Was Petco Careless in Letting 100 Animals Die During a Recent Flood?

Earlier this week, at least 100 animals died at a Johnson City, N.Y. Petco store due to flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee so severe that it turned the pet store's parking lot into a pond. Evidence strongly suggests that the deaths could have been prevented.

On the official Petco blog, animal care and education vice president Marcie Whichard writes that the animals died because of "a communications lapse from the city to the store in evacuations orders." She also states that the flooding was caused by sewage/drainage issues affecting Johnson City, a town located near Binghamton in south-central New York. The company's now investigating why Johnson City didn't send the store any evacuation orders or warn it about prior flooding, she writes. "Had we been aware of potential flooding we would have removed all of the animals from the store as we do in all other locations."

Her statement goes on:

An associate went by to check the store at 11:45 p.m. on Wednesday night and there were no signs of flooding or a flood warning in effect. Our store associates and manager in Johnson City had no reason to expect our store would be impacted by the flooding of the Susquehanna River so the decision was made to keep the animals in the store. We have a hotline for associates to use if they ever feel an animal is in danger and no calls were made to the hotline suggesting that the associates feared flooding would impact the store and endanger the animals.

Early Thursday morning our team arrived to work and was shocked at the enormity of the situation. They immediately tried to enter the building to evacuate the animals but were turned away by the authorities due to concerns for human safety. At the time the city was focused on rescuing people from their homes by boat and could not divert resources to our store until Friday.

But this argument, unlike Petco's parking lot, doesn't hold water. As one news report points out, people who lived very close to the store were evacuated. On September 7 at 5:35 PM, Broome County Emergency Management issued a NY-Alert message titled, "Flood in Johnson City at or above levels of 2006 record flood/If you evacuated in 2006 then you need to evacuate now." That message called for everyone on Petco's street to evacuate, and predicted that the Susquehanna River would flood "to the same level or above the levels" as it had during a 2006 flood. The National Weather Service also issued warnings. Did Petco not receive them?

As one blogger who lives by the Petco notes, heavy rains began on September 6. By the following afternoon, schools were evacuating and businesses were shutting down. Petco shut down as well—and for whatever reason, decided to leave its animals inside even while other pet stores in the area evacuated their animals.

Furthermore, the rising waters of the Susquehanna—not the sewage/drainage issues Petco's complaining about— caused all the flooding, says Johnson City Mayor Dennis Hannon. "The water moves into that area," he told a reporter. "With all the flood warnings and evacuation orders that were issued, for them not to go down there is just absolutely disgusting."

The Internet seems to agree with Hannon. In addition to this Reddit thread, people who have left comments on the Petco blog say they've called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, plan to boycott Petco, hope someone plans protests against Petco, and the like. Someone's already set up a Boycott Petco Facebook page, and there's also a petition to kick the chain out of Johnson City. Given that the flood waters were quickly rising, and that everyone in the area was evacuating, it seems like Petco had plenty of notice that something horrible could happen to the hamsters, snakes, and other creatures inside its store. Better safe than sorry, as they say—if for PR reasons alone! Damn.

[Petco, Press Connects, Reddit. Image via Flabby McGee]