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Selling Pets and Pets’ Products: The Ethical Considerations Raised. Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 26th, 2021


Millions of animals, ranging from monkeys to mice enter the pet trade every year through retail stores around the world. Investing in either pet or pet products industry was only restricted to traditional main players until recently. According to Travis (2007), more players are cultivating for themselves a niche in what has now become a lucrative business – selling pets and pets’ products. It is now estimated that the business is worth more than $42 billon every year in America alone, according to Schmidt (2005).

One of the very many companies dealing with sale of pets and pets’ product is PETCO. It s a renowned company in the United States, offering a complete selection of pet-related products and pet services. According to their official website, PETCO (2008), the services offered includes canine education, grooming, and vaccination skills, all offered at very competitive prices. The company boasts of being conveniently located, and offering superior customer services. The company is operational in 850 stores around 49 states, and offer in excess of 10,000 high-definition pet related products.

To give some useful insights about the company, it is the second biggest pet, pet food and supplies in the United States, after PETsMART. Its mission according to PETCO Animal Supplies, Inc (1999) is to “become the leading category-dominant national chain of community pet food and supply superstores by offering its customers a complete assortment of pet-related products at competitive prices, with superior levels of customer service at convenient locations.”

Though PETCO’s success story may feel like music to the ears of investors, it has not been all that rosy. This is because engaging in pet business raises very serous ethical considerations, which if not well addressed can bring an entity down in the brink of an eye. PETCO’s have had its share of troubles with Animal Welfare groups and other interested parties. According to the coordinators of some of these groups, companies such as PETCO only capitalize on the people’s love for the pets. According to Engelbretson (2004), the pet retail industry has nothing to do with giving individuals happiness nor do they have the welfare of the individual pets at heart. It is all because of money that these retail stores engage in this “illegitimate” business.

According to Engelbretson, a senior programme coordinator at Animal Protection Institute (API), people unknowingly support cruelty by shopping for animals at these pet stores. Animals are treated as commodities in these retail environments in order for industry players to realize a profit. This should not be the case as animals are living, feeling beings, which must not in any way be treated like mere merchandise.

Across the pet retail industry, there is concern that the public or some animal welfare groups may uncover some damning activities, which may be used by the mass media, interest groups, or critics to undermine an entity’s reputation. Moreover, according to Ferrell and Fraedrich (2006), some disgruntled individuals will always distort the truth to serve their own self interest. To this extent, managers of pet retail shops must at all times observe ethical decision making. They must integrate ethics into vital strategic decisions if they are to escape the onslaught.

To document some of PETCO’s woes, it paid almost $1 million in May 2004 to settle two California lawsuits that involved animal mistreatment in PETCO’s stores in five California counties. Earlier, from 2000 to 2005, an animal welfare group by the name of People for the Ethical treatment of Animals (PETA) was accusing PETCO of animal neglect and cruelty (Ferrell & Fraedrich, 2006). Though the matter was resolved amicably, it magnifies the ethical risks associated with selling pets and pets’ products in a retail environment. In this light, companies dealing with the sale of pets and pets’ products must develop water-tight codes of ethics to ensure that they are always on the safe side.


What are the ethical risks associated with selling pets and pets’ products? How has PETCO managed dealing with various ethical concerns expressed by Stake holders? Has the ethical culture of PETCO helped the company deal with ethical considerations? To know the moral rightness or wrongness of engaging in a retail pet business, we must address the above.

To argue the first question, it is true that there are many ethical risks associated with engaging in the business of pets and pet products. According to Engelbretson (2004), there are obvious moral wrongs of engaging in this business. First, treating animals as commodities to an extent of selling them over the counter as wares is morally wrong in itself. Shipping animals over wrong distances can cause the animals’ injuries, illnesses, or even death before they even reach the trading floor. According to animal activists, the argument presented by many pet store owners that they hold their suppliers accountable for the condition of the pets does not hold any water. To them, the ethical dilemma lies in knowing whether it is ethical to send the injured and sick pets back to the suppliers or provide veterinary care and providing homes for the pets.

Other ethical risks entail having to deal with unscrupulous interest groups. According to ferell and Fredrich (2006), the reputation of a company can be at stake if some disgruntled antagonists want to distort the truth for their own selfish interests. Moreover, some employees can out rightly decide to downplay the ethical standards set by companies and decide to be cruel to the animals without the knowledge of the management. This happened in PETCO in 2002 when inspectors found out some sick and dead pets at two San Francisco PETCO stores. The deaths of the pet was as a direct result of employees neglect, and cost the company some $900, 000 in cases.

To animal activists, the pet business is for those busybodies who want to capitalize on other peoples’ love and affection for animals. They are not in anyway concerned with the general welfare of the animals, but keep them for the sole purposes of generating profits (Pentilla, 2004; Engelbretson, 2004). But this can be vehemently denied by companies such as PETCO, who claim that theirs is a clean business. PETCO acknowledges that the company has a moral obligation to respect and preserve animals, and that animals are always first to them. They are always engaged in trying to promote the greatest well-being there is for companion animals, and supporting the human-animal union.

