People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has shot an undercover video that it says shows animals being mistreated at the Bloomington, Minn.-based North American Pet Distributors.
The animal rights group says it plans to file a complaint with the Department of Agriculture because of "severe overcrowding, inadequate ventilation, and allowing animals to remain in shipping crates until they died from heat exhaustion or dehydration."
PETA plans to unveil the video at a news conference in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Among the images on the 90-second video, which the group shared with The Associated Press: dead mice piled in plastic bags, dead and living mice in a tank of dirty water, hamsters suffering from bloody diarrhea, and rats walking on top of each other to get to food and water.
Laura Brown, a PETA spokeswoman, said that those rats were showing signs of dehydration.
Kevin Hanson, co-owner of North American Pet Distributors, said that anything can look bad if you shoot video at the right place and right time.
"Animals are shipped to us by vendors, and sometimes they come to us in bad conditions," he said. "They often have diarrhea, which is often caused by stress. We make them healthy. We can't ship them unless they're in good (health)."
He added that USDA officials gave the plant a clean bill of health after a recent inspection.
"Our animal room is run by licensed vet techs, and licensed veterinarians review animal care every week," Hanson said. "We pride ourselves on a very well run shop."
Brown said that PETA received complaints from an anonymous whistle-blower at the company about animal mistreatment, then sent one of its volunteers to apply for a job. The volunteer, also anonymous, shot the video.
The investigation took place over a six-week period from May 5 to June 11 of this year.
"The negligent conditions are just the tip of the iceberg," Brown said. "These vendors turn these animals out as cheaply as possible. The obvious answer is to stop selling the animals."
PETA singled out Petco Animal Supplies, the nation's No. 2 pet supply chain, for contracting with North American Pet Distributors.
"At the very least, we're asking that Petco arrange for a PETA representative to attend the inspection and audits of their suppliers," Brown said.
Shawn Underwood, a spokesman for Petco, said that to his knowledge PETA has not contacted Petco about having a representative at vendor inspections. Underwood said Petco officials also have not seen the video.
"Obviously, we would want to see the tape and see exactly what it is so we know what we need to do," Underwood said.
"The last inspection of this facility was in July, and they did pass," he added. "Because our vendors are certified by us, we do inspections and require them to meet our animal care standards."
Earlier this year, San Diego-based Petco agreed to pay more than $900,000 to settle two lawsuits that accused the company of mistreating animals and overcharging customers. Underwood said most of that settlement dealt with pricing scanner problems, and only a small percentage went toward animal care issues. He said Petco has procedures in place to ensure the needs of its animals are met.
PETA has maintained a boycott of the company.
In a statement, PETA Senior Vice President Mary Beth Sweetland said the companies "have made a business out of treating small animals as if they were shampoo samples."
Brown also called on federal authorities to press charges. USDA officials did not return a phone message left late Monday afternoon.
By FREDERIC J. FROMMER, Associated Press Writer
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)