VICE Report: Animals Are ‘Dying at Alarming Rates’ in PetSmart Stores

Published by Katherine Sullivan.
6 min read

Lauren Kaori Gurley, a reporter from VICE, recently took a deep dive into the world of PetSmart’s treatment of animals, and what she uncovered was nothing short of horrifying. In a new article—“Some Understaffed PetSmarts Are Dealing With Freezers Overflowing With Dead Pets”—Gurley’s laying it all bare.

Check out these seven shocking PetSmart takeaways:

People going into PetSmart should know the company doesn’t view pets as animals. They view them as products. When businesses apply numerical value over moral value, you see lots of abuse.

It wasn’t about their health. It’s about how quickly [PetSmart] can get this animal to a sellable point.

There’s sadly a lot of deaths, partially because the company doesn’t schedule enough people on each shift, so issues get missed.

The amount of death and loss was unacceptable.

There were so many times where I wanted to do the right thing but felt like I couldn’t, because if you do something [PetSmart] didn’t like, they would decrease your hours until you were forced to quit.

I had to seek out counseling for mental health.

I ended up getting diagnosed with PTSD—PTSD tied to animals. I felt immense guilt. I wouldn’t let myself sleep. I felt selfish going to bed. But at my job, animals passed away so often, you couldn’t do anything.

These 👆 statements were reportedly made to Gurley by both current and former PetSmart employees. A law firm representing PetSmart claimed the allegations were false and defamatory and requested that VICE not publish the article—instead the firm claimed that PetSmart “holds the health and well-being of its associates, customers, and pets as its top priority.”

Bullying a media outlet with threats of legal action? That’s pretty telling. And for a company that’s long been under fire for chronically failing to provide basic necessities for some of the animals it buys and sells and for buying from suppliers that violate the law—as uncovered previously by PETA and reported in new allegations from VICE—it’s pretty typical, too. But VICE and Gurley didn’t shy away from the suffering and death that was reportedly described—instead, they gave “traumatized” PetSmart staffers an outlet. Here’s a bit of what was reported:

Multiple employees reportedly admitted that “cost-cutting in the form of severe understaffing, the consolidation of jobs, a lack of sufficient job training, and denial of veterinary care and proper habitats for animals has meant that pets are falling sick, forgoing treatment, and dying at alarming rates in [PetSmart] stores, where freezers and coolers, in some cases, are literally ‘overflowing’ with dead pets.” The accounts told to Gurley are reportedly backed up by “photographic evidence,” including the VICE-obtained photo below, apparently depicting a freezer at an Arizona PetSmart store that’s “filled with two month’s worth of dead animals due to understaffing.”

According to Gurley, employees claim that PetSmart store managers frequently deny “sick and diseased” animals vital veterinary care because they care more about profitability than animals’ well-being.

Former Murfreesboro, Tennessee, PetSmart staffer Joy Potts reportedly said:

A regular vet visit could be $60 or more. If you have an animal worth $50, the manager is like, ‘I’m spending more money than it’s worth to just sell it.’ It wasn’t about their health. It’s about how quickly we can get this animal to a sellable point.

Isabela Burrows, an associate lead at the Howell, Michigan, store, reported to VICE that “four consecutive shipments of fish quickly died upon entering [PetSmart’s] tanks.”

And former Spring Hill, Tennessee, PetSmart associate Isabelle Cope told Gurley that when she tried to seek veterinary care for an “unresponsive hamster,” her superior told her “no,” that “it wouldn’t be worth the money to euthanize him.”

Referencing several former employees’ accounts and a PETA report, VICE pointed out that “some PetSmart stores used to give bonuses to managers who kept veterinary costs low.”

All these accounts echo what PETA uncovered in 2017 and 2018 during an eyewitness investigation into three PetSmart stores across the country. Speaking of a guinea pig who had an abscessed knee joint that spread infection to his heart, his brain, and elsewhere, one store manager said:

I’m not going to take it to an emergency vet to get put down … ‘Cause if you take it to the emergency vet, you’re gonna pay an extra $200, $300. There’s no point in me paying that for a $15 animal.

