Have you ever felt trapped in life’s cage like there’s no safe place to turn? Stuck in a position where you have no control and you’re isolated from the outside world? Well there’s news, you’re not alone! In fact, these fears are quite similar to an average day for a Petco, PetSmart, and other large pet shop animal. But let’s take a moment to put our problems into perspective, as no person reading this article is physically in a cage. Meanwhile, breeders, puppy mills, and pet shops are all fanning the flames of the companion animal overpopulation crisis, leaving the other millions of shelter animals to die by euthanization, or suffer through an endless wait to find a home. If you think the trauma experienced by these animals starts with the shelters, you’ve been misled. The modern pet trade is a long and cruel journey, beginning from the moment an animal is ripped away from its family.
According to the ASPCA’s Shelter Intake and Surrender Pet Statistics, approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter shelters nationwide every year. These are the “leftovers” from the cruel profiteering of the pet trade industry, and 2.7 million of these animals, combined with countless more lost pets and strays, will be euthanized each year.
Don’t let Petco and PetSmart fool you. While these two big brands have left the sale of dogs and cats to stores like Shake A Paw and Worldwide Puppies and Kittens, they’ve continued to sell other animals like various species of reptiles, tropical birds, hedgehogs, sugar gliders, and ferrets. Although both pet retailers offer vague numbers on their annual exotic animal sales, the figures are estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands per year.
When you’ve walked into one of these large pet shops to purchase your next furry or feathery friend, did you ever wonder where these animals came from and how they got there? A recent article released by The Dodo shares information from a three-month undercover investigation by PETA. The investigation included a close look into Holmes Farm, a large Pennsylvania breeder that supplies animals to pet store chains across the country like Petco, PetSmart, and Pet Supplies Plus. Animals were packed into small wire cages that would cut into their feet, and they were often found in the company of other dead animals. Thousands were found being stored in plastic bins.
While these are only some of the horrifying conditions that the animals endure, where they come from is only half of the equation. A Huffington Post article about shipping live fish displayed an array of photographs taken by a pet store employee. His goal was to shed light on how betta fish are handled by fish suppliers. The pictures revealed that the fish arrive in small, individual plastic bags which are packed into cardboard boxes. What little water was found in each bag also contained a bluish tint, which was later identified as “fish-calming solution” by Bryan Epstein, a Florida based retailer of Blue Betta USA. “We use a tranquilizer/stress reducer to ship fish. Depending on the size and type will dictate the size of the bag, amount of water, and pure oxygen.” Betta fish can originally be found in the native, shallow, warm waters of Asia. Though this is but one example of the mistreatment animals receive on the road to big brand pet stores, it’s enough to grasp the situation at hand.
The problem begins with the mass production and availability of these exotic creatures, and it oftentimes ends with the euthanization of an animal because they were no longer desired past a certain age. Most families who purchase these animals to be the new house pet will take little time to research how they need to be cared for, or even what their behavior is like in a household environment. But we cannot compare a sugar glider or a tropical bird to a cat or dog, when the needs of these exotic animals are more specialized than those of the everyday house pet. Regardless of the cage they may be stored in due to their small size, the animal remains undomesticated. Once someone realizes that they aren’t capable of caring for their animal, the pet is returned or is forced to join the millions of forgotten animals in the shelters, and the cycle continues.
The fact that places like Petco and PetSmart have made the choice to continue selling these creatures, is an issue of ethics, and a complete disregard to the well-being of these animals who were meant to roam free in their native lands, rather than being stored in a plastic bin and becoming a caged pocket pet. What’s more, the process of the pet trade and a caged life will cause most of these animals to suffer from physical, emotional, and mental health problems.
“Whether captive-bred or trapped, these animals retain the same physical and psychological traits that have enabled them to survive in the wild. Many, therefore, suffer from captivity-related stress and illness,” states Denise Kelly, Co-Founder and President of the Avian Welfare Coalition.
So what can be done to make light of a dark situation? We the human race can do better. If you’re interested in adding a new animal member to your family, please decide on adoption from a shelter where the animal’s best interest always comes first. Places like petfinder.com make it their goal to eliminate the euthanasia of adoptable pets with a directory of nearly 14,000 listed animal shelters and organizations, ranging across the U.S, Mexico, and Canada.
And remember, you’re not deciding if the animal is right for you, but if you’re the right choice for the animal.