Is it time to commit to pet-free pet stores?

guinea pigs

I’ve always found it ironic that when you finish checking out at places at Petco and PetSmart, they pop the question – would you like to make a donation to help homeless animals today?

It brings to mind the thousands of guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, reptiles and birds who end up in shelters or worse.  Many of whom were purchased at places like Petco and PetSmart.

Walking among the cages of small animals in these stores, you’ll see signs that encourage you to “think adoption first.”  But, given the pet overpopulation epidemic, why don’t we think adoption only?

If you browse the Los Angeles County Animal Care & Control website right now (which is looking pretty nice after a recent makeover, by the way!), here’s what you’ll find:

  • 17 rabbits
  • 5 red eared sliders
  • 8 guinea pigs
  • 1 ball python
  • 1 corn snake
  • 1 yellow-headed Amazon parrot
  • 1 cockatiel
  • 1 cockatoo

Searching with Los Angeles Animal Services will give you 273 small animals of similar varieties, plus a few hamsters and mice.  That’s over 300 small animals in need of a home, not even counting the ones on Craigslist, posted on social media and neighborhood apps, abandoned in parks, and being fostered through reputable rescue groups.

I spoke with Michiko Vartanian of Orange County Cavy Haven to get an idea of the number of animals the rescue works with, and to see the breadth of how many small animals need homes in the Los Angeles area.  OCCH is a tiny but mighty organization that works closely with each animal, and focuses only on one species: guinea pigs.  They typically have 25-30 animals in foster homes at any given time, and average about 25 adoptions per month.  One of the largest small animal rescue groups in Southern California is Bunny Bunch, and I counted 158 animals (mostly rabbits, with a few chinchillas and guinea pigs), at their two locations in Fountain Valley and Montclair.

Clearly, small animal rescue groups deserve a huge round of applause.  They are doing the work for these little guys that pet stores don’t, from educating the public about proper housing and care, to rehoming the animals who are no longer wanted.  And even though most animal lovers support adoption of dogs and cats, the idea of rescuing a small animal – or donating to groups that do – might not even be on their radar.

I first got some insight into the world of small animal rescue pretty early on in my activist career, when I started a campaign against a local pet store to stop them from selling puppies from puppy mills.  One of my biggest supporters was Linda Baley, founder of Too Many Bunnies Rabbit Rescue, who also despised the store.  She said that not only did they sell rabbits with cages that were much too small, they kept a stack of her cards to give to customers when the rabbit inevitably outlived their short attention span, or became too difficult to care for.  I also became familiar with a few common dumping grounds for small animals, a plan which is not only cruel to the animal you’re abandoning, it’s harmful to native species, and most definitely illegal. 

My campaign against the pet store was successful, and the location in Torrance pretty quickly closed down.  Their other branches switched to adoption only for puppies, which is what we wanted, but it was hard to see this as a victory.  The conditions these rescue puppies were kept in were far below ideal, and small animals were still being sold.  When the chain eventually went out of business, I have to say it was a huge relief.

In the past decade or so, we’ve seen some corporate and legislative improvements to help animals in pet stores, and overpopulation.  City ordinances have slowly popped up around the country that outlaw the retail sale of dogs, cats, and sometimes rabbits.  PetSmart actually stopped selling rabbits in 2007 after pressure from The House Rabbit Society, and Petco followed in 2008.  Both chains also used to sell puppies, something that is a very foggy memory from my childhood, but gives me hope that their policies can improve for small animals as well.  After talking to Michiko, I’m more convinced than ever that this has to happen soon.  She says:

Our biggest problem is that the laws that require pet stores to sell only animals from rescues do not include small animals.  When these ordinances were passed in some counties a few years back, it only made the situation for guinea pigs worse, as they were one of the few animals now in pet stores, so they are now filling up shelters faster, and the incidences of them being dumped in parks, trash cans, etc., has increased dramatically.  Furthermore, we have a ‘re-home’ program, where we will help people re-home unwanted guinea pigs, and the prior owners now become ‘fosters,’ while we find new homes for their animals.  This helps us help more guinea pigs in spite of having very limited foster space, but we also track the origin of the animals.  In 98% of the cases, they came from pet stores.  It’s sad the new laws won’t help the guinea pigs and other small animals.

