Let me begin by saying that, as a pet rat owner and fancier, I detest the mill-style breeding that Rainbow Exotics practices. As a result of these conditions, as well as the treatment of animals seen in stores, I avoid shopping at Petco or Petsmart whenever possible. In general, I prefer Petsmart if I must choose to shop at a chain pet store that sells live animals, because they keep only one gender of mammals at a time and do not sell live feeders. However, I was forced to enter Petco today due to a crisis– no cat litter left, and Petsmart was out of our brand– and was pleased to see some changes occurring.
Changes at Local Petco Stores
I spoke to an employee after seeing signs indicating that the small animal assortment was being reorganized. She told me that her store would no longer sell rabbits (score one!), would be removing most female animals to prevent accidental litters (score two!) and reducing their numbers of live animals overall (score three!).
I congratulated her on the changes and made clear that I have taken my business elsewhere for over a year since losing a very dear rat originally from Petco to cancer at 11 months of age. Irresponsible mill breeding leads to health problems, and rats are particularly vulnerable to illnesses with a genetic component, like cancer. I also wrote a letter to Petco Corporate, thanking them for the positive changes and challenging Petco to take a committment to ethical and humane treatment of animals even further by eliminating the sale of live animals entirely, using the space for adoptions instead. Should Petco eliminate the sale of live feeder rodents, or even move to adoptions only (as some “test stores” within the chain already have), I would be glad to take my shopping for over 20 pets back to Petco.
Why It’s Important
So why do I care so much about whether or not Petco sells live feeders, or sells live animals at all? First, because no animal deserves to be subjected to the conditions present in warehouse breeders’ facilities, which supply chain stores. Second, because no owner deserves to grieve a pet that has gone to the Bridge before its time due to a condition that wouldn’t occur in a responsibly bred pet. Third, because live feeding is dangerous and cruel, both for the diner and his dinner. Fourth and finally, because there is no good reason for pet stores to continue the sale of live small animals.
Live pets are a money-losing proposition. The store spends more money on employees’ wages to care for them, purchase and transportation of the animals, bedding, displays, and feed, than they will gain through the sale of any live pet offered in most stores, with the possible exception of parrots. However, many parrots take months to find buyers in chain stores due to their high price tags and often poor socialization, eliminating any financial benefit to carrying them.
So why carry them? Well, because customers want them, and because it brings shoppers into the store, who then purchase other items. Buying a hamster means buying a cage, bedding, food, water bottle, and house, at the very minimum, and all of these items do make money for the store. A mother brings her child in to “just look” at the pets, and walks out with an entire setup, and the store makes a big sale.
Balancing Profit with Ethics
But there’s a workable alternative that provides all these benefits to the store, without the up front cost of live animals, and is both humane and ethical. In fact, both Petco and Petsmart have tested the concept in a few newer stores! (Source: Pet Industry News Magazine)
Stores can use ethical practices without cutting their bottom line by dedicating the same space and employee resources formerly dedicated to the sale of pets to adoptions through local rescue groups. As I said in my recent post, “Top 5 Myths About Pet Adoption,” most every species currently sold in retail stores can be found in shelters and rescues, available for adoption. Humane organizations would, under this plan, bring adoptable pets to retail stores and make them available for adoption after approval of an adoption application and the signature of an adoption contract.
In addition, pet stores could maintain lists of local hobby breeders willing to accept applications for adoption from these stores’ customers. While it would be difficult to adequately screen each breeder for humane and ethical practices before listing them with the store, it is nigh impossible for a private breeder to create conditions less humane than those in warehouses currently serving national chain stores. In addition, buying directly from even a somewhat undesirable breeder at least saves the pet the transport stress of shipping, acclimation to a store, diet changes, and all the other stressors associated with the current system.
A more humane and ethical system is possible without infringing on a person’s right to own the pets of their choice, a business’s need to make a profit, and without any loss of jobs in the pet supply industry. The only ones who stand to lose anything are warehouse and mill breeders, and, frankly, I’d like to see them take a loss as a result of failing to listen to years of animal lovers’ complaints about conditions at their facilities. The business model that places profit at any cost over even the merest concession to the needs of living creatures is outdated and should be taken out with yesterday’s rubbish.
What You Can Do
Write to Petco. Call 1-888-824-PALS and tell them you’re glad many stores will be reducing their small animal inventory, and that you want to see even bigger changes– the total elimination of live feeder sales, and expansion of adoption programs with an eye toward future elimination of all live animal sales in Petco stores. If you see your local Petco reducing inventory and going to single-sex displays, thank the manager.
It’s a delight to be able to encourage readers to compliment Petco, rather than to complain to them. There is a real opportunity to influence the future business model, and I hope my fellow small animal fanciers will take that opportunity.