PETsMART dumps British subsidiary

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2000:

Phoenix––Describing a 92-store British subsidiary, Pet City, as “an asset that has not met our performance expectations,” PETsMART president Philip L. Francis on December 15 announced that it had been sold––at a substantial loss––to the British firm Pets At Home.

The deal was reportedly already in negotiation when the British TV program Weekend Watchdog on December 3 interviewed four former PETsMART/Pet City employees who described senior staff bludgeoning unsold hamsters and rabbits at stores in Fife, East Anglia, and Surrey.

PETsMART marketing director Simon Blower responded to the content of the broadcast a day before it actually aired by setting up “an external advisory panel, made up of independent consultants, veterinarians, and educators” to do a “comprehensive review” of Pet City animal care.

“We are absolutely determined to make whatever changes may be necessary to get things right in all our stores,” Blower said.

The Weekend Watchdog report was particularly shocking because PETsMART has labored to earn a humane reputation. PETsMART, now emulated by several others, was the first pet supply chain to stop selling puppies and kittens, and instead help humane societies and rescue groups to facilitate adoptions. Since 1992 the PETsMART Luv-A-Pet adoption boutiques have helped place more than 600,000 animals. A nonprofit subsidiary, PETsMART Charities, now headed by former American Humane Association marketing executive Joyce Briggs, has become a major funder of animal rescue projects.

Briggs’ predecessors include Larry Hawk, president of the American SPCA, and Ed Sayres, president of the San Francisco SPCA.

Although PETsMART continues to sell rodents, birds, and reptiles, a matter of ongoing concern to the humane community, the constant presence of humane representatives in PETsMART stores is believed to insure quality care.

Purchasing the Pet City chain in 1996, PETsMART was apparently unable to restructure it effectively and retrain staff to meet company standards. The Weekend Watchdog broadcast may have been the last straw for executives who had seen Pet City for some time as a liability instead of a plus.

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