The head of the Ottawa Humane Society says he's disturbed by reports and photographs alleging reptile neglect at an Ottawa big box pet store, and said he wants reptile owners to know his organization is equipped to come to the aid of exotic pets.

The Ottawa Humane Society recently completed a sweep of Ottawa pet stores and found only one "worrisome situation with a gecko" that they ordered to be taken to a veterinarian, according to the society's executive director, Bruce Roney.

But two former employees at PetSmart's Kanata outlet, who spoke to CBC News on the condition of anonymity, told CBC News they saw dozens of reptiles die in the store and started to take photos and document the conditions after they said their complaints to management were mostly ignored.

Roney said he was disturbed by the photos, which appear to show the deterioration in health and in some cases the deaths of the reptiles.

"They are clearly very disturbing and in some cases they are very, very obvious so I'm stunned that this would not have been observed by someone inside the store or someone visiting the store and we would not have received a call. Stunned!" said Roney.

PetSmart says initial investigation does not support allegations

The U.S.-based PetSmart has policies for the care of animals it sells and its written code of ethics states, "PetSmart believes it is unacceptable for even one pet, in even one PetSmart store, to receive the wrong kind of care or inadequate care."


Ottawa Humane Society executive director Bruce Roney says his agency has two employees who have taken courses on reptiles and their health. (CBC)

PetSmart director of corporate communications Michelle Friedman said an investigation of the store is underway, but that "our initial findings do not support these allegations." The Humane Society also toured the Kanata store but it did not find any problems.

Friedman said the company veterinary team also had difficulty determining if some of the animals in the photos were really dead.

"While some of the aspects of the photos we received were concerning, we don't see overt signs of abuse," she said.

Friedman added that when the humane society officer came for the inspection, they complimented staff on how nicely the store was run.

Humane Society can't handle reptiles, pet owners say

Ottawa reptile owners who said they have seen obvious signs of malnourishment at big box pet stores said they are not surprised the Ottawa Humane Society sweep turned up little evidence of neglect. They said the animal welfare agency is poorly equipped to identify issues with the exotic pets.

"They are a great organization and I fully support them … but when it comes to the reptile community they do fall short," said Sarah Leduchowski, a veterinary technician and reptile owner, who said she has seen reptiles living in terrible conditions at many different pet stores and chains.


Lee Willis, pictured here with Bossk, his female bearded dragon, says he would not call the humane society if he saw a reptile being neglected. (CBC)

"For me, I would not even bother phoning them because I know they are not going to do anything about it," said Lee Willis, who owns a bearded dragon.

Roney said those views are perception, not reality, and that one full-time and one part-time employee of the investigations department have taken an online reptile course offered through a pet industry association.

"It's really unfortunate that if an impression has been formed in the community that we are not concerned about reptiles" he said.

"I would ask those people to come forward with evidence if there are cases of animals suffering in the community," he said.

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