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Celebrate National Bird Day


Humane Holiday Shopping Guide

Published 09/15/04
Source: Animal Issues, Volume 35 Number 3, Fall 2004

Pet Shop Prisons

What’s a better gift than an adorable new friend from a pet store? Just about anything!

Pet shops purposely target warm-hearted passersby by placing irresistible “inventory” — puppies, kittens, rabbits, and birds — on prominent display. Few consumers realize, however, that by patronizing a store that sells animals, they are supporting profit-driven exploitation.

The fact is, in a retail environment, animals must be viewed as commodities in order for the store to realize a profit. But animals are living, feeling beings that should never be treated like mere merchandise.

Some animals are shipped to pet stores over long distances, which can be intensely stressful and can cause illness and injury to the animals before they reach the sales floor. In recognition of this fact, many pet stores have “Dead-On-Arrival” allowances built into their budget to cover monetary losses resulting from deliveries of dead or otherwise unsalable animals. Some pet stores claim that they hold their suppliers accountable for the condition of animals by refusing shipments of sick or injured animals. But is it really ethical to send such animals back to the supplier like “damaged goods,” rather than providing them with veterinary care and finding them homes?

To make matters worse, animals housed in retail pet facilities are not afforded protection by the federal Animal Welfare Act (legislation passed in 1966 and amended in 1970, 1976, 1985, 1990, and 2002 that extends protection to certain warm-blooded animals maintained by particular animal dealers, transporters, exhibitors, and research facilities). In the absence of federal regulation, each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia has enacted its own anti-cruelty statutes with variable degrees of protection offered to animals.

To date, 24 states have enacted laws that establish some form of humane care standards for animals kept at pet shops. The quality and the scope of these laws vary from state to state, as does enforcement. For example, only five states (Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, New Hampshire, Virginia) specifically require that sick or injured animals receive veterinary care. And while 14 states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia) and the District of Columbia prohibit the sale of some unweaned animals (animals too young to feed themselves), most limit the restriction to puppies and kittens under the age of eight weeks, and only one state (California, in a bill sponsored by API) restricts the sale of unweaned birds, despite the serious animal welfare concerns associated with this practice.

Many of the laws that do exist do not go far enough in defining “cruelty.” Animal welfare organizations frequently receive reports of incidents involving substandard care of animals in pet shops. Unfortunately, too often conditions that seem cruel and inappropriate do not actually violate any laws of the state in which the store is located. Moreover, many complaints come from employees or other individuals who “don’t want to get too involved”; yet without their direct testimony or evidence in the form of photographs, videotape, or other witnesses, such situations will likely go unnoticed by the appropriate enforcement agencies. Sadly, even if violations are reported to law enforcement agencies, too few are adequately investigated or result in charges being filed.

The care of animals in pet shops should always be suspect, as store managers are often faced with conflicting responsibilities of tending to the store’s bottom line while also caring for animals — even when the animals are sick. The cost of veterinary care can easily exceed the commercial value of an animal. In a retail environment, profits and animal care inherently conflict.

For some animals, suffering and risk do not end at the point of sale. Individuals who purchase animals in pet stores often do so out of impulse, without fully understanding the commitment required to provide lifelong care for the animal. Only one state (California) requires that information on the care and feeding of animals sold be supplied by pet stores to purchasers. As a result of human irresponsibility, thousands of animals are surrendered to local shelters and rescues each year, only to be destroyed due to a lack of space, funds, and adoptive homes. Moreover, many species sold by pet stores require specialized care that very few people are capable of providing — leading to a lifetime of suffering for the animals.

If you are considering acquiring a companion animal for a loved one as a gift, first be sure that the intended recipient is truly prepared to commit to caring for the animal. Then, make the compassionate choice: Rather than purchasing an animal from a pet shop, adopt one from a shelter or rescue group. These animals — and the organizations that find them permanent, loving homes — need your support during the holiday season, and all year long!

What You Can Do:

  • Support pet shops that do not sell live animals. Let API know which pet shops in your area do not sell animals; we’ll send them a “Thank You” note and will let other advocates know where they can shop for companion animal supplies without compromising their conscience. Email store information to us at advocacy@bornfreeusa.org or call 916-447-3085 x210.
  • Ask the major pet store retail chains to stop selling animals. Tell them to assist customers in finding companion animals through referral, and by working with animal rescue groups and humane societies instead of treating living beings like mere merchandise. The major U.S. pet retail chains include:

PETCO, which operates more than 570 stores in 42 states and the District of Columbia. It sells birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and small mammals, including rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits.


Brian K. Devine, Chair and CEO
9125 Rehco Rd.
San Diego, CA 92121

PETsMART, Inc., which operates more than 560 outlets in the U.S. and Canada. It sells birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and small mammals, including rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits.


Phil Francis, CEO
19601 North 27th Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85027

Petland, which is a major retailer of puppies, kittens, birds, reptiles, fish, and small mammals, including rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits. It operates 123 stores in the U.S. and 57 foreign outlets.


Petland Corporate Offices
250 Riverside Street
P.O. Box 1606
Chillicothe, OH 45601

While some people feel that consumerism plays too large a role in the holiday season, the tradition of “shopping till you drop” isn’t likely to fade anytime soon. Perhaps the best response, then, is to consume conscientiously.

After all, Webster’s Dictionary defines “consumerism” as “the promotion of the consumer’s interests.” Put a little differently, the way we spend our money communicates our beliefs, values, and interests. Share your vision of a cruelty-free world by shopping with compassion this holiday season and throughout the year.

Remember, with consumer power comes consumer responsibility. Please, shop wisely and compassionately. API and the animals thank you!


  1. Horyn, C. “In Milan, Elvis is royalty and Prada is queen.” New York Times, March 1, 2004, B:8.
  2. “‘Democratization’ of fur: Women are whimsy, action or eclectic, says the Fur Council of Canada’s Alan Herscovici.” Fur World, April 29, 2002. www.furcommission.com/resource/perspect999be.htm.
  3. Mason, P. “Sealskin fashion to boost Canada’s fur trade.” BBC News, May 11, 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3682191.stm.
  4. Ibid.

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