To answer my second issue, PETCO has so far managed to effectively handle the various concerns expressed by stakeholders through strict adherence to an elaborate code of ethics. According to Jim Myers, the CEO of PETCO, the code of ethics has been put in place to inform all PETCO employees of their ethical, moral, and legal obligations wherever there are dealing with the animals in their care or their customers. Though not all ethical considerations are of the company’s making, the code of ethics has helped PETCO to avoid constant brushes with disgruntled antagonists, according to Ferell and Fraedrich (2006).

The code of ethics serves as a guide for day to day ethical issues that PETCO’s associates may face. It should be understood and complied upon by all. Infact, according to Myers, compliance to the code of ethics is a condition for employment into the company. Once employed, associates are required to remain dedicated to the code of ethics for the duration they would work for PETCO. It is within everyone’s understanding that PETCO’s reputation as an industry leader is dependent on the strict adherence of the code of ethics.

But what does the code of ethics really contains. This introduces my third issue. When critically assessed, the ethical culture at PETCO promotes the caring and preservation of animals. This is the driving force that has enabled PETCO to achieve exponential growth. PETCO is dedicated at promoting the highest quality of life for animals. This is basically done through the provision of services, products, and solutions that make it possible for PETCO’s customers to care and love their pets as part of their family. Perhaps their ethical culture can best be reflected in their motto that “it is better to hire animal lovers and train them to work in a retail environment than to hire retailers and hope they like animals” (PETCO: code of ethics, 2008).

Their ethical culture incorporates a desire and responsibility to promote the wellbeing, health, and humane treatment of animals. However, this should not in anyway jeopardize the safety of humans. It is part of PETCO’s ethical culture to consistently deliver skilful, safe, and compassionate care to all pets that are entrusted to its care. Customers are always free to verify the wellbeing of the pets in terms of how well they are fed, housed, and watered anytime they visit PETCO’s shops. The code of ethics makes it clear that severe disciplinary action will be taken on associates who engage in behavior that may constitute neglect, cruelty, mistreatment, or abuse of any animal (PETCO: code of ethics, 2008). The success in achieving their ethical culture however remains subject to moral debate from animal welfare groups and other interested parties, including critics.

Alternatives/ Propositions

In the current scenario, it is definitely hard to establish which group between the retail pet shops and the animal activists is talking the truth as far as ethical considerations are concerned. The pet shops, including PETCO claims there are driven by a desire and love for the pets in all their business transactions. The Animal welfare groups and activists associate the business to sinister motives. According to them, the proprieties of pet shops hide on the premise that they love animals (Engelbretson, 2004). In this regard, I came up with the following propositions.

Proposition 1: Retail pet shops are driven by profits rather than their genuine love for pets

This proposition can be supported by the fact that pet shops send back injured or ill pets back to their suppliers instead of booking them to veterinary facilities to be accorded the necessary care. Is it in order and morally justified for the pet shops to “send the sick and injured pets back to the supplier like a damaged bag of cat food” (Engelbretson, 2004). This presupposes that pet shop owners are more driven by profits rather than genuine love for the animals.

Proposition 2: Established pet shops are more likely to follow ethical considerations than new establishments due to their strict adherence to the code of ethics

This proposition can be supported by available data involving high profile accusations of practicing animal cruelty in new establishments. Established pet stores such as PETCO and PETsMART are less likely to be caught sleeping on the job than new establishments. They have been there long enough to perceive the seriousness of following ethical considerations while dealing with animals. On various occasions, the established entities such as PETCO have been accused of practicing animal cruelty, like it was the case when People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) alleged cruelty and neglect of animals at a number of PETCO stores (Ferrell & Fraedrich, 2006). The have learnt from such mistakes, conducted by ignorant employees without the express knowledge of the management. This has made them to practice strict recruitment procedures to make sure that only employees who share a deep love for the animals are recruited. They also observe strict adherence to their codes of ethics to ensure that they follow professional standards.

Proposition 3: Some Animal welfare groups are driven by malice and greed to destroy the reputation of successful pet shops

According to Ferrell and Fraedrich (2006), not all ethical considerations are of the company’s making. The pet shops may try to remain as ethical as possible but disgruntled antagonists will always be ready to distort the truth for their own selfish and personal interests. Some of these interest groups, according to Ferrell and Fraedrich are overly protective to animal issues such that they perceive all actions done to animals to be wrong no matter the importance of such actions. Other groups have been caught red-handed trying to solicit huge amounts of bribes from pet shops. These are often allegations not supported by a shred of truth. Let me support my proposition with some three ethical and moral theories.


From utilitarianism perspective, the moral worth of an action is individually determined by its contribution to the overall utility, or precisely its contribution to the pleasure or happiness as summed up among all persons. The proponents of utilitarianism believe that the moral worth of any action must be determined by its outcomes and that, the end justifies the means. The good of any action must be maximized (Kemerling, 2002). To this end, utilitarianism theorists will not see any thing wrong in supporting proposition 1 and 2. If by selling the animals, I will realize the desired profits, then so be it. If by following ethical considerations Am more likely to escape censure from animal welfare groups, then it’s the best thing to do.

