By: Monica Mercer
A manager of The Pet Company at Hamilton Place mall threw a hamster in a trash compactor because of the animal's history of fighting with other hamsters.
The hamster was still alive, a former employee testified Monday during the second day of a Chattanooga City Court trial in which city officials are fighting to put the store out of business.
The detail about the hamster's life made Linda Eddlemon with the East Tennessee Animal Alliance squirm in her seat and silently gasp in horror.
She said after the proceeding ended for the day that such actions of store employees prove that the business had little regard for the well-being of the animals it was trying to sell.
Similar fears by city officials led officers with the McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center to raid The Pet Company on June 15, seizing 82 pets and slapping it with 90 City Code violations, including many tied to animal cruelty.
McKamey officials said the store, among other things, operated without air conditioning, failed to properly water its dogs, let them wallow in feces and urine and didn't even follow its own guidelines outlining the proper care of the animals.
"We would really like to see this store shut down," said Ms. Eddlemon, who volunteers for the Animal Alliance, a local nonprofit organization that strives to educate people on the treatment of animals.
The Pet Company is fighting to get all of the animals back and is expected to present its side of the case today as the trial continues.
An inspector with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture already has recommended that the store's license to operate be suspended after a June 22 inspection found many of the same alleged violations still in place.
But lawyers for United Pet Supply, the New Jersey-based parent of The Pet Company, have argued from the beginning that the store follows federal guidelines concerning how pet stores should be run and therefore did not violate any local city codes.
As proof on Monday, Pet Company lawyer Andrew Pippenger succeeded in making McKamey Director of Operations Paula Hurn admit that the temperature never got above 85 degrees on the day she and her colleagues raided the store. According to Mr. Pippenger, federal law states a pet store's temperature must not go above 85 degrees for more than four consecutive hours if dogs are present.
Still, Ms. Hurn testified the store that day was "as hot as blue blazes" and seemed unfazed by Mr. Pippenger's suggestions that The Pet Company did things by the book.
Ms. Hurn's boss, McKamey Executive Director Karen Walsh, will be cross-examined by Mr. Pippenger today, but also did not waver Monday in her testimony about the store's conditions.
Ms. Walsh in particular testified about the way the store tried to water its dogs. Dogs must drink from a pool of water because of how their tongues help scoop the liquid into their mouths, Ms. Walsh testified. The Pet Company, however, tried to water its dogs with water bottles that required a sucking action on a tube.
Not only were the water bottles nonfunctional, Ms. Walsh said, but it was almost impossible for the dogs to get adequate hydration because of the anatomy of their mouths.
Ms. Walsh showed a video of a dog named "Cali" who she said "desperately" tried to get water from one of the water bottles for five minutes with no luck.
"All the dogs were dehydrated," Ms. Walsh testified.