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An Open Letter to Petco

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Margo De Mello
Executive Director
House Rabbit Society
148 Broadway
Richmond, California 94804

February 14, 2002

Brian Devine CEO and President
Petco Animal Supplies, Inc.
9125 Rehco Rd.
San Diego, CA 92121

Dear Mr. Devine,

As you are well aware, in 1994 PETCO Vice-President Craig Walker delivered a written promise to several animal rescue organizations to the effect that PETCO, as a national retailer, would refrain from selling rabbits, as it had refrained from selling puppies and kittens.  Here, to refresh your memory, are two brief excerpts from Mr. Walker’s letter (dated 5/31/94):

"OK.  No more rabbits for sale at PETCO.A house rabbit can make a great pet.  However, we have found it next to impossible to convince inexperienced prospective owners that rabbits need special care, attention, and devotion, just like dogs and cats.  A bunny grows up into something quite different than that warm and fuzzy fur ball that loves to be held against your cheek.

We attempted to educate prospective owners that house rabbits are to be kept out of the elements of weather, away from other harmful animals, need a proper diet, need their home cleaned and litter changed regularly, should be spayed or neutered and need regular veterinarian checkups.
House rabbits need lots of attention and they love to play with toys and love healthy treats.  A rabbit should receive a nutritional steady diet designed especially for rabbits.

The more we learned, the harder we tried.  But we just weren’t satisfied with the results.  We feared that too few new rabbit owners were not sincerely accepting the responsibility for the life of the rabbit.

Therefore there will be no more bunnies (for sale) at PETCO."

Mr. Walker’s letter was widely circulated among rescue organizations, and PETCO executives were lauded for their enlightened decision.  House Rabbit Society was one of the organizations greeting PETCO’s decision with enthusiasm and relief, since we heartily agree with all of the statements quoted above.  However, Mr. Walker’s statements notwithstanding, it was not long before rabbits were once again included as "merchandise" at various PETCO locations.  Repeated attempts on the part of House Rabbit Society members and representatives (as well as representatives from other organizations) to investigate the reasons for this violation of PETCO’s "no more rabbits" policy have been met with unclear or contradictory statements by PETCO store personnel.  We just can’t seem to get a straight answer.

House Rabbit Society volunteers have been told, at various times and locations, and by various PETCO employees or managers, that  "we are only following orders," or "the national office forces us to do it" or "its our own decision on the local level."  Ironically, and adding insult to
injury, while rabbits are still being sold in various PETCO stores, the PETCO Foundation has been busy contacting rescue organizations such as ours, offering financial and/or other kinds of support for our rescue and education programs.

To say that House Rabbit Society has been disappointed by PETCO’s failure to adhere to its own stated policy over these last several years would be a gross understatement. PETCO’s continued selling of rabbits goes against everything that PETCO itself claims to stand for.  According to the Humane Society of the United States, rabbits are the third most-frequently relinquished mammals at shelters across the country.  Through the sale of rabbits and other small animals, PETCO is choosing to contribute to the overpopulation problems that we see in shelters every day.  Mr. Walker’s letter makes clear that PETCO is fully aware of this, yet the company has taken no steps that we are aware of to enforce the policy laid out by Mr. Walker.  To make matters worse, we have seen documentation regarding various PETCO stores where the rabbits for sale are underage and/or sick, and do not receive proper medical care.  These animals often die soon after being sold, or after their new owners have incurred steep veterinary bills in desperate attempts to save their lives.  This simply must stop.

As America’s largest national rabbit rescue organization (with 8,000+ members, and chapters or licensed representatives in most states), House Rabbit Society is frequently queried about its position on PETCO’s sale of rabbits. We are deeply concerned about this issue, since many
of the pet rabbits we rescue and rehabilitate were originally purchased at PETCO.  You may already be aware that we, because of our objections to PETCO’s practices, have not participated in PETCO programs for many years, although we had no specific policy in place. However, at its January, 2002, meeting, the Board of Directors of the national House Rabbit Society voted unanimously to adopt the following policy:

The national House Rabbit Society will not participate in any PETCO programs, or accept any money from the PETCO Foundation, until PETCO stops selling rabbits at all its locations across the country.

You will notice that our policy specifies "national House Rabbit Society." The reason for this is that our chapters, although all affiliated with national House Rabbit Society, are actually incorporated independently, in their own states. During the last several years, some of our state chapters have developed excellent working relationships with local PETCO stores whose managers have decided not to sell rabbits. Therefore, we have decided not to require those chapters to sever their relationships with local PETCO stores, as long as the PETCO stores they are working with do not sell rabbits. We do not wish to penalize either the chapters themselves or those PETCO managers who are enlightened enough to prohibit the sale of rabbits in their individual stores.

However, the vast majority of our chapters have, in fact, severed all relationships with PETCO due to PETCO’s sale of rabbits.  They do not purchase supplies from PETCO stores, and they encourage their local membership to boycott the stores as well.  In this, they have joined
numerous other organizations all over the country who object to PETCO’s selling of live animals.

In closing, on behalf of the Board of Directors of House Rabbit Society, I ask that PETCO immediately reconsider its present practice regarding the sale of rabbits in PETCO stores. PETCO has honored its policy not to sell puppies and kittens in any of its stores; we ask that you extend the same protection to rabbits, and cease the sale of rabbits in all PETCO locations. This would open the door to new and productive relationships between House Rabbit Society chapters and PETCO stores all across the country. House Rabbit Society education days held at your stores would build customer traffic, and PETCO would see a resulting increase in sales of rabbit-related products.  Once again, PETCO would be seen as a "rabbit-friendly" retailer. Until that time, we will not be able to work with a company who continues to exploit rabbits for profit.

I eagerly await your response to our request.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need further information or clarification on anything covered in this letter.

Sincerely,Margo DeMello, Ph.D.
President and Executive Director
House Rabbit Society

Dan Cowan, Director of Communications. Petco
Arthur Lewis, Director of Livestock, Petco
Sally Stork, V.P., Petco
Lance Schwimmer, V.P., Petco
Dave Charron, V.P., Petco
Razia Richter, V.P., Petco
Leonard Green & Partners, L.P., Petco
David Bonderman, Texas Pacific Group

House Rabbit Society is a nonprofit rescue and education group.
We welcome your feedback and appreciate your donations. Please join today!