Here’s What You Need to Know Before Going to the Pet Store

As a pet columnist for a family magazine, parents would tell me that they added pets to the family to teach their children love and respect for animals and to give them a sense of responsibility. Many of these families adopted dogs from shelters because they didn’t want to support puppy mills. However, when it came to other animal companions, they would often go to the local pet store. Like most people, these parents didn’t realize that dogs aren’t the only animals suffering horrible abuses in mills that supply pet stores.

A review by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) of USDA inspection reports reveals abuses of a wide variety of animals bred for the pet trade including cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, birds and ferrets. Those abuses included a cattery full of expired medications, which could leave the kittens exposed to deadly diseases, and a small animal dealer with more than 2,000 hamsters and other small pets inside cages that had reportedly not been cleaned in weeks. It also included sick hamsters being treated without a veterinary consult and 11 guinea pigs being housed inside a tub only large enough for four. Ferrets and chinchillas were kept in cages without enough room to stand up and rabbits were living in overcrowded enclosures less than nine inches tall.

Girl Holding Guinea Pig In Pet Store

Most parents don’t realize that dogs aren’t the only the only animals suffering in mills that supply pet stores.

Last year animal cruelty charges were filed against Holmes Farm in Montgomery County, PA after USDA investigators spent several days on the farm following the release of undercover investigation footage by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The mill kept thousands of hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and other species to supply large pet chains. PETA’s video footage included scenes of bins with dead guinea pigs; loose cats that PETA said preyed on hamsters, mice and rats; and live rats stuffed in a plastic bag and placed in a freezer. And as poor as conditions are for the many of the animals in USDA-licensed facilities, they are even worse in bird and reptile mills according to the HSUS. These facilities are not subject to USDA licensing or inspections, and birds and cold-blooded animals often spend their lives without sufficient space, vet care, fresh air and sunlight.

Parrots for sale By purchasing birds from pet stores you are supporting mills where thousands of birds are suffering behind the scenes.

Why are mills that are charged with animal cruelty violations still in operation?

“It’s difficult for the USDA to shut down a puppy mill or pet breeder mill of any kind,” said Kathleen Summers, the director of outreach and research for the HSUS’ Puppy Mills Campaign. “Usually they have to go through a long judicial process and document a long-term pattern of abuse of a person not meeting the basic Animal Welfare Act care standards.”

The best way for pet lovers to stop pet mills and the abuse of animals is to not purchase pets from pet stores according to the major animal welfare organizations.

“We need to take the profit motive out of these operations or they are never going to go away,” Summers said. “If fewer people purchase their animals from pet stores then the pet stores will make less and less of a profit, and they will realize it’s not profitable to sell live animals at all. When that happens mills will have to go out of business.”

How to find a perfect match without supporting pet mills:

After you’ve done your research and know that you really have the time, space and dedication to make a lifelong commitment to a particular species, there are thousands of animals in need of new homes. Check your local animal shelter or go on Petfinder.com and search for other shelters near you to see if they have a good match. In addition, there are private rescues dedicated to finding homes for almost every kind of animal including hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, mice and rabbits. Most of these groups post profiles of pets needing homes on Petfinder or you can find them via a Google search.

If you’ve exhausted all of the above and still cannot find the right match, you can go to a local reputable breeder where you can see for yourself how the animals are being raised and treated. If you find a local breeder is mistreating pets, be sure to report this abuse to your local animal control agency.

What else you can do to help put an end to pet mills:

    • In addition to never purchasing a pet from a pet store, also never purchase from the Internet or from flea markets as you don’t know where these animals are coming from. Summers said the HSUS gets complaints all the time about mill animals being sold on Craigslist.
    • Many shelters and rescue groups work to educate the public about pet mill abuses and they take in pet mill rescues and find them homes. If you can’t adopt a pet consider fostering, making a financial donation or volunteering.
    • Summers suggests concerned citizens get to know their law makers and write, call or follow them on social media and let them know that you want to see more laws protecting mill animals. Tell them you want them to support more laws that require the USDA to have tougher licensing standards, including for people selling animals online. Also, ask for tougher state laws for backyard breeders that would require them to be licensed and inspected.

The USDA is considering making it harder for people who aren’t complying with the animal welfare act to renew their licenses and has just opened a public comment period where people can weigh in.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for members of the public to comment directly to the USDA in support of these changes,” Summers said. “For people who do plan to comment, I urge them to be polite as this is a great opportunity to support a positive change.”

Please note: Public comments will be posted on the USDA’s website so don’t include personal contact information. The comment period will close on October 23, 2017.

The public may also write to: Docket No. APHIS-2017-0062, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

40 comments

Beth M
Beth M22 days ago

Don't go to the pet shop. Go to the animal shelter.

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Sue H
Sue Habout a month ago

One of our chain pet stores has adoptions from local shelters once a month. Another has shelter cats for adoption but won't stop selling parakeets and cockatiels. With so many rescues full to overflowing, there is no need to buy from a pet store. Adopt.

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Margie F
Margie FOURIEabout a month ago

I adopt.

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Aaron F
Aaron Fabout a month ago

All you need to know is what supplies you need for the pets you ADOPTED from a shelter.

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Paulo Reeson
Paulo Rabout a month ago

adopt don't shop, ty

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Danuta W
Danuta W1 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Marija M
Marija M1 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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iloshechka A
iloshechka A1 months ago

thanks

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Elaine W
Elaine W1 months ago

I had Hambone the Hampster from a neighbor as a pet when I was in 3rd grade. How I loved that little creature. Now I know his solitary life was probably not so great.

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Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara1 months ago

I went to our local large pet store and it only had goods and food, no pets.

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