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iMPORTANT* Please read...

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Posted by James Wilson on October 13, 2001 at 20:17:02:

For years now, I have been discouraged by the horrific way the reptiles at Petco are kept. I am also bothered by their (Petco's) insistence to continue selling baby iguanas. I have sent the following Letter/e-mail to their Assistant Buyer of Livestock at Petco's corporate office in San Diego (I have been told that he would be more receptive than the main buyer). However, he is next on my list. I urge you to read the letter that I have sent him. While it mostly concerns Lizards, I also have concerns for their (Petco) keeping and selling of certain snake and tortoise species such as burmese pythons, imported ball pythons, sulcata tortoises, and Leopard Tortoises. Please send him your own requests so that public pressure will help to sway them in the right direction, as it did for PET'sMART. His name is Todd Gwynn, and his E-mail address is Please join me in urging them to stop the way the are currently treating the reptiles that they are selling. Read the letter, and it will explain the situation, if you do not already know. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions.

Mr. Gwynn,

I am writing you about some serious concerns that I have in regard to Petco's current policy on the selling of baby green iguanas to the general public, and the conditions that they, and the other reptiles, are kept in while in the "care" of Petco.

For starters, I want to let you know that Green iguanas are herbivorous throughout all stages of their life, and it is a serious injustice, to both the Iguana and the customer, to recommend the feeding of crickets to juvenile green iguanas. So, why do I still see information signs on the iguana enclosures at Petco that advocate this ignorant practice? I am also amazed that none of the reptiles that are in Petco's care have access to any heat. I know that there are Petco employees that know basic reptile care, but I am not seeing it implemented at any of Petco stores. Whether in San Diego, Los Angles, or Phoenix, the same lacking conditions always exist, and there is really no excuse for it at all. Yet it is still standard procedure for Petco. I am sure that this is not news to you, but reptiles need a thermogradiant that includes heat. While I realize that your reptile set-ups are intended to be temporary, there is no excuse to deprive reptiles of the needed heat that they require in order to perform their most basic body functions. I understand that the short-term lack of exposure to full spectrum lighting is not generally harmful to most reptiles. However, the people at Petco should not confuse full spectrum lighting with the heat that, even in the most temporary of situations, is absolutely essential to the well being of all of the reptiles in Petco's care. I also know that there are some reptiles that end up staying in stores for months, sometimes even years, without ever being sold, and eventually dying a slow and lingering death. I know this sounds extreme, but it is actually quite common, and possibly the norm. My point here is that the excuse of "Its only temporary." is just not acceptable to me or the many other people who have contacted me with the same concerns. It is just totally ignorant to expect a tropical cold-blooded reptile to function and live in a room temperature environment. They need access to basking temps in the upper 90's to gradually raise their body temps up to the proper levels that enable them to become active, eat, digest food, and eliminate waste. I know you already know this, so please explain to me why this goes on.

While handling the San Diego Herpetological Society's hotline for the last 2 years, I was constantly made aware of the sad and pathetic shape of the animals that people purchased from Petco, and the terrible advice and misinformation that the customers received from Petco's employees. On one occasion a Petco manager called me and asked me if I would be willing to house 2 very sick and underweight Leopard Tortoises from his store that were stricken with advanced respiratory infections. He did not want to infect his own animals, so he asked if I would house them. He warned me that the conditions at the store were not ideal, and the tortoises did not have much chance. He was right. They died a few days later.
I also ran across two different situations where people had unknowingly purchased gravid female Blue-tongued Skinks that, days later gave birth to litters of babies that were all afflicted with serious and often fatal spinal deformities. These deformities have been directly linked to the lack of an adequate basking area for the gravid female. Being extremely hardy, the gravid female blue-tongued skink can usually handle the cool temps, but the babies cannot develop properly inside her, causing them to be deformed for life if they are lucky enough to be part of the small percentage that can survive this needless affliction. This brings up another important question. Why on earth is Petco selling imported blue-tongued skinks, when the captive-bred specimens are easily attainable, and make so much better captives? And the same question goes for the wild caught Fat-tailed Geckos, Leopard Geckos, Ball Pythons, and Water Dragons that I see every time that I check out a new Petco. Why is this? Many of these animals are destined to die even if they end up in the hands of the most experienced of keepers. However, this is highly unlikely, as it is common knowledge in the herpetological community to never purchase a reptile from Petco. Ironically, many of the Petco employees, that I speak to, live by the same rule. Unfortunately, the newcomers to the reptile hobby, that your store seems to be geared toward, often learn this valuable lesson the hard way. So again I ask why? The only answer is money, or in more simple terms greed. It is quite apparent that Petco neither cares about its customers or the animals that it sells to them, but Petco does seem to care about their money. Ok, that is fine, money is good, and we all like to make it. I realize that wild-caught reptiles are dirt cheap, which creates the opportunity for a bigger profit margin. Is that all Petco cares about? What about their customers? What about the welfare of the animals? What about negative impact that over-collecting is having on wild populations? It seems that Petco is content being known as the store that does not care about anything more than the quick buck, and that they are willing to get it at any cost. It should not be this way. Petco need not sell their soul. There is plenty of profit to be made on captive-bred reptiles that would supply your customers with quality animals, making happy satisfied customers that are sure to come back again when the need arises. If Petco adopted a captive-bred only policy they would be known as the big chain pet store that cares about their animals, their customers, and the environment. In addition, if Petco also chose to retrofit their enclosures with proper heat sources, they would be sure to gain a good reputation that would spread by word of mouth like a wildfire.

