My letter to Petsmart

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Phonemonkey

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After stopping by the Petsmart near my office the other day and seeing the way Bettas were being housed in the store, I felt compelled to write a letter to the company about their practices. While I doubt it will change anything, I'm certain saying nothing won't. I would encourage others to write to these pet megastores as well to let them know that people are aware of what they are doing and will not support stores that treat living creatures like nothing but 'product.'

ps: I hope the author of the betta care sticky doesn't mind that I paraphrased a couple sentences from the thread...

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Good afternoon. I am writing to express my great concern over your company's current treatment of Betta fish in your retail stores. Contrary to popular opinion a Betta cannot live in a "Betta Bowl" or similar sized tank. Bettas are Tropical Fish and as such, need to be kept in heated and filtered water. Your stores sell Bettas in tiny jars, stacked 3 high and rows and rows deep. The jars are sealed with a lid, meaning that no air can enter the jar. The fish are stacked side by side and on top of each other, meaning they are in constant visual range of several other male Bettas, and as a result are constantly agitated and displaying their signature "Flaring" behavior, stressing the fish even further. The way the jars are arranged, only the very front most fish can be seen, unless a customer wants to remove every single jar from the shelf to browse those further back.

I am not unrealistic. I am aware that you are a corporation and as such profit is your driving motive. If anything, however, this should ENCOURAGE you to properly care for these fish while in your stores, as well as provide customers with accurate information about the proper way to care for these fish. You would be doing both your company and the fish a favor by selling larger tanks, filters, and heaters to customers interested in owning Bettas. Additionally, you would expand your customer base by providing a healthy environment for these fish, as customers such as myself would be willing to purchase from you.

I implore you to consider changes to the way things are being done in this area. While Bettas may be "products" from your company's perspective, they are also living creatures, and deserve to be treated with respect. Educate your customers about the proper way to care for these fish, and provide them a healthy habitat while on display. Your customers, and your pocketbook, will ultimately thank you for it.

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chickadee

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Thank you for your care and concern on the behalf of our little friends. It is really great to hear that someone will speak up and let the "giants" know that they are disgusted with the practices held in their stores. It is very sad that these lovely fish are treated like pretty toys and people are encouraged to purchase them as nightlights for their two year olds in some cases. We had a post a few months back about a fish who survived an attack by a child and whose mother kindly took the fish and nursed it back to health. It was a heart rending tale of what can happen when people do not understand and are not told by those selling the fish what the dangers are.

Thanks again and may your efforts bear fruit. It would be wonderful to believe that the big stores would listen, although I will say that if any will it would be PetSmart. They do try to do more for animals than almost any other large chain that I am aware of.

Rose
 

Phloxface

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Bravo!!

I've been creating a similar letter to Petsmart myself! I have complained numerous times about the treatment of Bettas there and of the way they PROMOTE completely inappropriate housing for them such as tiny Betta bowls, HALF bowls and vases and of course the infamous "Lavarium"  (lava lamp) from which I rescued a suffocating and traumatized fish just last week! (They have since put in another poor Betta to display this piece of **** as a home for Bettas! It's good for nothing more than a nightlight) Their sales staff are not properly trained to advise on the care of Bettas and I've personally HEARD some of them telling people a tiny vase is fine for a Betta since they PREFER tiny spaces and they only need to change the water once a month, feed 20 pellets a day etc etc! They even have a photocopied information sheet on caring for the Betta and much of the info on there is inaccurate!

Petsmart does care about it's furry, and feathered pets and even the reptiles so I don't understand why they don't treat the Bettas better. Maybe they really don't know! As a retail business they DO listen to their customers and if enough people complain and ask them to treat the Bettas better and STOP selling the kind of bowls and "Betta tanks" that have less than half a gallon of water and no filter/heater etc. then maybe the company would take some notice. These products should be boycotted, not promoted!  I have personally ambushed several customers buying Bettas and after the sales person left, have managed to upsell the customer into buying larger homes for their Bettas. All they needed was the PROPER information from a REAL Betta owner. If I can upsell these customers, they can too and it's to their advantage to sell larger more expensive tanks. It would also show them to be a company that truly cares about pets, ALL pets and that would get my loyalty. One reason I'm a petsmart customer now is the fact that they NEVER buy puppies and kittens from amateur breeders and puppy mills like so many other pet stores. They help promote adoption from shelters and THIS has gained them a loyal customer base from people who love animals.  The one area they need to improve is in the sale of Bettas. If enough people complain (to the head office not the local store) and do it often they will have to listen. I encourage everyone here to write, and write often until things change.
 

