Fed inspectors find sick, dead animals at pet dealer ranch

Federal inspectors found sick and dead animals, inadequate sanitation, untrained employees performing euthanasia and other deficiencies at a Pennsylvania small-animal dealer that supplied major pet retailers like Petco and PetSmart.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report on its January inspection of Holmes Chinchilla Ranch that said inspectors found dozens of animals in need of veterinary treatment for symptoms ranging from hair loss to eye abnormalities to lethargy.

USDA spent several days at Holmes after an animal-rights group shot video purporting to show substandard conditions at the dealer’s facility in Barto, about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia, where it keeps thousands of hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and other species.

The video, which People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals shared with The Associated Press, included scenes of bins with dead guinea pigs; dishes filled with what appeared to be fouled water; loose cats that PETA said preyed on hamsters, mice and rats; live rats stuffed in a plastic bag and placed in a freezer; and a “waste-filled cooler” where dozens of small animals of varying species were dumped and gassed, “sometimes ineffectively,” PETA said.

Holmes employees told USDA they learned how to euthanize animals on the Internet, according to the USDA inspection report, which said employees must be appropriately trained in the procedure.

A company official didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment Monday. Holmes released a statement in January that said it would work with USDA to “resolve any concerns.”

USDA’s investigation remains open. After wrapping up the probe, the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service could issue a warning or fine, or take action to suspend or revoke Holmes’ license.

The company has already lost business as a result of the publicity surrounding its facility, with Petco announcing in January it dropped Holmes as a supplier. PetSmart, however, refuses to say whether it is still getting animals from Holmes.

“As a standard practice, we do not comment on the status of relationships with our vendors,” Michelle Friedman, PetSmart’s vice president of corporate communications, said in a statement. “Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of pets, and we take any allegation of mistreatment very seriously. We immediately review and thoroughly investigate, taking appropriate steps and corrective actions as needed to ensure our high standards of pet care continue to be met.”

Dan Paden, PETA’s associate director of evidence analysis, said his group was told by two people, including someone who works for Holmes, that PetSmart is still procuring animals from Holmes.

“The secrecy says it all,” Paden said Monday. “PetSmart is standing by a company that has just been cited for at least 117 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.”


This story has been corrected to show the spelling is Holmes, not Homes.

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