By Daphna Nachminovitch, Vice President of Cruelty Investigations, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
Remember PETA's 2007 undercover investigation of Rainbow World Exotics (RWE), a hellhole in Hamilton, Texas, that supplies PETCO and PetSmart stores with little hamsters, gerbils, and other critters? Before going public with that investigation, we sat down with three PETCO corporate representatives (one of whom was a vet) and showed them heartbreaking footage of a worker who was castrating rabbits and bleaching their wounds, a manager who was stomping hamsters to death, live animals who were being tossed in the trash, a cockatoo who was starving and dying, and more. We were sure that PETCO would want nothing to do with RWE after seeing the footage of all this misery. Boy, were we wrong. PETCO (as well as PetSmart) stood by RWE, refused to sever ties, and insisted that things there were not so bad. We are quite sure that the animals would disagree. Up until now, we thought that we knew how low this massive pet-store giant was capable of stooping.
It turns out that we were wrong.
On Tuesday, PETCO put out a news release saying that it had "stepped up" and was "calling all small animal lovers" to "adopt" "more than 2,000 recently rescued animals" who are being held in the company's Dallas-area stores—animals who were among the 26,000 critters who were confiscated from yet another hellhole supplier, U.S. Global Exotics (USGE), after a PETA investigation uncovered horrific conditions there. USGE was a supplier to RWE. Many of the animals seized from USGE were ultimately bound for PETCO stores.
In the news release, a PETCO rep actually proclaimed, "We were appalled by the tragedy at U.S. Global Exotics …." That's rich! But not as rich as PETCO—the company made more than $2.5 billion in 2008 by selling animals from massive mills like RWE and USGE. And according the release, it looks like the company was poised to make a pretty profit off this "adoption" deal. All the money to be made from the adoptions and the application fees for the animals was set to go to the PETCO Foundation, while all of the money from the pet supplies a new parent needs to properly care for an animal would have lined the pockets of PETCO's CEOs. The money would not have gone to the thousands of animals from USGE who need homes. No, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of PETA and other nonprofit organizations that have been working around the clock to get these animals out of harm's way and to provide them with the basic necessities of which they have been deprived.
Veterinarians and humane agents found thousands of distressed animals confined at USGE, including hamsters and chinchillas who were packed into crowded crates without food or water. Such shipments arrived weekly, usually from the Netherlands, containing animals who would eventually end up for sale at pet stores such as PETCO and PetSmart.
This chinchilla was confined with no room to move in one of the dozens of shipping crates found on the day of the seizure at USGE. Part of a massive weekly shipment of mammals from the Netherlands, these animals had been trapped in shipping containers for at least two days without food or water.
Housing containers at USGE were not much different from shipping crates. USGE crammed dozens of hamsters into one litter pan, leaving them to fight and compete for space and other basic needs such as food and water—of which the animals were routinely deprived.
PETA's investigator took this photo in USGE's mammal room just five days before the surviving animals were finally rescued. Cannibalism, dehydration, starvation, and death were daily occurrences at USGE—an unavoidable consequence of the pet trade that is perpetuated by companies such as PETCO and PetSmart.
After PETA made a few phone calls, we were able to get the animals—including anoles, geckos, toads, snakes, iguanas, hermit crabs, long-tailed grass lizards, mice, hamsters, and frogs—removed from PETCO's clutches. We were promised that they would be placed with reputable groups. PETCO told local media that it was "extremely disappointed" after this absurd plan was halted (we bet!).
These animals are now safe, but PETCO's exploitation of animals will continue as long as the corporate giant continues to buy and sell animals. So what can you do? Tell everyone you know to chime in and demand that PETCO cease all live animal sales immediately!