JP

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;-)
 

chickadee

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I will try to explain the same way I did under a similar post about another major chain a while back.  It is unfortunate but Bettas are cheap fish and as such pretty much considered dispensible.  They do not pay much to get them and the breeders are anxious to get rid of the ones that are not "show quality" for any price that they can get for them.  They are still beautiful fish but due to the fact that they have to be kept seperated from each other it is simply more convenient to keep them in the cups.  People are reluctant to buy a big tank and to be told that there are not a lot of tank mates that they will do well with.  

With the amount of work that it takes to keep the individual containers clean and water changed and even to feed the fish, most of the chains are not interested in being too kind as it adds to the cost of what people want to be able to buy for a little bit of nothing.  Unless we are prepared to tell them to raise the price of the fish to cover the cost of better treatment, I am afraid that all our efforts will be totally in vain as for the prices they get they are not making money on them now.  It makes me so sad, I cannot even go down that aisle anymore.

Rose
 
 
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Phonemonkey

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Isabella

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Phonemonkey, and all:

I, too, am actually considering writing letters to my local fish stores as well as to any Petsmart and other larger fish stores that I can find the addresses to in my surroundings. Imagine if every fish keeper resolved to write such letters! So many stores would start getting so many letters, that they could no longer ignore them, and would be forced to do something about their practices.

Thank you for writing this letter Phonemonkey
 

Phloxface

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It's better to write directly to the head offices of the chain stores like Petsmart. The individual stores have no power to change policies. They do what the head office tells them to do.
 

chickadee

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If you are looking for addresses for anywhere that is corporate, just go to or substitute petco or what ever store you are looking for where "petsmart" is and at the bottom of the homepage is a small link that says "Contact Us". If you click on that it should open a page giving addresses to send letters or telephone numbers to call for addresses or e-mail addresses to send e-mails to different departments including the corporate offices.

Hope this helps.

Rose
 
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Phonemonkey

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Phloxface said:
It's better to write directly to the head offices of the chain stores like Petsmart. The individual stores have no power to change policies. They do what the head office tells them to do.
Thats what I did... I emailed it to all the relevant addys I could find, and printed it out and mailed it as well... I don't have any illusions that anything will change, but I do think its important to let them know there are people who see whats being done.
 

Phloxface

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Things CAN change if enough customers ask for it. I've worked for a large retail clothing store and they have changed policies based on just a few customers writing/calling them and asking for it!  It is to a retail store's advantage to listen to it's customers.
What we need to do as a whole here is decide which change we'd like to see first and all request that.  Making a big list of demands is less effective. One thing at a time.

What I'd like to see change at Petsmart first is pretty simple for them to implement and would cost them NOTHING! I think they need to properly train their sales staff on the CARE of Bettas and stop encouraging customers to put them in unfiltered/unheated bowls and lava lamps!  Upsell the customer to buy at least a 5 gallon filtered/heated tank. (there are really nice tanks that come as a complete kit with filter/heater/light for under $70 for everything. )
I know there are still going to be those customers who want to buy the Betta as a decoration for their dining room table and want to put them in vases and bowls. Unfortunately there's no way to stop everyone from doing this but if after trying to upsell the customer STILL wants a bowl or vase the sales staff need to advise on the biggest bowl/vase and update their info sheet to tell customers like this to change water in bowls DAILY, not monthly! 

Even a small change like this can help and maybe make life for some Bettas better.  Most customers who don't properly care for their Bettas do it because they have not been given the right information.

