Every once in a while, you come upon a not-so-good pet store, and less frequently, a really bad one. When you’ve found on of these, you’ll know it right away, both by sight and smell.
The worst pet store I have ever experienced was one just outside of Chicago sometime in the mid 80s. The minute I walked in I was bowled over by the smell of urine. It made my eyes water and I had to pull my turtleneck up over my nose so I could breath. I wanted to walk in a little further to get a good description of the conditions because I already knew I would be making some phone calls when I got home.
There was a box of puppies about five feet inside the door that were covered in feces. Further in was a litter of kittens crawling around inside a filthy, old claw foot tub. Their urine had run out through the drain opening and was puddled on magazines beneath the tub. I heard a familiar sound coming from the back of the store.
The macaw had only a small water cup that was caked with grime around the sides. It looked as though someone just tossed new water in on top of the old everyday. There was an inch thick layer of sunflower seed shells littering the cage bottom mixed with a good month’s worth of accumulated dander. The air quality was better in the back of the store because a back door was left open. However, it was winter and far too cold for a bird.
I felt a huge lump rising up in my throat and I left in a hurry because I knew the tears were on their way. I went back to my car and sobbed. When I got home I made phone calls complaining to anyone who would listen. I doubt mine was the only call the authorities had received about this store – it was that bad. Within a year it was gone.
Times have changed. Animal cruelty laws have changed. But the penalties for breaking these laws generally amounts to nothing more the proverbial slap on the wrist. Animals in need die while waiting for the courts to process paper work. Sometimes we citizens have to push hard to move certain matters along.
The thing is, walking away is exactly what we MUST do, as hard as it is. When we see an animal that is suffering in a retail situation, you have to think for a moment about the mind set of the store owner. Obviously animals are regarded merely as merchandise and the only loss he would feel should they die in his care is a financial one.
So one day you walk into this store, and see a young yellow naped amazon sitting in a small, dirty cage, with a bowl of seed hulls and water with a layer of scum forming over the top. The store has an entire wall stocked with toys, yet the amazon has none.You see some young children taunting the bird through the cage bars and none of the employees intervene. Finally, you’ve had enough and you whip out the credit card.
You go home with your rescued amazon, puffed up with pride for a good deed done. Another life saved! A couple of days later, in the cage that once housed your amazon is a young african grey. Inadvertently, and with the best of intentions at heart, you have helped this store thrive by giving it your business. When you save one bird by purchasing it, you just create an opening for another potential victim.
The only way to stop the cycle of abuse is to walk away empty handed. Yes, it is very hard and your heart will ache each and every time. But try to appease your conscience by making the appropriate phone calls to the animal welfare groups and by convincing others not to patronize this establishment through whatever means you can muster. A business cannot stay afloat without customers and their money. It is the only way to stop this cruelty.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.