Animal Rescue group seeks to protect animals in pet shops   

By Abby Morris
star staff
amorris@starhq.com

  A local animal rescue organization is working on a campaign to get laws on the books in the state of Tennessee to help protect man's best friend and all of his animal buddies while they are residing in pet stores.
  According to Denise Reneau, the dispatcher for Elizabethton-Carter County Animal Rescue (ECCAR), Tennessee currently has laws prohibiting abuse or cruelty to privately owned animals but the state does not have laws prohibiting cruelty to animals in pet stores. "A lot of states are very progressive and they have the animal laws (regarding pet stores) but Tennessee does not and we're hoping to change that."
  According to Reneau, members of ECCAR decided to take a proactive approach to getting such laws on the books. The organization drafted some suggestions for such laws and sent them to state Sen. Rusty Crowe along with a letter.
  "We, the Elizabethton-Carter County Animal Rescue, have come to you for assistance. It has recently come to our attention that pet shops that do business in the state of Tennessee have no laws to regulate their operations," Reneau and ECCAR President Colleen Stout wrote in the letter. "Because of this, the pet shops are under no obligation to humanely treat, house, or provide nourishment for their charges."
  The letter then goes on to state that the animal rescue group has been "deluged by calls concerning starving, sick or dead animals," at an area pet store.
  "Our hands are unfortunately tied as to litigation against them, as are many other human organizations who make it their mission to protect animals in their areas," states the letter. "While researching current laws on the books to help assist our investigation at this one store, we found that there are no laws to protect the small charges at the mercy of pet stores. This is appalling and must be rectified to prevent further deaths."
  Reneau told the STAR on Friday that the calls regarding the pet store were one of the things that prompted the group to seek laws requiring pet stores to treat the animals humanely. "I've seen some really bad things," she said. "I've seen dogs shot in the head and dogs who have been starved until their bones are hanging out, but this pet shop was a nightmare."
  As the dispatcher for ECCAR, Reneau handles all the incoming calls from the Carter County 911 Communications Center as well as from private citizens regarding cases of neglect and she stated that she has had several callers complain to her about the conditions at the pet store in question.
  After receiving several calls about the store, Reneau said that members of ECCAR went to the store to view the conditions themselves. At the pet store, Reneau said she found animals which were emaciated and lethargic, many so thin that their bones showed. She stated that many of the fish tanks contained dead fish, which had become trapped in the plants in the aquarium. The shop was dirty, according to Reneau, and the dogs, kittens and other animals were in cages filed with feces and many had no access to fresh drinking water.
  "Snakes and various reptiles (were) in various degrees of dehydration, without food or water," she said. "Heat lamps were in some of the tanks, but low to the base of the enclosure. One snake had a hole burned in his back approximately four inches in diameter from a heat lamp."
  Reneau stated that she has received two reports of individuals purchasing puppies from the pet store in question only to find out that the animals had Parvo virus. "This virus is highly contagious and treatable only if diagnosed and treated early," she said. "According to the contract the pet store makes the new owner sign, all animals are free of disease. We have had at least two customers who have purchased diseased animals and when they have returned the animals or gone for help from the pet shop, (they were) told 'That's not our problem.'"
  According to Reneau, ECCAR contacted a local law enforcement agency regarding the situation at the pet store and was told by officers there that they had been receiving complaints on the store as well.
  An official report obtained by the STAR from the law enforcement agency confirms that at least one individual has reported to police that they obtained a diseased animal from the pet store in question. In that report, a woman stated that she had purchased a miniature dachshund on Feb. 23, 2004. "She states that she took the animal to the veterinarian on Feb. 28, 2004 and had a Parvo test done on the dog. The test came back positive for Parvo," states the report. "According to (the victim) she went to the business and the other dachshunds were in the same cage together and appeared to be sick as well."
  The proposal for pet shop regulations which ECCAR sent to Crowe include requiring a pet store to provide adequate food and water consistent with the dietary requirements of the species and age of the animal. The proposal also calls for sanitary conditions in pet stores to be mandated. "Animal facilities shall be cleaned and disinfected daily or more often if necessary to maintain a sanitary condition," states the proposal. "Bowls, dishes and other containers used for the feeding and watering of animals, must be cleaned daily or more often if necessary to maintain them free from contamination and excrement."
  ECCAR's proposal also calls for pet shops to maintain a working relationship with a licensed veterinarian for the care of animals in the shop. "A program for disease prevention, parasite control, euthanasia and adequate veterinary care shall be provided and maintained under the supervision of a veterinarian," states the proposal.
  Reneau said that even though the organization has only witnessed the conditions present at the pet shop in question, ECCAR is not on a mission to close down the pet store and does not have a personal vendetta against the business or its owner. She stated that the conditions at the pet shop brought to their attention a need that she feels needs to be addressed state-wide, not just in the Tri-Cities area, and that ECCAR wants to see that animals housed in pet stores all across the state are treated humanely by addressing this need.
  "I hope these laws will pass, the animals need it," Reneau said. "I strongly encourage everyone to write to Sen. Rusty Crowe and express their support for these laws. I can't see anyone not wanting laws for pet stores unless it is a pet store owner who is negligent in the care of the animals in their charge."
  For more information about ECCAR, visit the group's Web site at http://www.angelfire.com/tn2/ECCAR.