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Articles:

All the Way to the Governor’s Desk

Published 12/31/06
Source: Animal Issues, Volume 37 Number 4, Winter 2006

Martin Buber, the great philosopher, translator, and educator, said, “An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.” In California, if we could translate that language, what we would all too often see in the eyes of pet store animals is pain and suffering.

API has received many complaints from people who bought animals at pet stores and then, heartbroken, find that the animals are ill, sometimes even near death. These complaints spurred API to conduct an undercover investigation of 64 pet stores in four key California cities.

API’s investigation revealed that pet-store animals are often denied the most elemental standards of care. Substandard conditions included sick puppies kept in pens contaminated by manure runoff from other animals; injured animals, including birds with severe head trauma and missing limbs; and animals suffering from obvious illnesses — all of these animals were on the sales floor.

Other Findings

The findings of API’s investigation, while conducted independently, are consistent with the substandard conditions documented by the City and County of San Francisco at two Petco stores. Animal Control officials repeatedly cited the San Francisco Petco stores for failure to provide basic care to the animals sold there, only to find that conditions at the stores had not improved. After three years of issuing citations, the City of San Francisco filed a civil suit for unfair business practices against Petco, and sought a court order to halt the company’s sale of live animals.

The City alleged in its suit that animals were put to death in the freezer, that ill animals suffered and even died without veterinary care, that animal cages were littered with feces, and that animals were housed in overcrowded and improperly equipped cages. The City resorted to the filing of a civil suit because animal cruelty laws are ineffectual when applied to pet stores.

Ultimately, the suit was successful. Fines of $50,000 were assessed against Petco and the court issued an injunction. Now, six years after the City first began citing Petco for problems, the injunction finally has expired as conditions at the stores have improved.

Drafting a Law

All of these incidents point to deficiencies in state law. In 2006 the California Legislature had the opportunity to alleviate the most egregious suffering of animals in the state’s pet stores. API drafted AB 2862 — authored by Assemblymember Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-48) — to specifically address the most commonly encountered problems with animal care at pet stores.

AB 2862 required:

  • Veterinary treatment to alleviate pain and suffering and to prevent the spread of disease
  • Humane euthanasia procedures
  • Clean cages
  • Clean food and water dishes
  • Enough space to maintain health and comfort
  • Access to chew items to keep teeth from over-growing
  • Records of animals sold to prevent the sale of smuggled wild animals
  • Protection for all animals sold in pet stores, not merely dogs and cats.

AB 2862 sailed through the Assembly side of the state Legislature despite strident opposition from Petco and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), an organization that represents the interests of the retail pet industry. Petco and PIJAC each hired a lobbying firm specifically to fight AB 2862, each spending $45,000 on lobbying fees alone.

Vehement Arguments

Petco and PIJAC argued vehemently that they should not be required to provide veterinary care for sick or injured animals. Because Petco’s own policies do not require that care actually be provided to sick or injured animals, the retail giant resisted this becoming a state-mandated requirement.

Petco and PIJAC argued against the humane euthanasia requirement in AB 2862 because they specifically want to be able to continue placing live animals in freezers as a method of killing them.

And Petco and PIJAC argued vociferously against the provisions which would have ensured adequate cage space for the animals. Instead, they countered with cage size standards that would only have codified cruelty, including one proposal that would have allowed 156 mice in a single cage.

Finally, Petco repeatedly insisted that all of the standards in AB 2862 — including veterinary care for sick and injured animals and humane euthanasia methods only — be nullified in the event of a disaster. Petco stated that if a disaster occurred, it wanted to avoid being charged with animal cruelty if it abandoned its stores and left the animals inside.

On His Desk

AB 2862 worked its way through the legislative process in 2006 and, after being significantly amended, reached the Governor’s desk for his signature. The bill gave the state oversight authority of the pet store industry for the first time. It required the state to enact regulations by January 1, 2008. The intent behind AB 2862 was to regulate clear, measurable standards fully addressing the most frequently encountered problems, including the lack of veterinary care to injured and ill animals, a lack of proper sanitation, and overcrowded and barren cages.

The retail sale of live animals nationwide is a billion-dollar industry. Animal abuse and neglect occur in retail establishments because managers and employees have the often-conflicting responsibilities of making a store profitable while properly caring for its inventory of animals. But when faced with a choice between the bottom line and animal welfare, the bottom line usually prevails. AB 2862 was an opportunity to obtain state regulations that would result in better care of these animals.

On September 29, 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed API’s California pet store bill, AB 2862. If the bill had been signed into law, it would have been a step forward in protecting animals caught in the chain of misery associated with the retail “pet” industry.

