Hamilton Place Pet Store Not Subject To Chattanooga Animal Care Laws, Attorney Pippinger Tells Judge

Thursday, June 24, 2010 - by Judy Frank

Attorneys for a Hamilton Place Mall pet store did not bother to contest testimony that animals in the establishment were kept in cages stacked in piles, or that many of the containers designed to hold feces and urine in the cages were cracked and broken, enabling the waste from one cage to leak onto the animals in the cages below.

Likewise, they did not try to disprove allegations that The Pet Company also violated numerous other city regulations, including mandates that animals be supplied with food and water, kept in sanitary conditions and receive veterinary care when they are ill.

Rather, attorney Andy Pippinger argued on behalf of the store and its parent company, United Pet Supply Inc. of New Windsor, N.Y., it doesn’t matter how many Chattanooga regulations the store violates because those regulations do not apply to it.

It is the National Code of Animal Regulations that United Pet and its retail outlets must follow, Mr. Pippinger told City Judge Sherry Paty.

The attorney also gave short shrift to the recommendation of an animal health technician for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture – who frankly admitted that he is not familiar with the state codes he was hired to enforce – that the state revoke The Pet Company’s permit.

Arguing that state and local inspectors had proven no violations of the federal code, Mr. Pippinger demanded that the judge “summarily dismiss” the charges against his client and order the return of more than 30 animals seized by McKamey Animal Center during a June 15 raid.

“I’m going to deny the motion to dismiss,” Judge Paty said calmly.

Testimony in the lengthy hearing, which will resume Monday morning, indicated that McKamey has received numerous complaints regarding alleged abuse of animals at the pet store, and has repeatedly contacted the store’s manager about the necessity of providing better care.

None of the recommended changes was made, according to McKamey records.

The day concluded with testimony from United Pet Supply Corp. executive vice president Christopher Brooks, who said he regularly visits the firm’s 22 retail outlets in order to ensure they are following company policies.

He said he was informed June 15 that McKamey officials were at the Chattanooga store seizing animals, and began to make arrangements to travel here from his home in New Jersey.

When he arrived the following morning, he said, he discovered that the air conditioning unit in the store was not broken, as inspectors had claimed. One of the unit’s two compressors was out of order, he said, but has since been repaired.

He said United Pet Supply employees are expected to “self-train” in animal husbandry and care by reading a series of three manuals prepared by the company, and then taking the exams at the end of each manual.

There are ten questions at the end of both the first and second manuals, he said, and 15 at the end of the third.

Animal health technician Joe Burns of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, who said he has held his current job for four years and worked in animal husbandry for more than 35, testified that he accompanied McKamey employees to the store on June 15, when animals there were seized.

Although it was only 7 a.m. when they arrived at the facility, Mr. Burns said, “The thing that hit me immediately when we walked in was it was extremely hot in there.”

He said store employees explained that one of the compressors in the air conditioning unit had been out of operation for some time.

During his subsequent inspection, Mr. Burns said, he discovered a variety of violations including water bowls that were dirty and/or empty, animals with feces matted in their fur and numerous other unsanitary conditions.

Under cross examination, however, Attorney Pippinger made mincemeat of most of the testimony given by the Department of Agriculture employee, who had admitted casually on direct examination that he is not familiar with the state codes he was hired to enforce.

“What’s this mean?” Mr. Pippinger asked at one point, pointing to an abbreviation on the inspection sheet officer Burns said he fills out each time he inspects a facility.

“I don’t know,” the agriculture employee replied. “I’ve never used it.”

Mr. Burns remained unshaken, however, about the numerous violations he observed on June 15 and again during a follow-up visit to the store on June 22.

When he returned to his office on June 22, he said, he contacted the state department of agriculture office to make his report.

“I suggested that they start proceedings to suspend (The Pet Company’s) permit,” he said.

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