Maybe we could all write an information sheet for new Betta owners (we could post it and all decide what to add) and send it to Petsmart and give them full permission to print it out and distribute it at their stores. They have one now but the info is not all entirely correct and some much needed info is missing. It needs to be fairly short (one page or two) with all important info on Betta care.  Could be a fun project for us here... What do you think?
 

chickadee

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I think it is a fine idea to send in the information to them and ask them to train their personnel.  I do not believe they will pass out information to their customers on the proper care and treatment of Bettas on our information.  Unfortunately, there are still fish vets out there peddling the information that bettas can do just fine in a quart of water and do not need either heat or filtration.  What we can do is tell the store that this treatment seriously raises the chances of the fish dying and if they check their OWN records on the death rate of betta fish in their OWN stores they can see this to be true.  If this is brought to their attention and we make the suggestion that they tell their people to make the suggestion that the bettas need to be kept in a heated and filtered tank (going to be a tough sale when THEY keep them unheated and unfiltered) and tell the people that the chances of survival of their fish go up considerably with the purchase of a tank.  Then of course, we have a betta in the unenviable position of having to cycle his own tank but we cannot have everything and he is already having to swim in a small sewer so why not a large one that is getting a water change once in a while.  It is true that we are never going to get the ones who want a vase in the office or a nightlight for the two year old or a centerpiece for the dining room table or a tv light (lava light) converted and there are always going to be bettas dying at the fishstore, but education of personnel is the BIGGEST thing that they could do not the smallest. 
The stores that I have been in where fish were treated with care and respect as opposed to the ones where they were mistreated did not have a lot of difference in equipment or resources.  The difference was in the KNOWLEDGE of the employees.  The employees who KNEW something about the fish they were caring for took CARE of them.  The ones who didn't know diddly did not.
The answer is not to ask for things, or even policy changes, those are HARD things to come by because they take a lot of red tape.  ASK instead for something that basically costs them nothing and doesn't need to be approved by the Board of Directors, ask that they EDUCATE their employees and tell them that we intend to be listening and will confront any employee at any time giving out bad advice and give out the correct advice rather than allow them to make an inhumane sale. Tell them that if you are challenged you will go to THEIR book rack and prove your information to the satisfaction of whoever challenges you. If they do not want to be challenged and they will never know who may do it, they had better find out something about the fish they are working with and their care. Of course, you must not put this in a threatening manner. These types of things are not taken well in todays environment.

Rose
 
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Phonemonkey

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I don't think my letter was in any way threatening, and I took care to keep it professional, while at the same time expressing the urgency of my concerns.

On another note, I will NEVER spend a single cent at petsmart. I went by this morning to look at gravels/plants, so I could actually see what they looked like, then buy them online. I took a closer look at their Bettas. Many of them were dead or nearly dead. Seeing a once beautiful Betta, lying at the bottom of its tiny little cell, skinnier than any Betta I've ever seen, the only motion being an occasional movement of the gills... I just turned around and left... disgusting.
 

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You should have complained in person to the manager of that store.  I talk to them in person regularly about how they treat their Bettas. I will continue to do so until something is done about it. They do not want to lose customers or worse, have that person tell others about it. The very least they should do is make sure the water in the cups is clean. I've complained when I saw very dirty water in the cups and the manager told an employee right in front of me to go clean the Betta cups right away. It's a small thing but hopefully it helped the poor fish for a short while. Those cups are SO small they NEED to be changed EVERY day. It looked to me like they had gone several days without a change!    I don't care how busy they are. These are live animals and their needs come before stocking shelves or whatever...
I've expressed my disgust to the managers about their promotion and sale of unsuitable "Betta tanks" and they agreed but said they have to follow Head Office orders. Any major changes HAVE to come from Head Office so that is the place to complain!

I think by now they all run and hide when they see me coming into the store! 
 
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Phonemonkey

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What do you know...
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October 16, 2006


Dear Customer,

Thank you for sharing your concern with us about Betta fish in our stores. We're committed to making sure our fish receive excellent care and appreciate your feedback. We have passed you comments along to the appropriate parties to review.