While this is obviously a disappointing outcome given the enormous effort that went into moving this bill forward, the bright side is that we were able to take on a very wealthy and profitable industry and get to the Governor’s desk on our first attempt. We have also revealed the problems associated with this industry and have helped to advance this issue in the public dialogue. The next step is to look forward and map out a strategy for future actions.

Thank you to each of you who actively supported this legislation. This bill would not have advanced without your letters, calls, emails, appearances at legislative hearings, and spreading the word to friends and relatives. We can all be very proud of our efforts and what was accomplished.

You can help! Your tax-deductible donation to API helps support important programs such as our Pet Shop legislation. You can donate online, or by calling API at 1-800-348-7387.


Enrichment for Rodents

Stress and crowding animals can increase disease outbreak and transmission, and decrease the overall health and welfare of the animal. Crowding and inability to express natural behavior are probably the most common factors contributing to stress in captive rodents.

Multiple scientific studies show that stress, fear, and maladaptive or stereotypic behaviors in confined rodents can be reduced by providing adequate space and enrichment devices (chewing devices, climbing apparatuses) that increase the complexity of the environment and allow for the expression of natural behavior. The provision of cover-providing structures or “hide boxes” has been shown to be especially beneficial.

Despite the relative ease of providing basic enrichment items and sufficient space, an alarming number of retail pet stores house rodents in overcrowded barren containers.

In the case of rats and mice, pet shops often argue that because the animals are to be sold as food for reptiles their welfare is of no concern.

However, compassionate minded people believe that animals should be treated humanly regardless of their ultimate fate. API’s model pet shop legislation includes specific provisions, supported by veterinarians and the scientific literature that provide for the welfare of these animals.

Enrichment for Birds

Parrots have been shown to have high-level cognitive abilities and have been likened to primates and human toddlers in terms of their intelligence and in terms of their psychological and social needs. These capabilities may be an important factor in the apparent high susceptibility of parrots to developing abnormal behavior in captivity.

Stereotypies are abnormal, repetitive, unvarying, and functionless behaviors that are often performed by captive and domesticated animals housed in barren or restricted environments. Stereotypies are mostly absent in the wild, and are relatively infrequent in large, environmentally enriched enclosures. Stereotypic behavior is often considered an indicator of poor welfare. Common stereotypies performed by captive birds include incessant pacing, head bobbing, or bar biting. Parrots may also pluck out their own feathers or pick their own skin causing sores and bleeding.

Scientific studies have shown that environmental enrichment and sufficient space can significantly reduced the development and performance of such behaviors in captive birds.

API’s model pet shop legislation includes provisions requiring pet shops to provide environmental enrichment and meet minimum cage size requirements. The pet industry continues to fight even these modest requirements for birds.


Petco’s Dirty Hands

When we work on legislation to improve the welfare of animals, we always expect resistance from those who seek to gain financially from the exploitation of animals. The pet shop legislation was no exception.

Leading the fight against AB 2862 was retail giant Petco. While Petco claims publicly that at Petco, “Animals Always Come First,” Petco hired a lobbying firm to fight AB 2862, despite the fact that many of the requirements set forth in the original language of the bill were equivalent or less stringent than the in-store policies Petco stores ostensibly follow.

So, why the violent opposition from Petco to regulations that would have benefitted the animals it publicly claims to care so much about?

A glimpse into Petco’s history and recent actions flies in the face of its public image:.

  • June 2002: Petco pulls its support for California SB 1357, a bill requiring pet retailers to provide written instructions with each sale of animal for the care, housing, equipment, cleaning, environment, and feeding of that animal. Nevertheless the bill is unanimously passed by the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions Committee on June 18 and even picks up two co-sponsors.
  • June 2002: The City of San Francisco files suit over the conditions in two San Francisco area Petco stores. The case comes after 3 years of complaints, citations, and various allegations including placing live animals in the freezer.
  • March 2003: Petco opposes California AB 202, a bill to protect young parrots by requiring that parrots be weaned (able to eat on their own) before release from a pet shop, and that pet shops must have at least one employee trained in the care and feeding of young birds. The bill passes despite Petco’s adamant opposition.
  • August 2005: Petco allegedly locks up its New Orleans store with the animals still inside as flood waters approached. Police pick the lock on the store and the animals are rescued.
  • February 2006: Petco begins its attack on AB 2862, the California “Animal Protection Act.”
  • August 2006: Petco is sold to an investment firm for almost $1.7 billion.

What You Can Do. Compare Petco’s marketing propaganda with its actions. If your hard-earned dollars represent your votes, do you want to vote in support of Petco’s past behavior? Or do you want to find a more deserving outlet for your vote?

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