A former kennel worker at a Hamilton Place pet store took the stand in Chattanooga City Court Monday to describe the alleged systematic abuse and neglect of animals that she said led her to report her employer to officials at McKamey Animal Center.
In one case, Ashley Knight recalled, the manager of the store disposed of one of two hamsters involved in a fight by dropping the live animal down the garbage compactor.
Another time, she said, one of the dogs for sale at the store died.
Workers responded by putting the body in a plastic bag and sticking it in the refrigerator where food was kept.
Her testimony came during the second day of a hearing before Judge Sherry Paty, who is charged with deciding whether to return the seized animals to the pet store as its owners have demanded.
The trial will resume Tuesday morning, and attorneys for the store are expected to begin presenting their rebuttal evidence later that day.
The young whistleblower, whose job at The Pet Company #29 began on April 10, testified that store officials learned the day after she went to McKamey early in June that she had done so.
"Why would you do that?" the store manager asked angrily, Ms. Knight recalled.
McKamey director Karen Walsh testified that Ms. Knight was "crying in my office" as she described the way animals at the store were treated.
She said the conditions Ms. Knight described to her were verified a few days later during a surprise joint inspection conducted by animal shelter officials and a representative of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
The findings included the discovery of several dogs suffering from Giardia, a highly contagious disease that affects humans as well as animals.
The inspection revealed a combination of 85+ degree temperatures, high ammonia levels (due to large amounts of feces and urine) and lack of accessible drinking water, it was testified.
The conditions to which the animals were subjected left many of them dehydrated, lethargic and stressed, Ms. Walsh said.
Conditions were particularly bad in a dirty, poorly ventilated isolation unit where sick animals were kept, she said, recalling one Shepherd standing miserably in a cage filled with "voluminous diarrhea."
"The stench in the room was awful," Ms. Walsh recalled. "I don't know what the ammonia level was . . . but it was burning my lungs . . . Sweat was rolling off us while we were back there."
Although she had not planned to seize any animals when she went to the store to conduct the inspection, she explained, she changed her mind after learning that the air conditioning was not working and would not be repaired that day.
"We found animals lying on their backs, panting, due to the heat," she said. "They were dehydrated, listless . . . and in danger (of dying)."
Lab tests done after the animals were seized and taken to McKamey revealed that the Shepherd and at least three other dogs all had Giardia, a highly contagious disease to which both people and animals are susceptible, it was stated.
She said the store was out of bleach, which its own employee manual instructs workers to use to disinfect water containers, cages and other surfaces.
Ms. Walsh and other witnesses said the manager of the Pet Store and some other employees were belligerent during the inspection, and objected vigorously when it was decided to remove the animals.
"They said we were removing their corporate assets," Ms. Walsh recalled. "They asked for the names of our employees so they could take legal action against them later."