Here's what Petland doesn't tell you and doesn't want you to know 2004-02-05
By Kate McGuckin

For almost nine out of 10 dogs who enter it, the Athens County Dog Shelter becomes a death sentence rather than a chance at a new life. Every three to 10 days, depending on how crowded the shelter becomes, county employees enter the facility, located on Ohio Rt. 13 near Chauncey, andprepare a "keep list." Dogs on the "keep list" get a reprieve until the shelter fills again and another list has to be made.

Last year, 1,068 dogs failed to make the list. They died not because they were guilty of any specific offense, but because they were unwanted and abandoned. The dogs were gassed to death with carbon monoxide. Their bodies were put in a plastic trash bag and taken to the landfill -- all at taxpayer expense. The fate of the 135 dogs who were adopted last year is unknown. What is known is that the taxpayer again helps foot the bill when the county provides a $20 spay or neuter coupon with each adoption.

Across the county at the cat shelter, a similar and equally heart-wrenching mass kill occurs each month when as many as 300 kittens are killed by injection.

To say Athens County has a cat and dog overpopulation problem is an understatement. To propose that we need to sell more puppies, kittens, dogs and cats is either ignorance or cruelty. But it obviously doesn't matter to Continental Properties of Madison, Wisc., who were chosen by the Ohio University Board of Trustees to develop the land the university owns on East State Street. The folks at Continental, who don't live in Athens County, have signed a lease with Petland Inc. to open a franchise operation that sells live animals.

Petland Inc., whose corporate offices are located in Chillicothe, conducts a media campaign to make consumers think "Petland cares" and Petland's mission is "to help you and your pet." What Petland doesn't tell you and doesn't want you to know speaks volumes and includes the following:

* Petland is being boycotted nationally by In Defense of Animals and the American Dog Owners Association for its sale of puppies and kittens. According to Petland, "Our registerable puppies come from professional and hobby breeders as well as licensed professional pet distributors." What Petland doesn't want you to know is that no reputable breeder would ever consider selling an animal to a pet store. The term "pet distributor" is a euphemism for a puppy or kitten mill. In fact, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that more than 90 percent of all pet store animals originate from puppy or kitten mills. In response to one of 28 complaints filed since January 2000 against Petland Inc., the Ohio Attorney General's Consumer Protection Section responded by saying, "Pet stores sell puppies from Puppy Mills, and therefore a lot are ill, have congenital defects or poor socialization."

In recent years, following some high-profile investigations by national news organizations, the terms "puppy mill" and "kitten mill" have become increasingly recognizable. Gut-wrenching scenes of malnourishment, filth, overcrowding and inadequate medical care are common to these factories, whose sole purpose is to maximize profits from mass-produced, tailor-made animals. Mothers are forced to breed every heat cycle, which for dogs usually makes for a life span of about five years. After five to eight weeks, her puppies are sold to brokers who pack them into crates to be sold (or killed, should they outgrow their cuteness and marketability) in pet stores all over the country. Many of the dogs back at the puppy factory watch silently as they are often "de-barked" by a steel rod, which is shoved down their throats to rupture their vocal cords.

Each time a customer enters a Petland store and thinks he or she is saving the life of a poor puppy or kitten in a cage, that customer has unintentionally condemned another animal to a cruel existence of mass production.

* Petland labels its "merchandise" as "AKC registerable." What they don't tell you is that this is no guarantee of a purebred animal. These papers simply record what the breeder has told the AKC. By the AKC's own admission, the club's seal has never been intended as a guarantee of the animal's health and quality of upbringing. Many puppy mills have been suspended from AKC registration, so they resort to using labels such as Canadian Kennel Club and American Canine Association.

For those determined to seek a purebred dog, the HSUS reports that approximately 25 percent of dogs in rescue shelters are purebred animals.

* Petland says, "Puppies are checked by at least two veterinarians before being offered to customers." What Petland doesn't disclose is what the veterinarian checks, and this is not the same as a written health guarantee. Many congenital problems are not apparent before the dog is 2 years old, so there may be nothing for the veterinarian to find.

* Petland says, "Through Petland's in-store 'Adopt a Pet' program, many store operators are working with local animal shelters to encourage families to adopt homeless pets." This won't be the case in Athens, however, as both the Athens County Humane Society and Pound Rescue of Athens (PRA) are refusing to place adoptions at Petland. The Humane Society refuses due to the absence of a storewide spay/neuter policy, and according to Sarah Filipiak, PRA president, "No ethical animal rescue organization places a pet in a home without a written guarantee that the animal will be spayed or neutered." Bottom line -- Petland and Continental Properties are money-making ventures, not an effort in animal protection or welfare. If you're concerned about dog and cat overpopulation in our community and want to do something about it, contact the following individuals and let them know you do not want retail store sales of animals:

* Athens City Council, Clerk of Council, 592-3342. (Also, contact your local council members; the clerk can tell you who they are.)

* Athens County Commissioners, 592-3219.

* Continental Properties President Daniel Minihan. Leasing Agent Dan Davis, 262-502-5500.\

* Petland, Greg Hudson, CEO, 740-775-2464 or 800-221-5935.

Clearly, wealthy operators of deplorable animal factories are without incentive to regulate themselves. Federal and state agencies are also either unwilling or unable to remedy the rampant cruelty and negligence that have come to define the industry. Given that the animals can't speak for themselves, the responsibility and moral obligation for ending their plight becomes ours. Despite the enormity and pervasiveness of the misery caused by pet-store suppliers, the problem at its core is quite basic -- supply and demand. We don't buy, they don't sell.

Editor's note: Troy Gregorino is a member of the Athens Animal Rights Coalition. Kate McGuckin is the director of the local battered women's shelter.

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