An Important Message. For real.
We here at Pug Slope typically try to keep our blog posts light-hearted and fun, but we just learned something that has made us very sad and angry and we have to speak out about it.
Last week there was major flooding in my hometown of Binghamton, NY, and throughout its surrounding areas. The area had been hit with a flood in 2006 that caused a massive amount of damage, and all forecasts indicated that last week’s flooding would be even worse. It was.
But, luckily the National Weather Service and the local governments and media outlets gave residents plenty of notice to evacuate from flood-prone areas. Over 20,000 people were evacuated, with evacuation orders rolling in as early as Wednesday afternoon – the flooding was expected to hit its peak by Thursday night. My mom, who lives in Johnson City, a neighboring town affected by the flood, received automated phone calls from town officials regarding possible evacuation early Wednesday morning. On Wednesday evening, Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency in the region, and the National Guard were brought in to help aid with evacuations and rescue. The floodwaters rose higher than they did in 2006; many people lost their homes and belongings, and officials are estimated that there is millions of dollars worth of damage to property and infrastructure across the region.
Yet, somehow, with all of the attention this forecast was given, the management of the Johnson City PetCo were apparently oblivious to the severity of the forecast. As a result, the only known victims of this flood in Binghamton and its surrounding areas were an undisclosed number of animals left caged inside PetCo’s doors.
As if this weren’t horrible enough, PetCo’s corporate office had the audacity to post this message on their website in response to the incident at the Johnson City Store (Note – I’ve interjected bold, italicized notes with linked support throughout their statement):
Thank you for your passion for the animals in regards to the devastating flood in Johnson City, NY. All animals have been removed from the store and taken to safe locations. Like you, our first concern is the welfare of the animals and we are heartbroken over this tragedy. Some animals did perish and this weighs heavily on our minds and hearts.
We want to stress that this was not carelessness on our associates’ behalf, but a communications lapse from the city to the store in evacuations orders. The flooding was not from the Susquehanna River itself but from a back up in the town’s sewage/drainage system. We are investigating why we did not receive those evacuation orders from the city if this area was known to flood in the past. Had we been aware of potential flooding we would have removed all of the animals from the store as we do in all other locations.
(They seem to be the only people in the region who were not aware of the severity of the situation. Yet, they knew enough to close the store early, per the evacuation orders. Oh, and see my note below regarding the shopping center being known to flood in the past, including severe flooding during the 2006 event.)
An associate went by to check the store at 11:45 p.m. on Wednesday night and there were no signs of flooding or a flood warning in effect.
(False – Flood warning was issued on Wednesday at 3:59 per State of Emergency notice from Gov. Cuomo’s office and by that evening the rain was already falling heavily and accumulating on the ground while the river was rising.)
Our store associates and manager in Johnson City had no reason to expect our store would be impacted by the flooding of the Susquehanna River…
(False – While I was in high school I worked at a Kids ‘R Us that was located in the shopping center where this PetCo now resides – this shopping center’s parking lot is routinely flooded during summer rains and the center itself was severely damaged in the 2006 flood. See the building in the bottom left corner of the image that appears at 2:04 in this video posted to YouTube after the 2006 floods for photographic proof.)
so the decision was made to keep the animals in the store. We have a hotline for associates to use if they ever feel an animal is in danger and no calls were made to the hotline suggesting that the associates feared flooding would impact the store and endanger the animals.
Early Thursday morning our team arrived to work and was shocked at the enormity of the situation. They immediately tried to enter the building to evacuate the animals but were turned away by the authorities due to concerns for human safety. At the time the city was focused on rescuing people from their homes by boat and could not divert resources to our store until Friday.
(Here’s an image of what the shopping center looked like on Thursday morning. Harry L. Drive, the street it is on, was closed off to traffic. They couldn’t have made it anywhere near the store, and it’s highly unlikely that any of their employees were even able to leave their houses, let alone show up to work first thing in the morning. Also, notice the blame placed on city rescuers by PetCo corporate. This wouldn’t have been an issue if there employees had thought ahead about the safety of the animals in their care.)
We have since been allowed into the store and have safely removed and transported animals and aquatic life to nearby stores. We are proud of the associates that helped in the rescue efforts and will continue to work with the authorities in Johnson City to try and resolve the question of why we were not alerted in a timely manner and how we can collectively improve the warning system to prevent such tragedies in the future.
(Again, passing the buck. Yes, I’m sure the employees of PetCo were the only people in the region who were left in the dark regarding the monumental flood that was rolling in.)
We have disaster preparedness and evacuation protocol for all stores. In recent weeks we put those measures into action and evacuated animals from the stores impacted by weather and expected flooding. PETCO has a long history of being the first responders in emergency situations, helping people and their pets impacted by disasters like the ones we saw this year across our country. Even now, our associates are working hard to support and provide help for pets and pet parents in TX and AZ impacted by fires and still assisting in adoption of animals for major disasters like the ones in Joplin. Please know it is our mission to find happy homes for every pet in our stores and our associates all share in that same mission.
Nothing in this last paragraph matters. The employees at this store left animals to die in a location that was known throughout the region as being vulnerable to flooding, after receiving ample warning from media and government, and then the corporate office tried to blame the very people who implemented a warning system and evacuation process so effective that there were no human casualties in spite of the record-breaking flood waters and multi-million dollar damage to property and infrastructure.
The animals at this store, whether they were cats and dogs or turtles and lizards, relied on these employees to keep them safe and healthy until they found a family they could go home with. Other pet stores in the area were flooded, and employees transferred all animals to local shelters or to stores outside of the flood zones. Why wasn’t that done here? Animals aren’t inventory that you write off on an insurance claim. This whole situation is just absolutely heartless.
I know it’s extreme to expect people to boycott stores, but I hope that by sharing this incident, people will think twice about where they’re spending their money. In fact, please feel free to share this story on your own blog, if so inclined.
In the meantime, I know that there are relief organizations working overtime to care for the residents and animals affected by this flood. Even small donations make a big difference.