat that puppies were given water bottles full of ice within their cages.

Legally, all animals must have a quiet, dark area where they can withdraw from constant human attention. Many of the animals, including puppies and kittens, often did not have this basic privilege.

Legally, the cages in store must be safe and minimise the risk of injury to animals. However puppies, kittens and rabbits placed in the uppermost cages in the store were constantly at risk of falling out of the cages when cage doors were opened, where it was approximately over a 2m drop to the floor. A pet shop colleague recounted to me that on her first day, a Labrador puppy fell out of one of these cages, landing on its head. When I suggested we always place glass dividers in the top cages to prevent this from happening it was dismissed.

Sources

When I asked the staff where the animals came from, they didn’t know, however when I asked what to tell customers who commonly asked this question, I was told the line was to say that all the animals came from “good, local breeders.”

I was never told anything about the breeders, I was never shown any evidence that the animals were coming from “good, local breeders”, however this was the line I had to tell trusting customers.

Customers were not given any information about where their animals had come from, their parents, or their genetic history.

The public was also actively encouraged, through signs throughout the store, to bring in baby animals for the pet shop to sell, thereby potentially giving backyard breeders, and people who don’t desex their ‘pets’ and have accidental litters, an avenue through which to make money.

Selling

Code of Practice Breaches: 4.1.1.3, 4.1.1.4, 4.1.1.6, 4.1.2.1, 4.2.2.1, 10.2.2.

I never witnessed staff ever prioritising animal welfare over sales.

Staff were not willing to spend money on fresh food at the expense of the animal’s health. I was specifically told not to dispose of food that had been pest-infested, and found out that it was common occurrence to feed animals food that was past its expiry date. When I inquired to the manager about this, I was casually told to remember to check expiry dates from time to time, as “otherwise we poison our puppies.”

The animals constantly had health problems (diarrhoea, runny eyes, bloody stools, stress behaviour) that are easily treated but were not.

One morning the store opened late, and the manager told me to clean the entire store to make it appealing to customers before I gave any of the animals any fresh water or food, or cleaned their cages of faeces and urine-soaked newspaper.

I was hired with no formal training in animal care and was not properly trained in how to adequately take care of animals or recognise symptoms of disease or ill-health. I was not properly taught species-specific or breed-specific information about animals, and was not taught the most basic animal care.

Responsible ‘Pet Owners?’

In several months of employment, being pushed to sell animals everyday, I was never once briefed on how to ensure customers did not buy animals on impulse, nor was I ever taught how to make certain animals were going home with suitable, compassionate people. I was not aware of any system in place to mediate impulse buying, such as requiring a customer to consider a purchase overnight, or even for an hour. There was no protocol in place to guarantee that animals were being sold to good homes; the impetus was on selling only. The store encouraged the impulse buying of animals in several ways; for example, customers could get “A free rabbit with every hutch.”

Unsanitary Conditions

Code of Practice Breaches: 9.1.4.

When I would come in for the morning shifts before the shop opened, the cages were usually full of faeces and urine from the night before (the animals are left alone from approximately 8pm-7:30am) which were throughout the cages and on the walls, from which the animals had no escape.

Having to live, eat, drink and sleep in this environment poses grave health threats (both psychological and physical), providing a perfect breeding ground for viruses, bacteria, and fungi that can cause serious illnesses and even death in baby animals. (These health hazards also pose threats to human health; unknowing customers can pick up salmonellosis, ringworm, psittacosis, worms, scabies, and other zoonotic illnesses through contact with pet shop animals). There was often feces and urine in animal’s food, rendering it unfit for consumption, which could remain for hours at a time. Puppies and kittens often had feces-encrusted fur, which could remain untreated for days at a time.

Neglect

Code of Practice Breaches: 5.2.2.2, 5.2.2.3, 12.2.2.

I often witnessed sick and neglected animals, of which the staff and managers were aware of, being refused veterinary treatment when it was clearly needed.
Children and adults constantly wrapped on the cage windows and doors, and I never witnessed staff asking them not to.