I’m writing this post in the wake of yesterday’s PetSmart raid in Tennessee, which I believe accurately depicts the values of these big name pet stores and their small animal suppliers.  We would never support a company that treated puppies this way, and I think it’s time to extend our compassion to the little guys, too.  Vote with your dollars, and support companies that understand animals – big and small – deserve more consideration than a product on a shelf.

For a list of local compassionate retailers, have a look at my South Bay Pet-Free Pet Store Guide.


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THANK YOU for helping The Vegan Petsitter place as one of South Bay’s Favorite petsitting services for the second year in a row!  With your votes, I’ve been chosen as a Favorite in the Daily Breeze Reader’s Choice in 2015 & 2016.  Thank you so much for your support!o

Oliver – Adopted September 2013!



** OLIVER HAS BEEN ADOPTED!  His foster family decided they couldn’t let him go and the adoption was made official in September!

** IMMEDIATE FOSTER NEEDED FOR OLIVER ** We found Oliver unexpectedly and were already at capacity.  We can provide a crate, food and supplies to a reliable, local foster who can transport him to weekend adoption events in Redondo Beach.  If you can’t make it home from work for a potty break, we’d be happy to help with free walks.  We would love to help with training, and continue his playdates/outings with Bruce.  All he needs is a place to stay and someone to hang out with while he waits for his forever home.  If you are interested in fostering Oliver, please contact

Oliver is an adorable 8-month-old Dachshund/chihuahua mix.  He was found running down Anza in Torrance, and the family he was registered to didn’t want him anymore because they were moving.  He was already neutered, microchipped and dewormed, and is now caught up on vaccines.  His date of birth is 12-12-12.

Oliver can be shy at first, but loves people and is very sweet and affectionate.  He loves to run in the backyard and go for walks, then he’ll come inside and cuddle on the couch.  He makes friends quickly with female dogs, and takes a little time to warm up to new males.  He is also a great passenger and loves to ride in the car – especially to go to the park or the pet store!

Because we want Oliver’s new home to be a forever home, interested parties should fill out an application and agree to a home check.  The required application and more information about the adoption process can be found at

If you would like to meet Oliver, he will be at adoption events with The Lovejoy Foundation on Saturdays & Sundays from 10am – 6pm.  Adoptions are held at Global Pet Food Outlet Express, 401 S Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach.  We plan to have him there every weekend, but feel free to contact us in advance to make sure he will be there when you plan on attending.  If you have any questions, please contact

View Oliver’s photo album.

Tegan & Sara – Adopted Fall 2013!


** TEGAN & SARA HAVE BEEN ADOPTED!  Sara lives with her mom and dad and loves to play with her kitty brother, Oreo.  Tegan (now Shelly) was adopted by a great family with a human brother and sister.  Both are doing great in their forever homes!

Tegan & Sara are two beautiful medium-hair Siamese mix kitties.  They were found in an alley in Torrance at only 6 weeks old, and were taken into a wonderful foster home.  They are now spayed, vaccinated, dewormed, microchipped, and ready to be adopted.  They are also current on flea control and tested FIV/FeLV negative.  We estimate their date of birth to be around 5/9/13.

Tegan & Sara are both mellow, affectionate kittens, Sara being the more outgoing of the two.  They can be shy at first, but melt in your arms and will get comfy in your lap until they fall asleep.  They have healthy appetites and eat both wet and dry food.  They love to perch on their cat tree or in a windowsill and check things out.  They can be adopted as a pair, or individually to a home with another cat or kitten.  For their safety, they must be kept indoors.

Because we want Tegan & Sara’s new home to be a forever home, interested parties should fill out an application and agree to a home check.  The required application and more information about the adoption process can be found here:

If you would like to meet Tegan & Sara, they will be at adoption events with Purrfect Partners on Saturdays & Sundays from 12-4.  Adoptions are held at Centinela Feed, 413 N Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach.  We plan to have them there every weekend, but feel free to contact us in advance to make sure they will be there when you plan on attending.  If you have any questions, please contact

View Tegan & Sara’s Photo Album