I am placing the details of my meeting up here for others to see. I feel that some of the issues I raised, and the management's responses to them, deserve to be available for the public to see so they can make up their own mind about whether they wish to continue shopping at Pets At Home.
After the fiasco with Jigsaw, I emailed management to tell them I was unhappy with how it was handled, not to mention many other things in their store. Among the things I brought up was their inadequete housing of the top eared rats vs the dumbos, the usage of wood based litters, the lights they insisted on having shine down upon the rats all day, the issue of why a top eared rat is sold at half the price of a dumbo when they're the same animal, where they source their breeding stock from, why they often have older rats left behind, unsold, yet continue to get new stock in anyway, why the rats often had no water, and why their staff seemed unable to sex the rats correctly.
The day of my meeting, I walked into the store to find that the dumbo rats had been given a hut to hide up in, which they did not have prior to my letter, and were all happily nestled in there instead of under the lights on the grid floor.
The first issue that was raised was that of Jigsaw's £40 vet bill, which I had to pay only a day after getting him home. Straight off the bat, Pets At Home offered me a full refund of my vet's bills.
We then sat down to talking about the issues I'd raised. I was told the manager of that particular store was 'very upset' by my letter of complaint, and was told that I could have always gone and spoken to her personally if I had an issue. Unfortunately, though, I had written to her previously regarding Jigsaw and not recieved any response or even acknowledgement that my letter had been recieved.
I next brought up the issue of the litter the rats were kept on. They agreed to try swapping the wood pellets for carefresh, which was another success. Added to this, they agred to attempt to cover the strip lights so they were not glaring down on the rats all day. These were positive changes that really made me happy, but from then on, it was somewhat downhill.
When we got to the fact that the water bottles had been empty on the last three times I'd visited, they told me that the reason was because the rats chewed them, causing them to leak. Im skeptical of this, as the empty bottles I witness were never, ever chewed up or leaking. They were simply bone dry as if they hadn't been checked that day. Also, I've had rats for 10 years, using the exact same water bottles that Pets At Home used and have never ever had one chewed on.
But the end result was that the store agreed to put two bottles per cage so that if one was chewed (not filled up) there would be a spare.
After this, we turned to discussing why the dumbo rats had large, spacious cages while the top eared rats were put in tiny tanks, and also why the two varieties were implied to be different breeds, with different price tags on them. I was told that the dumbo rats were living in what used to be a chinchilla cage, but had been left vacant, allowing them to use it for rats. This was fine, but when I asked why they couldn't house all the rats of one gender together in the large cage, top eared or dumbo, the response shocked me.
"Well, we could......we just don't want to."
I asked why this was, and also why the store constantly told buyers that dumbos and top ears could not live together, when they certainly could. I was told that their concern was that if someone brought a dumbo and a top ear from them, and intended to breed them, they would ruin the 'specialness' which is a dumbo by breeding it with a top ear.
I asked them how many people that brought rats from them actually went on to breed them anyway. I was told they didn't know, but if someone did want to breed, they should not be breeding the two varieties together, hence their telling them to keep them seperate.
It is clear to me, and to most everyone else in the rat fancy, that the real reason Pets At Home keep their dumbos and top eared seperate, and tell people they cannot be mixed, is because of the huge mark up in price of the dumbos over the top ears. They want people to believe they cannot mix the two so they can convince them they need 2 dumbos, and hence get more money. Anyone who buys a dumbo off them and wants a companion for it is now told they must buy another dumbo rather than a cheaper priced top ear.
When I asked about where the shop obtains its stock, I was told 'a good local breeder'. Anyone working in rat rescue and welfare knows that no reputable, ethical breeder sells their rats to a pet shop. When I asked if he, the manager, had ever been to the premises to see the conditions the rats were kept in, surprise surprise he had not. He would also not tell me where they were, or the name of the 'breeder'. Though he did say that the premises were inspected by someone who also works for Pets At Home. This secrecy and unwillingness to allow me any details about the breeder screams rodent farm to me. And indeed, other sources have given me information which strongly backs this suspicion up.
When I mentioned that I personally was opposed to any pet shop selling rats, I was asked why. I told them that my main priority was animal welfare, and was quickly interrupted by a curt 'well so is ours, funnily enough!'
No, Pets At Home, you are a business. This is your main, over-riding purpose: to make money. I make no money from my rescuing. In fact, I lose money, a great deal of it aswell. When you are making huge amounts of profit each year from animals, you can never truely say your over-riding priority is animal welfare.
I mentioned that rats in pet shops are not bred to a standard, they are not from any kind of quality genetic line, they are simply bred as quickly as possible in as large amounts as possible to keep up with demand. In response to this, I was told that they were very careful about where their animals came from and that if a member of the public brought them a litter of rats to sell, they would not accept it because, apparently, they have a certain quality they insist on in all their rats. This is obviously the 'quality' that the faceless, nameless breeder that no one is allowed to know about produces.....
When I said that in my perfect world, pet shops would not be allowed to sell animals at all, it was implied to me that this was a foolish view since if pet shops didn't sell animals, where else would people go to get pets? When I suggested good, ethical, responsible, proven breeders or rescue homes, I was told that no, they wouldn't. I was told that people would instead go to someone 'up the road' who had bred a litter in his back yard.