According to VICE, PetSmart employees also reported that “in several cases … animals have died en masse as a result of power outages caused by inclement weather.” In one instance, during a nor’easter storm that caused a power outage at the store in Barnstable, Massachusetts, rather than being prepared with backup generators, PetSmart provided “winter hand warmers for workers to place on reptile tanks,” apparently according to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaint. Similarly, PETA’s eyewitness noted how managers left animals to languish on the shelves at a Brandon, Florida, PetSmart store during Hurricane Irma, and workers returned four days later to find that several had escaped, approximately 30 small mammals had run out of water, and some had died.

We Know ‘[t]he Amount of Death and Loss’ Is ‘Unacceptable.’ But at PetSmart, What Actually Happens to Animals’ Bodies?

When an animal dies at a PetSmart store—whether, as a former employee described to VICE, they were “returned to the store by their owners … [or] arrived dead on trucks in the winter … [or] didn’t get necessary veterinary care”—the chain’s “deceased store-owned pet policy” apparently specifies a plan. But according to the employees Gurley spoke with, due to understaffing, the plan is not always followed. Lea Romo-Serrano—a former PetSmart employee in Tullahoma, Tennessee—claimed that she was asked roughly 30 different times to throw animals’ bodies away in the trash after hours, sometimes “in the trash cans at her house,” often “because the coolers in her store were overflowing with dead animals.” In 2020, Romo-Serrano’s supervisor reportedly texted her “photos of plastic bags with dead animals wrapped in paper towels, and wrote, ‘Take care of these [tomorrow] before we get fired. Just get em out of here please.’” (The supervisor denied this claim to VICE, and PetSmart stated that the allegations do not represent its 1,650 stores and over 50,000 associates.)

The former PetSmart employee also reportedly told VICE:

I felt like I was in an abusive relationship or cycle with my job. There were so many times where I wanted to do the right thing but felt like I couldn’t, because if you do something they didn’t like, they would decrease your hours until you were forced to quit.

Romo-Serrano apparently wasn’t the only staffer who admitted to Gurley that working at PetSmart had taken a toll on their mental health.

PetSmart Won’t Do Right by Animals—but You Can

While these allegations are certainly shocking, to PETA, they’re not surprising—we’ve repeatedly exposed how neglect and misery run rampant in the pet trade, including at PetSmart stores and among the animal dealers that supply them.

The PETA investigation into PetSmart stores mentioned above, for example, led store managers in Nashville, Tennessee, to plead guilty to cruelty-to-animals charges.

And a previous PETA investigation into Sun Pet Ltd. (an Atlanta-based wholesale animal dealer that supplies animals to numerous PetSmart locations) revealed that a worker bashed live hamsters against a table and that other acts of abuse were committed.

More recently, PETA obtained a damning federal inspection report about Sun Pet, documenting that dead hamsters’ partially eaten bodies were found in nearly two dozen enclosures—and one hamster was being eaten alive by other severely stressed hamsters.

PETA has been urging PetSmart to reconsider its relationship with Sun Pet and to end animal sales entirely for more than 10 years.

PetSmart’s lack of conscientious action has repeatedly shown that the chain can’t or won’t do right by animals, but we can take one simple step to help stop the suffering of individuals in the pet trade: Never buy anyone or anything—not even a bag of treats—from stores that sell living, feeling beings. That includes, an online companion animal supply store that sold its soul to PetSmart in 2017. Shopping via Chewy is just as bad as supporting PetSmart. Thankfully, there are many companion animal supply stores and online retailers—like, Target, and—that don’t condemn animals to miserable lives and painful deaths. Click below to discover them all …

… and then click again to take more action:

Stay up to date on the latest vegan trends and get breaking animal rights news delivered straight to your inbox!

By submitting this form, you’re acknowledging that you have read and agree to our privacy policy and agree to receive e-mails from us.

Get the Latest Tips—Right in Your Inbox
We’ll e-mail you weekly with the latest in vegan recipes, fashion, and more!

By submitting this form, you’re acknowledging that you have read and agree to our privacy policy and agree to receive e-mails from us.