When I reported signs of illness to the manager and to fellow employees (such as weight loss, excessive vocalisation, coughing, bloody diarrhoea, animals not eating, vomiting, runny eyes) I was usually told not to worry, and no action was taken.

Sick animals must not be kept in view of customers, so are usually kept in the pet shop back room. Sick animals kept in the back room are often placed on the floor or in precarious, unsafe positions, hidden among clutter, having to be surrounded by stressful loud noises and vibrations all day. I never saw any of these animals ever being given any attention or care.

Once when I was cleaning the back closet, I saw movement behind a huge box and realised there was a sick rabbit in a cage living there, which I hadn’t been told about, and thus hadn’t fed or watered. I didn’t know how long this hidden animal had gone without food and water for. This animal had an ear infection and its neck was twisted, making it difficult for it to eat and drink. When I made inquiries about its health and welfare they were ignored, and the rabbit eventually disappeared.

Hygiene

Code of Practice Breaches: 6.1.1.4, 6.1.2.4, 8.2.1.5.

I had been told by the manager that the shopping centre had a significant rat problem, and they had had problems with pest infestations before. Most of the food for all the animals is in open air containers, or unsealed cans or bags. While I was employed there was a moth infestation, and I asked whether I should dispose of the food that was contaminated and I was told not to. I asked what I should do to ensure the food didn’t get contaminated and was told not to worry. During every single one of my shifts none of the food had been safely stored or sealed to prevent contamination. In my time of employment the only times in which the food preparation and storage area was cleaned was when I did it personally.

Due to the risk of disease transmission (constant presence of food, feces, lots of different species of animals in contact with each other and with humans) the Code of Practise stipulates that staff must wear gloves or constantly sanitise their hands to ensure they are not passing illnesses from one animal to the other every time they clean a cage, touch an animal, pick up a bowl, etc.

This has very serious implications in some cases. For example, if one puppy has Parvovirus (a virus that easily affects and can have grave consequences for puppies), without proper sanitation it can quickly affect an entire pet store.

Due to this, I was wearing gloves and changing gloves between activities, though I was constantly told not to wear gloves as they cost $10 a box, even though without wearing them the health of the animals is compromised. In fact, one day I was purposely left with only three pairs of gloves to clean and feed all the animals in the store, meaning that I would be touching animals with contaminated hands for several hours, putting the health of every animal in store at risk. I was the only employee I ever saw wear gloves, and I seldom if ever saw employees wash their hands.

Food

Code of Practice Breaches: 6.2.1.1, 9.1.1, 9.1.2, 9.1.5, 9.1.7, 9.2.4, 13.1.4, 15.1.9, 15.2.8.

Food preparation, and the food preparation area, was completely unhygienic. Employees use their unwashed, glove-less fingers to mash and prepare food. The same fork was used to prepare all the food for all the different species everyday and was seldom washed. I never witnessed gloves being worn during food preparation.

The Code of Practice stipulates that animals must be fed a diet that is varied and suits each species nutritional needs. The rabbits, guinea pigs, and birds all require fresh fruit and vegetables in order to maintain a minimum standard of health. I observed these animals being given carrot on 1-2 occasions within a 2-3 month period.

The degree of unsanitary conditions in relation to food carries significant consequences for animals: given many of the animals are already immuno-suppressed, contaminated or expired food can lead to severe health problems.

The Code of Practice dictates that animals that are co-housed must be monitored during feeding; this is to guarantee that all animals are eating equal amounts, and that all animals are eating (sick animals often will not eat). However unless animals were specifically sick, there was no monitoring of animals to make sure they were eating enough, or to ensure that all had access to food. However I would often notice how within a certain cage some puppies would be much larger, and others much smaller and comparatively thin, so monitoring food was certainly a necessary procedure that was being overlooked. Similarly, despite the Code of Practice, not all food and water containers were cleaned and refilled daily, thus clean water was not always available, another very basic right denied to the animals in store.

