Rescuers and police uncover 150 pet shop animals in desperate need of helpA human world

In the pet store, rescuers found animals, without access to food, gnawing at their wire fences. Meredith Lee / The HSUS

On Wednesday morning, at a pet store next to a flea market in Burnside, Ky., Members of our rescue team encountered nightmarish conditions for dozens of animals.

The details of the scene were heartbreaking to hear. The air inside the store was moldy and hard to breathe. A sulcata tortoise wandered several times to the door, the only source of fresh air. Cages and tanks were stacked from floor to ceiling. Hamsters with no access to food and only dirty, cloudy water frantically gnawed at the wire mesh of their makeshift enclosure. The water in the aquariums was cloudy and most animals apparently did not have access to food or clean water. Guinea pigs and several turtles were forced to share an enclosure covered with cobwebs. The rabbits sniffed the air as they stood at the edge of their sterile cages with wire mesh floors, looking curious – and perhaps hopeful – about their rescuers.

Rescuers have removed the lethargic animals from their cages so they can undergo urgent veterinary examinations. Meredith Lee / The HSUS

Local authorities served a search and seizure warrant on the store, and the Burnside Police Department arrested the store operator on 19 counts of animal cruelty.

The animals, including rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, snakes, lizards, turtles and fish, have been turned over to police. They received initial veterinary examinations on site, which revealed a number of health issues: many animals were underweight and some animals suffered from respiratory problems, eye and ear infections and lethargy. Some animals also showed traces of old wounds, including in some cases missing fingers and tails. One of the vets on site commented that some of the rabbits and guinea pigs were the thinnest she had ever seen. Fortunately, these animals will continue to receive much needed specialist care from a network of animal welfare organizations.

Most of the animals rescued were reptiles which are sometimes marketed by the pet industry as low maintenance. This is far from true for these animals who need specialized care. Meredith Lee / The HSUS

Our rescue team became involved in this rescue at the request of the Burnside Police Department after city code enforcement officials raised concerns about the welfare of animals on the property. For large-scale cases of suspected gross neglect like this, it really takes a village to keep the animals safe.

Unfortunately, like dogs in the puppy mill industry, small animals such as rabbits, snakes, and turtles are also often abused and forced into appalling conditions when raised for sale in pet stores. Reptiles are often marketed as low maintenance pets, but the truth is they need special care and plenty of room to grow. They need the right lighting, the right temperature and the right water filtration system.

It is estimated that nine million reptiles are kept as pets in the United States. These fascinating animals need advocates who treat them like wild animals, not caged specimens. Meredith Lee / The HSUS

We are grateful to the other organizations that have stepped up to welcome the animals in this case and provide them with the specialized care they need to survive and thrive. Other people who provided on-site assistance to make this rescue possible included staff from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Special Investigation Unit, Somerset-Pulaski County Humane Society, Attorney’s Office of the Pulaski County and Pulaski County Animal Control.

This case also reveals the need for people to be aware of the threats faced by reptiles that are kept as pets. With around nine million reptiles kept as pets in the United States, these fascinating animals are in need of advocates. Like all wildlife, they are the happiest in their natural habitat, but, thanks to the hard work of everyone at the scene this week, these rescued animals will have the next best thing.


Animal rescue and care

About Patrick K. Moon

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