As animal people, we've probably all looked forward to checking out the pet store at some point in our lives. Where else do you get to see a collection of animals that you can actually choose to keep? I can remember begging my mom for a caiman (a crocodilian for those not aware) in the mall pet store. They were only $49.99 each! Spoiler alert, I didn't get one. We did buy a kitten there. And we adored him for 6 years before he died of liver cancer. Liver cancer is random and rare in cats and usually afflicts older individuals. It is currently not known to be genetic. Regardless, I can't help but think if we bought him from a breeder striving for genetic health, we might have had each other's company longer. You can probably see where I am going with this. One of our most frequent questions is why we don't recommend purchasing a chinchilla from a pet store.
For some of us, it can be counterintuitive to hear that you shouldn't buy a live animal from a pet store. I'm not saying that if they get in the pet of your dreams that you shouldn't buy it. I do think there are some things to take into consideration before you make the purchase.
- The store may not know where the animals come from.
A lot of pet stores buy animals through a wholesaler. The wholesalers might breed some pets themselves but they also buy animals from breeders or other resalers in bulk. There isn't a way that the customer or the pet store can know where a pet was born, its genetic history, and how it was cared for previously.
- Some of the pets are improperly cared for.
I see this a lot. A chinchilla is kept in an enclosure of plexiglass with very little ventilation. They are using food with fruit treats mixed in, a plastic wheel, paper bedding, and using sand for their dust bath- if they get one at all. This is not usually willful ignorance on the part of the employee. Yes, we all can Google anything and it's easier than ever to get free information, but would you feel the need to look something up if you believe you are doing everything correctly? Because the employees think they are doing everything right, they are passing on this improper care to new owners who then may perpetuate it to others. You might know better. You might feel the extreme need to purchase that chinchilla out of that situation to give him a better life. But what does that do for the one that comes in after?
- You are not rescuing an animal from the pet store.
You might be making life better for that individual but he will be replaced by another one that faces the same issues. You are supporting the store, not the animals.
Chinchillas, like anything else, can be abandoned. There are several chinchilla specific rescues around the country but most of us will have a local small pet rescue or humane society that occasionally has chinchillas.
Responsible breeders are focused on the health and betterment of the breed or variety they are working with. And many chinchilla breeders also work in rescue, so if you are preferring adoption- they are another option.
Are there any good pet stores?
This is largely opinion based, but I believe a pet store could be a great store. I don't like to villify pet stores. I would like to own one someday. But I honestly have never been to a pet store that carries multiple kinds of pets that meets criteria that I would have for my own store.
What makes a good pet store?
This what I personally look for in a pet store, besides proper care of all of their pets
- Every employee and the owner does not think they know everything.
Ideally I would have all basic knowledge of how to keep a certain pet alive before I ever tried to care for it in the store. I'm not going to know all there is to know about every animal and I don't have that expectation of others. I may have had the care of animals for a long time but there is always more the learn and relearn- from veterinarians, from breeders, from pet owners- everyone has had a different experience and knowledge and all of it is worth having. I want to see an entire store that is eager to learn and stays up to date on the latest and greatest way to care for all pet store animals, including chinchillas.
- They work with individual breeders or rescues
I like seeing them work with local breeders. Sometimes store policy does not allow employees to give out information but you can always ask about where the animals come from. A good indication that they are working with individuals is that certain kinds of animals are only available seasonally, or they'll use terms like 'our breeder'. Bonus points if they can call that breeder if they get a difficult question from you that they can't answer. Reputable breeders should always be a good resource for all of their customers- even if they are a retail store. Another thing I like to see is rescue animals being fostered at the store. It relieves rescue organizations of the space and care of those animals before they get adopted. The fosters, rescue, and store gets great exposure- a win-win-win!
- They put their animals above profits
There was an insightful article written in Pet Product News in 2015 about pet stores carrying live animals. It talked about stores rarely making money on live animals. In addition to the initial cost of the pet, there is ongoing labor, food, and space invested into them. Some stores see this as an excuse to buy animals as cheaply as possible, sell the animals as fast as possible, and deny medical care for the pets when there is a need. A good pet store accepts that their live animals will not make money and still meets all of their care needs, including veterinary needs, until sold. Another sign is the employees ask you lots of questions to make sure something they are selling will mesh well with you, which leads to my next point.
- Their employees are matchmakers, not salesman.
I never thought of myself as a salesman. I would never push a pet's sale on anyone. If someone came in to purchase a pet without asking me any questions- I was the one that asked questions. Do you have a cage? What size? What are you going to feed him/her? What kind of things do you want her to do? Some were annoyed but I really wanted to make sure they wouldn't regret their purchase, which would ultimately be bad for the pet and leave the owner with a bad experience with that kind of animal. If I walk into a pet store and ask for a chinchilla to be boxed up to go home with me, I want the employee to quiz me. I want them to take an active interest in what I know and have so they can judge if I will be a proper home for that chinchilla. I want them to get into the gritty details of every aspect of chinchilla behavior and husbandry so they know I am ready for one. This tells me they care.
Do you know any pet stores that you trust?
We'd love to hear about them to give them a shout out and recommendations! Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org which store, the location, and why you think they are a great pet store.
Otherwise if you are looking for a chinchilla and are not sure where to find one, ask us! We have a list of breeders and rescues across the USA and can recommend one to you!