What to do when you find animals in substandard conditions at a pet store


ALDF Suggests: What to do when you find animals in substandard conditions at a pet store

You go into a pet store to buy some delicious treats for your oh-so-adorable companion animal, only to find out that the store is not only selling live animals–which can be in and of itself upsetting–but that the store is keeping these animals in appalling conditions. What can you do?

It helps to be methodical in these situations. Start by documenting your findings in a detailed journal noting dates, locations, and specific problems, including photographs and video whenever possible. Things to look for are sanitation, physical health of the animals, and overcrowding. Also note if the store is selling wild or exotic animals. Educate yourself about any applicable laws and have them on hand to show to law enforcement when you approach them to request an investigation.

Bring your documentation and copies of applicable laws to your local law enforcement agency–such an agency would be your local humane agencies such as the humane society, SPCA, or animal control. If your community does not have this type of agency, law enforcement would be the sheriff or police department.

It is an unfortunate reality that the regulation of retail pet stores is painfully lax. Less than half of all states require pet stores to operate under a license. In the states that do require a license, a business owner must apply for the license, which is usually granted by the state’s Department of Agriculture. Pet store license applications often inquire about the proposed methods of sanitization, animal housing, waste management plans, and whether veterinary care will be provided to the animals. Very few states actually address all of these categories. (“In-Depth Overview of Retail Pet Stores,” Animal Legal & Historical Center, Michigan State University College of Law).

The regulatory or oversight agency may offer a complaint process. Contact your state’s Department of Agriculture to inquire about the regulatory agencies responsible for oversight of the pet stores in your state. Laws that should apply are state anti-cruelty statutes and health regulations. If the store sells wild or exotic animals, the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) also applies.

Agencies responsible for issues of sanitation are the State Department of Health or the State Department of Environment. If the store sells wild or exotic animals, also contact the United States Department of Agriculture/Animal and Plant Inspection Services (USDA/APHIS). To submit a complaint to the USDA, visit their website at www.aphis.usda.gov and use their online complaint form.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund does not have an investigative unit, so it is imperative that you urge law enforcement and all other relevant oversight and/or regulatory agencies to fully investigate the facility in question. If the overseeing agency is non-responsive, consider circulating a petition demanding that the abusive conditions be immediately corrected. Consider enlisting the help of the local media (newspapers, radio and television stations) to publicize the situation. If you decide to initiate a local campaign, such as picketing the business, handing out flyers about the situations in the store, etc., make sure you have all of the facts to back-up any public statements that you make.

If you bought an animal from a pet store and that animal is now sick or dead, you may have recourse through the courts. If this applies to you, see ALDF’s information about consumer protection and wrongful death or injury of an animal.

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