Because Betta fish, otherwise known as Siamese Fighting Fish, are native to hot, stagnant puddles in Southeast Asia, they're well equipped to live in small volumes of water. That's why they're shipped to our stores and kept in the cups you see on our shelves.

These cups give the fish a comfortable, temporary environment until they find a home, which is typically within the first week of arriving at our stores. Also, they prevent males from fighting each other. To properly maintain these small habitats, we clean the cups three times per week or more frequently if necessary.

If you're interested in researching Betta care further, we suggest the book Siamese Fighting Fish, by Gene Wolfsheimer, or you can ask any PetSmart associate for a Betta fish care sheet.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

Sincerely,
Christy Lee
Customer Care Specialist
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I'd reply, but hard to even know what to say to such complete lack of concern.
 

Phloxface

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I'm pretty sure if I asked Phlox or Lava if they've ever lived in a " hot, stagnant puddle in Southeast Asia" they'd look at me like I was crazy!  :  Have these people at head office EVER read a book about Bettas??!! Do they even know what a WILD Betta looks like? They don't look like our fluffy, delicate little guys! Our fish were born and raised in aquariums! Even wild Bettas don't live their entire life in puddles. They jump from puddle to puddle looking for food and then go back to the river/pond. NO fish should live in a puddle of water! Can you imagine the ammonia levels in the cups if the water is changed only 2-3 times a WEEK! I changed the water in my TEN GALLON tank more often than that before I got the filter to keep on top of the ammonia and toxin levels.

Maybe someone should send the Head Office a photo of a wild Betta and ask if THIS is what they sell in their stores! Also ask if the Bettas in the stores were captured in the wild, in hot, stagnant puddles in Southeast Asia before arriving in the stores... None of our Bettas would ever survive in the wild. They NEED larger tanks to be happy and healthy.

(sigh) I'm going to write to them as soon as I get home from work later today and I'm going to continue to write until someone there GETS IT!
 
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Phonemonkey

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This is the response I just sent to this representative directly. I am also planning on editing it a bit and mailing it off to Petsmart HQ as a follow up. I have to give credit where due, for the second portion I copied and pasted heavily from an article on about.com about keeping Bettas in vases/etc. I normally wouldn't "borrow" so much from another writing, but the points were so relevant in this case I couldn't resist.
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"We're committed to making sure our fish receive excellent care."

While this is a noble sentiment, I cannot say I see it demonstrated in your stores. Just this morning, I stopped by the local Petsmart to take a look. Many of the Bettas were either dead, ill, or starving. One particularly sad specimen was a disturbingly bony, malnourished Betta, lying at the bottom of its tiny, filthy cup, motionless save for an occasional flick of the gills.

"Because Betta fish, otherwise known as Siamese Fighting Fish, are native to hot, stagnant puddles in Southeast Asia, they're well equipped to live in small volumes of water. That's why they're shipped to our stores and kept in the cups you see on our shelves."

It is true that in nature the Betta lives in shallow rice paddies and swamps. However, those waters represent a complete ecological system, which cannot be replicated in a small cup, or in the tiny 'Betta Bowls' and similar containers you recommend to your customers. Rice paddies are shallow, but are still part of a much larger body of water that serves to dilute toxins. Scavengers and bacteria present in native waters break down wastes and render them harmless to fish.
Your statement is correct in that Bettas are native to "hot" water. The ideal water temperature for the Betta is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Although they can survive at lower temperatures, they become lethargic and may even refuse to eat. your stores are fully air conditioned, and these cups are not kept heated. Worse still, your employees sell tiny bowls with no heaters of any kind to customers as suitable long term homes for these fish. You are essentially doing nearly everything possible to insure that these fish are made miserable. A dog or cat owner would never consider shutting their pet in a small closet with minimal heat, food, and air. The Betta should not be treated any less humanely.
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chickadee

