Michigan agency has not punished pet stores – December 30, 2007

Michigan agency has not punished pet stores that have been neglectful.
Inspections don’t shut shops, are on way out.

December 30, 2007

The state agency responsible for ensuring the safety of animals has never fined or shut down a single metro Detroit pet shop, even though inspectors for years have found inhumane conditions and neglect that have endangered dogs and cats, records show.

Nearly a quarter of the roughly 70 pet shops in southeast Michigan have been cited in the past four years for housing sickly animals, confining dogs and cats to dirty, cramped cages and selling pets that are unhealthy or below the legal age. None has been shut down or fined, the Department of Agriculture records show.

And conditions could get worse.

That’s because the department is abandoning inspections altogether, unless complaints involve serious abuse or disease outbreaks. The state used to do unannounced annual inspections.

Agency officials say they must shift the focus to monitoring deer and cattle populations for contagious diseases such as tuberculosis. A shrinking budget is compounding the problem.

“In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be this way,” said state veterinarian Dr. Steven Halstead, who works for the Department of Agriculture. “I have concerns that by not having the presence that we should, animals will suffer.”

More than 30 people have complained to the state this year about Pollywood Pets, inside the Gibraltar Trade Center in Mt. Clemens. That’s more than any other store. Among the complaints: 20 kittens stuffed in a pen; sick puppies covered in feces, some injured by broken cages; guinea pigs bleeding and overcrowded, one without an eye.

State inspectors found similar conditions in visits since 2003 but did nothing. Inspection records show they found a dog’s carcass in a freezer and kittens who died after receiving no veterinary care. Other kittens, too young for legal sale, were infested with fleas and slumped over in dehydration in an old birdcage.

Tamara Rodriguez said she quit Pollywood Pets last year because the state did nothing after the store knowingly sold dogs as young as 5 weeks and other animals that were sick. Customers made the same complaints, records show. State law bans the sale of dogs and cats younger than 8 weeks.

“I don’t think the state cares,” Rodriguez said.

Pollywood Pets owner Shelly Myers said conditions are improving, but wouldn’t elaborate.

“It has been a learning curve for me,” said Myers, who has operated the store since 1991. “All we can do is improve our services. I take what I do seriously. It’s hard work.”

States are responsible for passing laws to protect pet shop animals. Michigan requires cages to be large enough for animals to stand and move around. Sick animals must get immediate medical attention. And animals must have adequate water and food.

Animal-rights groups question whether agriculture departments — focused primarily on livestock — were ever equipped to monitor pet shops.

Even before the state decided to stop inspections, it had begun reducing unannounced visits. Most pet shops, which had averaged two inspections annually, weren’t inspected for years, records from 2002 to 2007 show.

The last inspection at Family of Pets in Waterford, for example, was five years ago, despite complaints as recently as two months ago about filthy, cramped cages. The state found similar problems in the past three years — plus outbreaks of a potentially deadly virus and puppies sold too young — at the chain’s other four stores.

Violations are common in stores across metro Detroit, the inspection records show.

  • Water was tainted with feces, and pens were too small for dogs and cats to turn around or stand up in.
  • At least eight stores sold puppies under the legal age of 8 weeks — some as young as 5 weeks. At least three were cited several times but were never fined or shut down.
  • Animals with contagious diseases, some deadly, were not separated from healthy ones at more than a dozen stores.

In an unusual move, the Riverview Fire Department — not the state — stepped in and closed All About Pets in late November because the shop hadn’t been using heat and was a fire hazard, records show.

Even though the state found similar conditions in visits since September 2006 and the shop failed to apply for annual license renewals in 2005 and 2007, inspectors allowed the shop to stay open.

Other stores without proper ventilation to prevent the spread of disease continued operating after subsequent inspections found no improvements. One was Utica Pet Supply, where the owner acknowledged an overcrowded puppy population, records show. At least four complaints about sickly pups followed in a 3-month span this year.

A shih tzu from the pet shop nearly died a day after Joseph and Christie Gentner of Warren bought her in September. A veterinarian immediately diagnosed the puppy with the potentially fatal parvovirus, which vets say doesn’t reveal symptoms for at least five days after infection.

Christie Gentner said Utica Pet Supply wouldn’t reimburse the couple for the $1,800 in vet bills. The store didn’t return calls for comment.

“There needs to be a lot more protection for pets,” said Deborah Howard, president of the Companion Animal Protection Society, a national nonprofit that monitors pet stores.

The entire story is a blog on the CAPS (Companion Animal Protection Society’s) web site.

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