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VACTF Manual: Chapter 5 - Special Cases

Pet Store Complaint


People may call and complain about the conditions that exist at a local pet store. The complaints may range from overcrowded cages to outright animal abuse.

Because the animals in pet stores are all generally visible to the public, in one sense the case is easier to address; on the other hand, because the pet store is a business and someone's livelihood, it must be treated very carefully.

Title 20, Chapter 199 (Sale of Dogs and Cats), Section 4301 (3) defines a "pet dealer" as "any person, firm, partnership or corporation, or a representative or agent, who engages in the sale of more than one litter of animals per year or two or more animals over six months of age to consumers for monetary consideration. Breeders of animals who sell animals to the public are included in this definition; except that duly incorporated humane societies or animal shelters which make animals available for adoption are exempt."

The Department of Agriculture has enforcement authority over pet stores, and should be contacted for licensing status (or lack thereof) and for any information on possible previous violations of Title 20.

The USDA regulates wholesalers of animals (those supplying pets to retail stores for resale) and should be contacted as well. They also regulate the possession and sale of "pocket pets" like sugar gliders, hedge hogs, prairie dogs, etc.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

  • Overcrowding, too many puppies or kittens to a cage
  • Cages not clean, feces piled up
  • Lack of clean water and food
  • Animals with hair loss, body sores
  • Animals are lethargic
  • Birds have overgrown beaks because they have nothing to gnaw on.

What to do

  1. Contact the Department of Agriculture to check on licensing status and for information on any previous violations.

  2. Investigate the complaint. Examine the conditions that appear in plain view.

  3. If an animal appears to be suffering to a point where you believe exigent circumstances exist, contact an appropriate law enforcement agency for assistance.

    • Issue the person responsible with a citation.

    • Contact the local humane agency, seize the animal and have the humane agency take it to a veterinarian.

    • Obtain a signed statement from the veterinarian regarding the condition of the animal and photograph the animal.

  4. If the animals you see in plain view appear to be neglected, but they are not in danger of dying, discuss the situation with the owner or employees. Ask him how the animals got in this state.

    • Inform the owner what needs to be done to correct the situation and provide him with a written list.

    • Tell him you will return in a day or so to see if the situation has been corrected.

  5. If the situation has not improved on the day you return:

    • Obtain a search warrant.

    • Call the local humane society, law enforcement agency and a veterinarian to assist you.

    • Return to the pet store and have the humane society remove the animals.

    • Issue the person(s) responsible with a citation.

    • Take photographs at the scene of the animals, their cages, food/water bowls, etc. (See also pg 7 in Chapter 1, Be Prepared, "Photographic Evidence and pg 266 in Appendix IV, Fact Sheets and Articles, "Ten Top Tips for Photography, Videography").

    • Have the veterinarian sign a statement as to the condition of the animal(s) and take photographs of the animals at the veterinarian's office.

NOTE: If the pet store has a bad reputation with regard to treatment of animals, but you do not see evidence in plain view that would substantiate the complaint, consider sending someone undercover to work in the pet store to gather evidence.

SPECIAL NOTE: Standards relating to the investigation of pet stores under the criminal animal cruelty statute fall under Title 13. Standards for pet stores as they relate to licensing and inspection fall under Title 20, Chapter 194, and the Animal Welfare Regulations beginning on pg 169 of Chapter 7, "Various Vermont Laws Dealing with Animals").

Example 14 - Pet Store Complaint

The Complaint
A landlord contacted the animal control officer and reported that foul smells were emanating from a pet store which recently had rented space in his building, but had not yet opened for business. The landlord reported that in addition to regular pet store animals, wildlife, such as baby foxes and a raccoon, were also housed in the pet store. The landlord stated that the pet store owner had not been at the premises in days and the rent was in arrears. Because of the foul smell, the landlord was worried about the fate of the animals and the state of his property.

The animal control officer notified the police. The landlord was willing to sign a statement.

The Response

  1. Based on the information provided by the landlord, the police applied for a search warrant to enter the property.

  2. The police called the animal control officer as well as the Fish and Game Department because of the wildlife involved, a veterinarian, and the humane agency to form a team to deal with the situation.

  3. The veterinarian and the humane society informed the police that there had been past complaints against the pet store when it was located at other sites. The Fish and Game Department informed the police that the pet store owner had a license to keep specific wildlife for educational purposes, but the animals had to be kept in prescribed conditions.

  4. The search warrant was granted, and the police and the team entered the property.

  5. All the animals were examined and individually identified. The animals and conditions were photographed.

  6. The Fish and Game Department called a wildlife rehabilitator to the scene to remove the foxes, flying squirrel, etc. to his facility.

  7. The balance of the animals were removed to the veterinarian's office and the animal shelter.

  8. Records were created to document the location of the animals and the persons responsible for their care.

Charges Brought
The police charged each of the three partners (owners) of the pet shop with 153 counts of violating Title 13, Section 352.

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