An inspection report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture details horrifying conditions at Sun Pet Ltd., Atlanta, GA.
Sun Pet is one of the largest wholesale livestock suppliers for pet retailers, public aquariums and educational institutions in the United States, according to LinkedIn. Sun Pet supplies animals to PetSmart, Petco and other retail pet stores.
At a July 29, 2021 USDA inspection, Veterinary Medical Officer Lisa Ekman documented appalling conditions for the animals at Sun Pet.
Ekman found 22 hamster enclosures with cannibalism occurring in them.
“One enclosure had a hamster that was actively being cannibalized while it was still alive and another enclosure had active cannibalism of a recently deceased hamster,” according to the USDA report.
Ekman said “two enclosures had approximately eight pieces of deceased hamster with seven alive hamsters remaining. One enclosure had a recently deceased hamster located under the feed bin. Another enclosure had deceased hamster pieces in the feed bin on top of the pellets for consumption and in the bedding material as well. The rest of the enclosures had varying amounts of deceased hamster pieces in the enclosures with the remaining alive hamsters.”
Ekman documented 10 gerbils in an enclosure together that had no access to water to drink.
“Upon placing a stainless steel step in the enclosure below the waterer to allow access, all the gerbils ran to the corner with the waterer and drank voraciously,” the inspector noted.
Many animals at the facility appeared to have untreated medical conditions. The USDA inspection report documents:
A hamster with an excessively swollen red right eye that it could not open. The entire right side of the hamster’s face was also swollen.
Two hamsters in separate enclosures appeared unthrifty, underweight and each had a wet belly and tail.
A thin, unthrifty hamster was found lying on its side not moving in the back of the enclosure. Once roused, the hamster stood unmoving with her eyes closed, appearing dull and lethargic.
One unthrifty hamster was found in a corner at the back of an enclosure with a mostly hairless face and reddened/crusty skin underneath.
One hamster had approximately 50 percent of its hair missing and appeared thin and unkempt.
A rabbit housed singly in an enclosure was noted to have increased respiratory effort with yellow nasal discharge and yellow crust present around her right eye.
Some of the hamster enclosures were cracked and in need of repair and the animal’s food storage area needed to be cleaned. Ekman documented spilled food with green fuzz growing on it and she found two rodent corpses along the wall that stored feed.
Ekman said the animals that were being prepared to ship to retail stores were stacked in transport enclosures up to 10 high, making the shipping crates unstable and hazardous to the safety of the animals inside.
During the inspection, Ekman saw an employee pick up the hamster transport enclosures using only one handle and roughly put them into place. The way the employee was handling the enclosures caused them to tilt vertically with the live animals inside.
Ekman cited Sun Pet with four Non Critical violations and two Direct violations. The facility was given until August 18 to have all of the violations corrected.
For years Sun Pet has been under investigation for animal neglect and cruelty.
In 2010, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) released undercover video footage obtained at Sun Pet that shows employees squeezing animals to death and putting them in bags to smash them to death against a table. Later that year, the Georgia Department of Agriculture placed Sun Pet on probation for two years and entered into a consent order for humane care, structural strength and euthanasia violations at the facility.
In 2017, former Sun Pet employee Morgan Mays came forward as a whistleblower and sent state officials video evidence of a rat that had drowned in a toilet at the facility.
Mays reported that she witnessed employees kick animals and drop them. Mays also told officials the euthanasia machine at the facility was cracked, delaying timely euthanasia for animals.
Georgia state inspectors visited Sun Pet in November 2017 and did not find any violations. Officials said the cracked euthanasia machine at Sun Pet had been replaced.
In February 2018, Channel 2 Action News released a story on Sun Pet that included an interview with Mays and her description of the animal mistreatment occurring at the facility. Shortly after the news story came out, the USDA inspected Sun Pet in March, November and December 2018, but found no violations at the facility.
In 2019, a USDA inspector found two hamsters at Sun Pet with large wounds on their necks, and the animals were not receiving medical care. The inspector called the veterinarian and learned the facility was not employing a regularly attending veterinarian and a veterinarian had not visited the facility in more than a year. Sun Pet was cited with one Direct and one Non Critical USDA violation at that inspection.
In April 2021, the facility was again cited for failing to employ a veterinarian under formal arrangements as is required by the Animal Welfare Act.
Sun Pet also operates under the name Fish Mart and Pet Source, according to the USDA website. In addition to small animals, Sun Pet supplies pet retailers with freshwater fish, marine life, reptiles, invertebrates and birds, according to their Facebook page.
There are currently no federal regulations governing the humane care, treatment and transportation of fish, invertebrates, reptiles or birds in the U.S., and those animals are not subject to USDA oversight.
Numerous organizations have launched campaigns to urge Petco and PetSmart to stop selling live animals that are obtained from breeding mills like Sun Pet. Mays told Channel 2 that the pet retailers apparently see nothing wrong with the treatment of the animals at Sun Pet.
"They come walk through but, like I said, they get shielded," she said.
2021 Sun Pet USDA Inspection Report: