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Undercover Video Shows Animal Suffering
Pet Stores Violating State Laws
By Michael Finney

API says 44-percent of the stores visited had at least one animal that was sick, injured, or showed signs of psychological distress or neglect.

Nov. 8 - KGO - A report released by an animal advocacy group says an alarming number of pet shops are violating state laws in regards to the sale of live animals. The group says its investigation uncovered evidence of animal suffering and less-than-ideal care and conditions. Michael Finney has the undercover video you'll see Only on Seven.

The Sacramento-based Animal Protection Institute sent an undercover investigator to pet shops in four key metropolitan cities -- San Francisco, Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles. They found what they call serious cause for concern.

In all, the Animal Protection Institute (API) visited 64 stores throughout the state, randomly selecting ones that sell live animals.

Investigator: "What surprised me was how frequently I found poor conditions."

Because she does undercover work, we can't show this API investigator's face. But we can show you the things she saw: like puppies at an LA pet shop, sitting in manure run-off from the chicken cage next to them.

Investigator: "They were a large breed puppy and their ribs were showing and their eyes were oozing, so they were not in great health."

API says 44-percent of the stores visited had at least one animal that was sick, injured, or showed signs of psychological distress or neglect. There were lethargic-looking puppies, a bird with only one claw, and guinea pigs covered with scabs.

Investigator: "I purchased two of them and took them to a vet, and they were diagnosed with mange, which is scabies, which is infectious to people."

She also saw dead chameleons in the same cages with ones that were still alive.

Investigator: "With reptiles, it's often hard to tell they're sick, but a dead reptile pretty much tells you the state of their welfare."

Sixty-four-percent of stores also failed to provide the investigator with literature on proper care and housing for the animals for sale, a clear violation of California law.

Overcrowding was another big problem, especially with birds. API says 37-percent of the stores visited by its investigator had one or more animals in a cage or other enclosure that was too small or crowded for the animals to move comfortably or avoid aggressive cage mates.

The report also says at least 24-percent of the stores visited didn't provide animals with sanitary food or water.

Michelle Thew, CEO, Animal Protection Institute: "I think one of the shocking things for us is that this is happening in public view. So what does this say about parts of the pet industry that we can't see behind closed doors?"

Even though California has some the strictest pet store laws in the country, API says its findings shows current laws are not working.

Michelle Thew: "Good laws aren't enough. They actually must be effectively enforced."

Those on the front lines agree, saying enforcement is especially difficult because many state laws aren't specific enough.

Carl Friedman, Director, San Francisco Animal Care & Control: ""The laws are pretty vague in that vein, in terms of you've got to provide proper and adequate care and treatment. And the question is - whose interpretation is that?"

Animal control officers are also forced to prioritize, since they provide for a range of services, including public protection.

Capt. Vicky Guldbech, San Francisco Animal Care & Control: "If we have a menacing dog in a school yard and somebody calls to say there's a parakeet that may be sick in a pet store, it's not going to be handled right then. We're going to go for the menacing dog in the school yard."

Carl Friedman: "The public is our eyes and ears out there in the community. We can't be everywhere and we depend on them to call if they see something that might rise to the level of abuse or animal cruelty."

If you see a serious problem, like an animal that's obviously sick, speak up then and there.

Capt. Vicky Guldbech: "It's essential that they bring it to the attention of somebody at the store so we can get immediate care for that animal."

Consumers can also help by not buying companion animals from pet shops.

Carl Friedman: "Call your local animal shelter, animal control, local rescue and see those animals that really are the ones that need homes tremendously."

Michelle Thew: "Not only is that better for the animals because they've had proper care and attention, but also, you're more likely to be bringing home an animal that's actually healthy."

The sale of live animals amounted to about $1.6 billion last year. But there's no telling how much consumers spent beyond that in veterinary care for animals that were sick or injured before they were even brought home.