ATLANTA (CBS46) — A national pet shop has stopped getting animals from an Atlanta supplier after CBS46 investigation discovered multiple federal violations. 

This summer, the United States Department of Agriculture cited the local supplier, Sun Pet LTD in Atlanta, for having such horrifying conditions that hamsters began eating each other alive.

CBS46 Investigates dug into documents spanning more than a decade and found reports saying workers failed to treat these small pets for: swollen eyes, labored breathing, hair and weight loss, among other painful conditions.

Animal advocates are demanding answers on why the pet supplier is allowed to continue to operate.

The warehouse on Zip Industrial Boulevard SE in Atlanta houses over 12,000 small animals from gerbils to hedgehogs and rabbits. A recent USDA report reveals a disturbing glimpse inside the facility.

The most shocking: veterinary medical officers reporting a couple dozen hamsters eating each other alive.

"That's heartbreaking. That doesn't need to happen. animal cruelty is not okay under any circumstances no matter how big or small the animal might be," said Jhanel Campbell, who was shopping near Petco. 

It's a gruesome inspection from the end of July, turning up six different federal violations from from Sun Pet under the "animal welfare act."

"About a dozen sick and injured animals, who staff had not even seen much less contacted a veterinarian about, and other sanitation issues that reveal a culture of systemic neglect," said Dan Payden, vice president of People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PETA has been following questionable practices from Sun Pet for almost a decade, even going under-cover. PETA released videos to CBS46 Investigates, from inside the warehouse, starting from 2010.

"It's very disturbing. This is the first time I've seen how they deal with animals before they show up in the store," said Desmond Pressey, who was shopping near Petco. 

CBS46 Investigates took these concerns directly to Sun Pet. 

Denying an on camera interview, a spokesperson with Sun Pet instead released a statement saying the July violations have been corrected, and they  “operate with the highest welfare standards.”

At Sun Pet, the health and wellbeing of our animals is always our top priority. The conditions described in the USDA report are not acceptable, and our teams immediately took action to rectify the issues. Since this report was released, the USDA has come back to conduct another assessment, and no non-compliant items were identified during their inspection. Sun Pet additionally has taken numerous internal actions to ensure that we operate with the highest welfare standards for the animals in our care. We maintain a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to the care and wellbeing of people’s future pets and are committed to ensuring unfortunate situations like this do not occur in the future.”

- Sun Pet spokesperson

Sun Pet later sent an additional statement to CBS46 Investigates: 

"The health and wellbeing of our animals is always our top priority. Sun Pet takes every regulatory review seriously and when a non-compliant issue is brought to our attention, the team handles immediately to address and resolve. As it relates to the unfortunate circumstances outlined in the July 29, 2021 USDA report, these were a result of human error and are not typical of how our facilities are maintained or managed. We have hired new management as well as a third-party audit service to oversee our small animal department and are pleased with the changes we’ve seen to date. We have also conducted refresher trainings to ensure all managers are well versed in our best practices and procedures of safety and care." 

- Sun Pet spokesperson

But for a company who claims zero tolerance, documents show a history of failed inspections.

In April of 2019, inspectors reported more violations, including ten male "robo hamsters" with large open wounds behind their heads and necks.

Sun Pet was written up for not having adequate veterinary care.

"This looks like just another slap on the wrist," said Payden. 

PETA says Sun Pet was put on probation in 2011, and fined $3000 by the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Both PetSmart and Petco confirm they get animals from Sun Pet.

CBS46 Investigates contacted both to present findings.

While PetSmart responded by saying they will no longer carry animals from Sun Pet, Petco said they will continue, after being ensured of corrections.

Petco Statement

"At Petco, the health and well-being of animals is our top priority. We take pride in our industry-leading standards for animal care and safety, and expect all of our supplier partners to meet or exceed those standards. We're aware of the citations SunPet received for isolated issues that were immediately corrected. SunPet has since passed additional audits by both the United States Department of Agriculture and Petco’s own animal care team. We remain in close communication with all of our vendor partners to help prevent similar situations, even if isolated, from happening the future."

PetSmart Statement:

"As soon as we learned of the findings from the USDA inspection, we immediately suspended our purchasing from Sun Pet while we launched our own internal investigation. Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of pets, and we will take further action as appropriate based on our findings."

When asked about how Sun Pet was still able to operate, despite the history of violations, the USDA released the following statement:

APHIS has never wavered in its mission to ensure the humane treatment of animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).  We continue to conduct inspections and work with facilities to ensure they are in compliance with regulations under the AWA.   When we find issues that bring facilities out of compliance with the AWA regulations, we work hard to bring them back into compliance as quickly as possible.  

APHIS has taken several actions over the last few years to help licensees better understand the AWA regulations and the importance of compliance.  These include producing a series of learning aids to support facilities in providing the very best care to animals.  APHIS inspectors have also worked to build and strengthen relationships with attending veterinarians at regulated facilities to ensure they are involved in bringing facilities into compliance.  Additionally, we want to highlight this recent letter from Dr. Betty Goldentyer, Animal Care Deputy Administrator, to stakeholders: USDA APHIS | Open Letter from Animal Care's Deputy Administrator to Stakeholders  One of the items addressed in the letter is the resumption of issuance of APHIS Form 7060, which is an official warning of an alleged violation of the AWA.

Also, a descriptive overview of our Investigative and Enforcement Services (IES) process can be found here:https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/business-services/ies/ies_processes

Copyright 2021 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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