According to the American Humane Association (AHA), over eight million animals around the country are rescued each year. AHA states that the majority of the animals that end up in their care are unwanted strays. Many of the animals rehabilitated by AHA have been subjected to illegal animal trading. The Wildlife Alliance estimates that “millions of animals from tens of thousands of species are victims of the illegal wildlife trade each year.”
Bornfreeusa.org, an animals rights group, also claims that thousands of animals fall victim to the exotic pet trade every year. Bears, tigers, lions, monkeys, and birds are examples of animals that are stolen from their native homes and smuggled into the country. These animals are then sold in pet stores, in auctions or on the web. Buyers of these animals are not subject to strict laws or restrictions, nor are they required to show proof that the states where they reside permit them to own exotic animals through these types of purchasing methods. Buyers are not required to possess any kind of knowledge or experience in dealing with the animals they purchase, which leads to abuse and neglect.
According to animal rights group PETA, PetSmart stores receive some of the animals they sell through the supplier, Sun Pet Ltd. In an investigation conducted by the Georgia Department of Agriculture in 2009 and 2010, small rodents were found to have been infected with the lymphocytic chorimeningitis virus (LCMV). Those who purchased these animals during the investigation were cautioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to watch for symptoms that they had been infected with LCMV such as vomiting, chest pain, birth defects, meningitis and fluid in the brain.
Rodents in the Georgia warehouse at Sun Pet Ltd. were housed in filthy, cramped living conditions. Many had even been killed in “makeshift gas boxes.” In 2005, a customer that bought a hamster infected with the LCMV virus sued PetSmart. Three people died as a result of receiving organs from a donor who became infected with the virus from a hamster sold to them by PetSmart.
Pet store chains have also been known to purchase animals from suppliers such as puppy mills, which are infamous for farming pets in substandard living conditions. Exotic birds often come from countries in South America where they are left traumatized and damaged from abusive trafficking.
Samantha Kappel, a UTSA freshman who works at PetSmart claims the store is “clean and well kept.” Kappel works as a pet care associate, taking care of the animals that are boarded for daycare or vacation.
“Messes are cleaned as soon as they are made,” says Kappel, “we check to make sure they have clean water every half hour and the play rooms are cleaned three times a day with non-toxic chemicals.”
In 2009, Congress proposed HR 669: The Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act that “proposed to prevent at least some of the environmental and economic damage caused by the invasive non-native bird, mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish and invertebrate species.” In doing so, the act would prevent animals from being bred, sold, re-homed or relocated across state and national lines. The HR 669 act did not pass.
While PetSmart agreed that risks to animals are important, they believe that the HRR 669 act will “damage the pet industry and harm pet owners as well,” claimed scienceblog.com. In an attempt to contact PetSmart about its exotic animal policy, no comments were offered.
The PAWS Organization at UTSA will be working with animal sanctuaries around San Antonio beginning in spring 2013, according to PAWS public relations manager Ruby Camerillo. Currently, PAWS is working with the owner of a farm in Seguin, TX who is in charge of an animal refugee called SARA, a non-profit organization that gets its funding from donations by the operator and volunteers.
As for exotic species, Camerillo states that “Houston Animal Control (HAC) deals with many cases concerning tigers and bears bred as cubs.” Houston Animal Control does not intervene unless the animal is being neglected or abused. These limited laws make it easy to buy and sell exotic pets and are especially detrimental to exotic animals that require meticulous care.