There is only one last concern that I have. I can't for the life of me see how Petco can justify the sale of green iguanas to the general public. As you most surely know, iguanas are not suitable pets for beginners. Yet beginners make up the vast majority of your customer base. Green iguanas get very big and, in general, they are less then tolerant of handling than most other big lizards. They require very large custom enclosures, and have specific diet and temperature requirements. Green iguanas are a challenge that should only be undertaken by advanced hobbyists who are dedicated to the proper husbandry of these magnificent lizards. Unfortunately, most people who are qualified to care for these animals do not bother with them due to the fact that there so many other more rewarding reptiles available for them to keep. Petco sells these animals for a fraction of what they are truly worth attracting impulse buyers, making them the disposable pet of the new millenium. Feel free to use that line for future marketing purposes. While with the SDHS I was also in charge of adoptions. During this time I was overwhelmed with phone calls from people who wanted to "get rid of their iguana" or people who found one in their yard due to someone else that just let their iguana go because they couldn't find anyone who would take it off of their hands. I received up to 5 of these calls a week and sometimes 5 a day! Animal shelters, humane societies, and herp societies are all filled to capacity due to the current problem. Iguanas are often "put down" at many shelters because they simply cannot find suitable homes for them. Your competition, PETsMART, seems to be sensitive to the problem, and they have not been selling iguanas for the last 2 years. On the other hand, Petco not only sets the customer up for failure by selling iguanas, but they add insult to injury by providing inadequate iguana husbandry information, and a total absence of the proper supplies necessary for iguana care, to the customer. Why is this happening? Petco has a customer base made up of mostly newcomers walking into their store, and instead of taking the opportunity to earn them as loyal customers, Petco would rather sell out for a lousy $9.99, cheating the customer, the iguana, the environment, and Petco themselves. There are many people who will not shop at Petco for this one reason alone. Petco seems to be aware of the population problem that we face with dogs and cats, which is why they do not sell them. What about iguanas? Don't they deserve some consideration? By selling iguanas, Petco is contributing to the problem, and the irresponsibility of the igiana owners that dump these animals in parks and canyons, leading to the demise of many iguanas that die in a foreign environment or get "put down" in shelters that have no other option. These circumstances do not go unnoticed by the media or law makers, and there are laws that many communities have passed. There is also the proposed ban by the HSUS on the keeping of reptiles and amphibians, which is fueled by these circumstances that Petco has the power to stop. By continuing this practice Petco is hurting the whole herp hobby. The public is getting smarter, and there is currently a petition that is being prepared by concerned hobbyists demanding an end to the selling of green iguanas by Petco. The media is also very sensitive to this, and Petco has the chance to at least fake concern and halt the sale of iguanas. As a consumer and concerned citizen I ask you as the, Assistant Buyer of Animals, for answers. I also ask that this be forwarded to your boss, Greig Parsons. Please take these things into consideration, and feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. I am attaching a 5 page Microsoft Word file on the basic care and diet of green iguanas. Feel free to download and print it. You may want to send it out to the store employees that actually care for the iguanas in the stores. It could benefit the employees, and the iguanas.

Thank you,

James Wilson

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