PetSmart raid could lead to animal abuse charges

Authorities in Nashville, Tennessee, are weighing whether to file criminal charges after confiscating half a dozen animals suspected of being abused from a local PetSmart store.

The six animals -- a guinea pig, mice and hamsters -- remained at a veterinary hospital on Friday after being removed from a PetSmart store raided Thursday by officers with Metro Animal Care and Control, a unit of Nashville's health department. All were taken from the store because they were "sick, injured or exhibited clinical signs of illness," Lauren Bluestone, director of the agency, told CBS MoneyWatch.

A spokesperson for the Nashville District Attorney confirmed the investigation and that criminal charges are being considered. The target of the potential charges is unclear.       

Assisted by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department and the DA's office, the animal control agency executed a search warrant obtained after the city received a video and photos from advocacy group People for Ethical Treatment of Animals that appear to show animals at the store that have received inadequate care, said Brian Todd, a spokesperson for city's health department.

Investigators are still gathering evidence and sifting through store records obtained during Thursday's raid, and hope to make a final decision on whether to file charges by next week, Bluestone said.   

Dan Paden, director of evidence analysis at PETA, said the organization believes the store repeatedly refused to arrange veterinary care for sick animals. 

The video that triggered the raid was secretly recorded by a PetSmart employee working on behalf of PETA. Asked in the video why the animals hadn't received care, the PetSmart employee said they had to limit spending in order to get quarterly bonuses.

petsmart-guinea-pig-peggy-602x452-1.jpg

This photo taken by a PetSmart worker on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal shows a guinea pig at a company store in Nashville. Local authorities later raided the store and removed sick animals. 

PETA

The store involved in the raid declined comment. 

PetSmart, America's largest pet retailer with more than 1,500 stores, said in an emailed statement that employees are instructed to have sick animals taken to a vet.

"We are always committed to putting the needs of the pets in our care first," PetSmart said. "We empower our store associates to do what's right for all pets, which includes instruction to have any sick animal immediately seen by a veterinarian if needed. There is no adverse effect on a store team that takes every step possible to care for pets. We take these allegations very seriously and are working closely with the Bellevue authorities to obtain the relevant facts. Additionally, we are investigating the validity of the video, given some of the footage is several years old."  

The store raided by authorities is in Bellevue, a neighborhood in Nashville.

Paden said the video clearly discloses that some footage was recorded in the past. 

PetSmart also drew unwanted media attention last month when a video showing a dog mishandled by a PetSmart groomer at a different store went viral. The company later said it had fired the employee involved.

In January, PetSmart said it had investigated the deaths of two dogs and the injury of another after the canines were dropped off for grooming at one of its New Jersey stores, according to published reports. PetSmart said the incidents were unrelated.