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My point still remains that the EDUCATION of people is what is going to make the difference, not the expectation of changing of policies and procedures. When the everyday person becomes aware and educated, the treatment will improve, not the corporate boards, they are so far removed from the situation that you will never get them to care what happens to the charges in their care. They will simply brand the information as a ranting of some sect of the population who are obsessed with the care of a fish who is cheap and expendable. If you all begin to buy from the breeders you will receive fish that are in much better shape and have for the most part been spared the treatment of the petstores, but have no wrong expectations, betta males are kept in small containers from the time they are noted to be males for their own protection. The difference being that the water is kept scrupulously clean and warm to the point of optimun for the fish. They are fed well and treated well otherwise the fish would be deformed and the fins would not form in a decent manner. BUT the price to a retail consumer would be more than to a wholesaler because of the volume wanted. Buying one fish is going to cost you more that the hundreds they sell to the chains for. You will be able to say that "I want a red Crowntail" but you will pretty much be at the mercy of the breeder of exactly which one he will send you. He may send a picture ahead of time to see if you will accept the fish. Most breeders give a 1 or 2 hour gaurantee on a fish that the bag has not been opened on. They have the post office record the time of delivery and if the fish is found dead over the time of the guarantee after that you are just out of luck. But I will tell you this, in spite of all this all of my last 7 bettas have been ordered from breeders rather than going to the local fish stores or chain stores. I feel I get younger and happier fish. They have with one exception (due to a suspicious case of inbreeding in a vendor I did not know) healthy and beautiful. The ones who have gone have gone because of a real and deadly problem that had cause not due to the quality of the fish. I would not hesitate to order online again and no chain will ever have the business of selling me another betta. I do have a local pet store who are excellent with Otocinclus catfish and Mystery snails and I am going to forever buy my fish of those varieties from them as they do an excellent job of keeping and caring for their charges. They do not however carry bettas for the reason that they are a very small store and have not felt capable to do justice to them. I applaud them. I will also say that the PetSmart that is the closest to me is the best store as far as chain stores I have seen for care of their bettas; they are kept in at least 2 gallon bowls on a large spiral looks like flower rack and they had clean blue water (indicated that the oxygen type tablets had been added) I realize that this is not the same as putting them in 10 gallon tanks but much better than the small cups and clean. The young man I asked said the bowls were changed every other day and the bettas were fed Betta Bio-Gold twice a day. There were no dead, dying or otherwise lethargic or unhealthy looking bettas. I also looked and did not see for sale anywhere in the store the 1 gallon torture chambers or small containers for bettas. They did not have smaller fish bowls than the ones the bettas were in so people would have had to at least buy that size. So not every PetSmart is full of people who know nothing about fish or treat the fish inhumanely. I am not trying to make anyone angry, just giving credit where credit is due.

Rose
 
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Phonemonkey

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You certainly aren't making me angry ;D

Honestly, it seems like we differ only as far as whether it is worth the time to send letters to these places about what they are doing. Personally (hence my name) I sit at a desk staring at a monitor all day at work, so I feel its the least I can do to send off a letter, if it does nothing, so be it, but at least I let them know how I feel. As far as the issue of proper customer education, I completely agree. This is why I mentioned in my letters the fact that Petsmart is giving consumers completely inaccurate information by selling them tiny, unheated containers as proper homes for Bettas.

PS: I'd still love those reccomendations for breeders, although I'm still not 100% certain a Betta is the way I'm going to go with my tank.

PSS: Thats great to hear that your local Petsmart is keeping Bettas in a humane manner. I can tell you that the one near my work (the one mentioned in my letters) does not. Were they keeping Bettas in 2 gallon bowls as you describe, I would be thrilled. I would be surprised if the cups I am describing they use to store Bettas at this store were even 12 oz. They even use screw-on lids, which allows no air to get in.
 

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Your sentiments must have effective because I have been to 2 local pet smarts recently and I noticed that they have quit selling bettas in the jars. They now have them in "boxes" of water placed in between two rows of tanks. Maybe it's just here in Ohio that they have quit the jars. I do know that petsupplies plus still uses the jars because that's what my guy came in and being naive about fish, I didn't think anything of it or I wouldn't have bought one off of them. Keep up the cause for humane betta treatment.
 
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