Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pet shops investigated

Pet shops investigated

4:00 AM Sunday Apr 11, 2010
The PetStop chain of stores has been accused of housing its  animals in unsanitary and unsafe conditions. Photo / Janna Dixon

The PetStop chain of stores has been accused of housing its animals in unsanitary and unsafe conditions. Photo / Janna Dixon

A chain of Auckland pet stores is facing regular visits from SPCA inspectors after complaints about the welfare of their animals.

PetStop, which has branches in Mt Eden, Newmarket and Onehunga, has been the subject of complaints about kittens with fur covered in faeces, unclean enclosures, and other health and safety concerns.

The Herald on Sunday informed the SPCA of other concerns after visiting all three stores this week.

At the Onehunga store, two rabbits kept in small open-top hutches appeared unwashed, with discoloured green feet.

In Newmarket, one rabbit sat in a dirty glass display box with its faeces and food strewn around.

Next to the rabbit, another glass box - rather than a cage - held at least four small birds, which appeared to have little room to fly around.

The Mt Eden store appeared to keep the animals in a good condition when visited, but was the subject of a complaint this week about a Persian kitten with what appeared to be dried faeces down its tail.

Attempts to contact the owners were unsuccessful. After emailing an address on the company website, a woman called Connie Li sent a message referring inquiries to a woman called Karen.

She said SPCA inspectors visited every week after reports animals were not properly looked after.

Karen, who declined to give her last name, said staff were given two weeks' training before starting the job and were always "100 per cent co-operative" with SPCA inspectors.

Neither she nor any other employee spoken to by the Herald on Sunday could supply the name or contact details for the owners.

Auckland SPCA acting inspectorate team leader Vicki Border would not go into specific concerns but confirmed staff visited "often".

She was unaware of the concerns reported by the Herald on Sunday. She said the Newmarket store had not been visited for a few weeks but "it might be time to go back".

Border said three inspectors had tried to educate PetStop staff on several occasions. The level of animal care had got better but there was still room for improvement.

There are no specific rules about who can open and run pet stores in New Zealand, giving the SPCA limited powers to intervene. Shops are bound by the Animal Welfare Act, which says those responsible for animals must meet their "physical, health and behavioural needs".

The needs are defined by "five freedoms": sufficient food and water, adequate shelter, the opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour, appropriate physical handling and protection from injury and disease.

That allows the SPCA to remove animals from pet shops if they believe they are not being looked after properly, and force shops to comply with the Act.

The organisation is considering calling on MPs to amend the law so people need licences to open pet stores.

"It is a really big concern to us, because anyone can wake up one morning and decide to open a pet shop," said Border.

"They can lease a building, buy in lots of stuff, and that's that - without any real education."

Border said licensing would mean those who are not educated to look after animal welfare could be weeded out of the industry.

"The idea is seriously being looked into, and it needs to be done."

SPCA national chief executive Robyn Kippenberger said most pet stores were responsible. Many problems were to do with cleanliness but inspectors came across more serious issues.

She said a law change that would allow the SPCA to impose immediate fines for breaches of the Animal Welfare Act would be helpful.

The organisation relies on the public to help them police the Act.