Virtue theorists

These are likely to emphasize the character, rather than the rules or consequences. The theorists offer a schema of moral life that differs strongly with deontological and consequentialist virtue theorists. Virtue theorists aim at articulating the principles or rules that provide the agent with the ability to decide on how to act in a given situation (Harman, 1999). To this extent, virtue theorists would support proposition number 2 and fail to support the rest. In PETCO’s case, it is the strict adherence to the code of ethics that have enabled them to attain what they have been able to attain. The code of ethics guides and informs their every move and actions (PETCO: Code of ethics, 2008).

Deontological ethics

This approach to ethics focuses on the moral rightness or wrongness of an action as opposed to the rightness or wrongness of the action’s consequences. It is an obligation or duty based ethics (Gaus, 2007). To this extent, deontologists would only support proposition number 2, as it is a moral duty or obligation to follow the set down code of ethics. Deontologists theorists cannot in any way be driven by malice to harm others. They cannot also be driven by profits to the extent of harming others.

Decisions and Recommendations

Out of the above propositions, I would chooses proposition number 2 as it serves to safeguard the interests of both the animals and pet store owners. Following ethical considerations, done mostly by established pet stores is the only way to ensure that all stakeholders are comfortable. It will also guide against the blatant abuse of animals, while ensuring that the rights of humans are also guaranteed. Judging by how PETCO and PETsMART have grown over the years by strictly adhering to set code of ethics in regards to animal handling, it is only imperative that emerging companies strive to develop strong code of ethics to ensure that they are not caught in a compromising situation like it has been the case in the past (PETCO: Code of ethics, 2008).

The proposition is supported by all the three ethical theories discussed above. Deontologists support it in that the code of ethics establishes the moral rightness or wrongness of any action taken in relation to the sale of animals. The code of ethics will mould the character of employees, thus receiving support from virtue theorists. From the utilitarianism perspective, the code of ethics will surely guarantee that the overall utility of actions undertaken by employees.

It is therefore imperative that emerging pet stores comes up with an all encompassing code of ethics and ensure that it is followed to the letter. This will guide their operations in the otherwise sensitive market, and will ensure that the pet stores are not entangled with stories of animal mistreatment. Such stories are likely to dent their reputation and effectively put them out of business. It is of importance that they follow the PETCO’s case in trying to formulate their code of ethics. It must be incorporated in the training programs of all employees. The code of ethics should infact be the basis of employing or subcontracting workers in pet stores. Those who do not share in the well-being of the animals should better be left out. (“Ethical Issues, 2003).

There are economic constraints in that the emerging pet stores must invest heavily, at least financially in developing inclusive training programs for their employees when it comes to implementing the code of ethics. There exist some legal constraints in that the code of ethics demands strong disciplinary actions to be taken on employees who default the rules. Such employees may find solace in court rooms, thus denting the reputation of the concerned firms even more. Employees must be made aware that the code of ethics is final as it will enable the firms to make key strategic business decisions (Ferrell & Fraedrich, 2006).


It is necessary to ensure that the recommended strategies continue to be effective. PETCO has already established mechanisms to ensure that the code of ethics remains effective and is practiced by all and sundry. It is also the duty of emerging pet stores to ensure that the code of ethics they design would continue to be effective. They can decide to partner with numerous non-profit animal welfare organizations to pursue goals that could be mutual to them – promoting compassion towards the humane treatment of animals. Like PETCO, they can establish some independent animal care advisory councils to provide independent expertise input into their businesses. They can also establish relationships with local veterinarians across the country to ensure that they have an independent veterinarian who can provide the necessary animal care when needed (PETCO: Code of ethics, 2008).

In advertising, companies dealing with animals must ensure that they strive to maintain a lasting bond between people and animals (Lelchuk, 2002). All the information that may be contained in an advertising brochure, television or radio ad, ought to be not only true, but should be substantiated as well. In making of its pricing decisions, PETCO does not entertain influence from either vendors or competitors, as doing otherwise would be in violation to the federal laws. Proactive actions and measures must always be taken to address the issues raised by animal conservatists. If left unattended, such concerns have the capability to ruin the credibility and reputation of pet stores (Higgins, 2004).


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Ferrell, O.C., & Fraedrich, J. (2006). Business ethics: Ethical decision making and cases. Cengage learning.

Gaus, G.F. (2007). What is deontology? Part two: Reasons to act. 2008. Web.

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Lelchuk, I. (2002). “San Francisco Chronicle, 2008. Web.

PETCO: Code of ethics. (2008). Web.

PETCO animal suppliers, Inc. (1999). International directory of company histories, vol 29. 2008. Web.

Schmidt, J. (2005). “Pet buyers asking sellers about Avian Flu.” USA Today, 2008. Web.

The ethical issue. (2003). What are the ethical issues in the treatment of animals. 2008. Web.

Travis, T. (2007). Tainted Toothpaste, Pet Food, and Toys: Minimizing Risk in a Global Economy. The Transparency Vaccine. 2008. Web.

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