DRP Comment:

Despite NSW having a Code of Practice for Pet Shops – the question remains: who is investigating and policing adherence to the COP? Where can we find out what breaches have been prosecuted and the outcomes?

What are the practicalities? How can members of the public even work out what is going on in a store? Does it take undercover investigators who are prepared to devote 3 months of their time to find out what is going on?

What is the point of having COP’s if no one is policing them?

To find out what was the outcome of this investigation and report to the RSPCA , please contact Steve Coleman, CEO RSPCA NSW

If you have direct information yourself, or know of any staff members of pet stores who have information and evidence that contravenes Code Of Practice in pet Shops, please write to us, and comment in the comment section below this post.

The link to Animal Lib website for this story, and more is http://173.236.242.143/news-events/latest-news/295-pet-shop-diaries.html?start=3

Another link to a pet shop dairy story is: http://173.236.242.143/news-events/latest-news/295-pet-shop-diaries.html?start=2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Undercover pet shop investigation

  1. cathryn Levvey August 28, 2011 / 5:51 pm

    Why have a code of practice if it is not going to be inforced.
    The conditions and operations of that pet shop are deplorable.
    I thought a pet shop was a saviour for puppies that have come from a puppy mill. Seems like the conditions are just as bad.
    I also don’t understand why a pet shop would sacrifice so many of their animals. They are a business after all.
    What was the outcome of the investigation?
    Did the pet shop get closed down?

  2. cherry Leonard August 29, 2011 / 1:28 pm

    have the locals who are concerned about these Pet Shop written to their local Council and State Pollies only those who are in power and want your vote have the capacitity to change things. The RSPCA is a charity who must be given proof before they act and even then if it does not suit them at the time it will be on the back burner
    A campaign picket line outside the store may alert the public, be prepared to be arrested
    Cherry, Cat Sterilisation Soc, WA

  3. Richard August 30, 2011 / 8:41 pm

    Is the current campaign against pet shops a result of a failure of enforcement?

  4. cathryn Levvey August 30, 2011 / 9:31 pm

    Pet shops that sell animals rely on getting their animals from puppy mills (farms).
    If we erradicate the means to sell these animals then we erradicate the source of where they come frome. Hopefully!!!
    Ban puppy mills. We want Oscar’s Law.

  5. Deathrowpets September 1, 2011 / 3:24 pm

    Reply to Richard comment. I keep trying to reinforce to people that there is not a campaign against pet shops. We have pet shop owners who are also campaigning against the sale of puppies and kittens sold n pet shops that come from breeders – puppy farms, back yard breeder sources. We need pet shops; those of us who have pets need to buy products and food etc, so we are all big supporters of the pet shops.To answer your question, there is no serious effort at enforcement. The COP’s are very weak, councils say they don’t have resources and RSPCA’s are seemingly not that interested in chasing things that hardly have any possibility of weight of redress against them. When you look at who advised governments in each State on the design and content of the COP, you will understand why they are so weak.

  6. Deathrowpets September 1, 2011 / 3:28 pm

    Comment on Cathryn’s comment – not just puppy farmers. Masses of backyard breeders – we were in one pet shop when a bogan woman walked in with a basket of pups and asked the owner “can you take these off my hands – only $100 each”. Also some registered breeders who don’t particularly care where their puppies and kittens end up.

  7. Lizzie McLachlan September 1, 2011 / 3:42 pm

    OMG that is just horrendous the shop should be shut down for good! It’s a disgrace! Sick of hearing such awful stories of how pet shop animals are mistreated etc, the sooner the government brings in that it is illegal to sell animals in pet shops the better. Backyard breeders & puppy farmers need to be shut down for good. Far too many wonderfully healthy unwanted animals are being euthanised each & every week in shelters/pounds – am sure a lot were impulse buys from pet shops. I would very much like to know what is happening with this store

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