It seems back-yard breeding is only acceptable to Pets At Home when its them who is doing it. They do not want us going to people breeding litters from their home, but they're a-ok with us buying their mill rodents.
I let this one go, however, as it became clear to me that we were on two different planes here. I was 100% for animal welfare, they were 100% about making money.
When the word rescue came up, Pets At Home took this chance to pimp their new adoption center scheme to me. At the time, it seemed the idea was only in its early stages, but now it is in full swing in Pets At Home stores up and down the country.
The idea is that they set up a small adoption center at the back of each store where animals are offered as rescues and adoptions, and the donation you give goes to an animal charity. This sounds fantastic, right? A step in the right direction for Pets At Home, no?
The fact of the matter is that many of the 'rescue' animals they put into these adoption centers are simply ex-stock that didn't sell. When it gets old and stops being cute, it is moved from the front of the shop to the 'adoption center'. People in the rat fancy have given first hand accounts of how they saw a particular rat for sale at the front of the shop in the morning, which had been moved to the 'adoption center' by the afternoon.
These adoption centers are simply another way for Pets At Home to get rid of their surplus stock. Now, while these adoption schemes are certainly better than the alternative (which would have been sending the animal back to the breeder, where it would almost certainly have been killed) it is still misleading to the public to advertise these animals as rescues, when really, they're just Pets At Home cast offs. These are animals which have been turned into unwanted pets due to Pets At Home's tendancy to get in more stock than they can sell, and they then have the gall to act as if they are doing a service to animal rescue. Ironic when the vast majority of my genuine rescue rats were originally from Pets At Home to begin with.
Pets At Home, if you wish to aid animal rescue, then stop selling animals. Because I can assure you that a good percentage of the small animals sitting in rescue homes right this second were originally sold by you.
And what of the donation you are expected to give for your 'rescue' animal? Where does that go? The truth is, no-one is completely sure yet. There are rumours that the money genuinely goes to an authentic animal charity, but there are equally as many rumours that a percentage of it goes straight back into Pets At Home's pocket. The truth is that when you hand over your donation for your adopted rat from Pets At Home's adoption center, you don't know for sure where it will end up. Several people have actually asked if they could donate the money to a charity of their own choosing without Pets At Home acting as the middle man, and were told no. The jury is out on this one.
But one fact does remain: while getting a rat from their adoption center is better than buying one from them outright, you are still giving them the impression that it doesn't matter how many rats they get in as they will always find homes for them, so you are still freeing up room for more rats to be brought in.
The only truely ethical way to 'rescue' an animal from them is to ensure that the one you pick out of their adoption center was a genuine rescue case, handed in by a member of the public, and not simply an animal Pets At Home bred themselves in the first place!
After talk of their adoption center, which at the time I was impressed by but am now becoming more and more skeptical of, we moved onto why, exactly, older rats like Jigsaw were left, unsold, for so long. I was told that no rat was ever left for sale for anything over 6 weeks maximum. If it did not sell in this period, it was taken home by a staff member. But Jigsaw was certainly in the shop for over 6 weeks, and probably almost double this. But when I wrote to ask about taking him on due to the amount of time he'd been there, no one was interested in entertaining anything other than the idea of selling him to me at full price.
The bottom line is that though some changes were made to the rat living conditions (proper, safe litter, no more glaring lights, and hiding places for all the rats) there are many more things that Pets At Home need to fix, and sadly, they didn't seem willing as they didn't seem to view them as problems. They also, apparently, viewed me as naiive enough to be won over by their tales of good breeders, adoption centers, and how they were doing a service to the animal world by selling pets.
Make your own choices on this shop. As pet shops go, they have better conditions than a lot, but as they are such a large, wealthy company, it makes it even worse that they consistantly ignore the issues I raised. I also know Im not the first person to raise these issues. I would have very much appreciated it if they had simply been honest with me. I would have preferred it if they'd said 'we are a business, we exist to make money, we make changes where we can but ultimately we have to make a profit. Our water bottles were empty because our staff obviously weren't checking them properly, we'll sort that out. We house dumbos seperately as they're a novelty and we can charge more for them,' rather than thinking I was dumb enough to believe they were some kind of animal guardians and welfare supporters. They tried to imply they were somehow in the same league as me when it came to animal welfare, which is simply laughable when you consider that most of the rescue work I do is clearing up their mess, and the messes of other pet shops like them. None of my rescue rats have ever come from ethical breeders.....
Anyone who breeds animals that then end up, en masse, in rescue homes up and down the country, is not concerned with animal welfare as their top priority.
There are plenty of shops you can buy pet food, supplies, toys and treats from that do not sell animals, and there are hundreds of rescue homes and good, responsible breeders out there who have animals you can take on. Please consider taking your business to these sources rather than Pets At Home, or any pet shop. It is only via this type of boycotting that we will ever get pet shops to stop selling animals.
As you now rarely see puppies and kittens in pet shops, this is what we should be aiming for with all animals.