Lakeport locals campaign for pet store closure over treatment of animals

However, Ross denies threatening to accuse the Vaughans of elder abuse, calling their description of what happened “absolute nonsense.” He said the idea that the landlord is being abused by his client is incorrect.

He added, “If you go into the store, you will see a hardscrabble family working and an elderly lady who has been put under pressure.”

Ross declined further comment.

On April 14, Lake County Animal Control and Care Department Director Jonathan Armas said the store has been inspected multiple times, and has been cited for violations, such as overcrowded cages, and received a written warning.

However, the last time officers visited this month they found “no major violations” of the state code regarding pets, he said.

The department can’t conduct “illegal search and seizures,” he said, and the store has the right to demand a warrant before they go in, which delays inspections.

“People post things on social media but they don’t call us,” he said. “By the time we get a call it’s some time later. When we have checked we haven’t seen what’s being described every time.

“We haven’t seen a ton of dead animals. I’m not saying that’s not happening, but we haven’t seen it during the checks,” Armas said. “But whatever violation is seen, we ask for a correction” that is basically a written warning, he said.

“We’re doing all we can.”

Vaughan and critics of the store maintain that the Pet Country staff cleans up the store and animal cages when they know an inspection is coming or when they fear one, such as when a protest by the Facebook group was considered, but never happened.

“We have worked with animal control but (Schweitzer) will not let them in. They have to give 24 hours notice. They spend the night cleaning and bringing it up to just decent enough,” Steve Vaughan said. “Animal control gets a warrant and comes back in and it’s not the same. It goes back to the way it was two days later.”

Schweitzer denies this. “It’s an everyday thing — we don’t clean our cages because someone said they were going to protest, we clean our cages all day, every day,” she said.

“His father had certain agreements with us about the way maintenance should be done and Steven Jr. has decided not to follow through with that,” she said. “I’m doing the part I’m responsible for.”

‘Dead, not sleeping’

Roberta Lee of Kelseyville, who has visited the store, filed a complaint against Pet Country with Lakeport’s Community Development Department on April 15, citing criminal misdemeanor state code violations.

A former exotic bird educator for the San Francisco SPCA, Lee said she has a degree in zoology from UC Berkeley. She said when she saw the pictures of the lizards posted on Facebook by Erica Gutierrez she knew there was a problem.

“I have had many lizards, iguanas, Agamid, skinkidae, legless lizards, various (monitor) lizards and those were dead, not sleeping,” she said.

She emailed The Press Democrat a copy of her complaint to the Lakeport agency, which stated that she had visited the store in February, “prompted by negative posts” about how the animals were being kept.

“The small birds were kept in overcrowded cages and I observed a budgerigar (an Australian parakeet) with obvious clinical symptoms of illness. The cockatoo was located near an electrical outlet that protruded from the wall …There was a noticeable odor.”

She added that in the rear area of ​​the store “pet-quality rats … were stuffed in a 5-gallon aquarium so thick, I counted 22, but believe there were more. No food or water was present.

“I showed the manager …the sick budgerigar … I explained to her that the puffed-up feathers, closed eyes and tail-bobbing were signs of a bird who was in respiratory distress. She stated that she didn’t know that and was dismissive.”

Jenni Byers, director of the city’s Community Development Department, confirmed that her inspectors, along with animal control and Lake County Fire Protection District staff, responded to a complaint about the store in July 2021. Her department found issues of ventilation and storage and the absence of fire extinguishers, which were resolved.

The department has now opened a case in response to Lee’s complaint, and will be working with animal control.

Lee’s email “made us aware of the Facebook chatter,” Byers said. However, “Facebook posts aren’t a way to file a complaint. We need people to contact us.”

But that could all be moot, since Schweitzer is moving to sell the business to Lakeport contractor Aaron Wooden and his wife, Candice. The Woodens have been negotiating to buy the business since October, Aaron Wooden said.

“My family is buying this because my family is into reptiles. We have four dogs, two cats, two snakes, four lizards, two geckos and two rats,” he said. “My wife is going to run it and our son is going to work there.”

He said he has some concerns about the store and has been hearing “a lot of stuff” about the business during the last couple of months.

“We plan to make it a lot nicer,” he said.

Ultimately, though, that depends on whether the Vaughans, the owners of the building that houses the pet store, decide a lease transfer is in their best interests.

They’re having their lawyer look over the potential agreement, which they said arrived last week from Ross, Schweitzer and Fernandez’s lawyer.

It may be best to have an empty building to sell, Steven Vaughan said, but he’s happy to hear of the Woodens’ plans.

One thing sticks in the Vaughans’ craw if the lease transfer goes through.

“We’re upset that we didn’t get to evict her (Schweitzer) months and months ago,” Steven said.

“And saved countless animals’ lives,” Rachel added.

**Correction: Erica Guiterrez went to Pet Country to buy a tank for her bearded dragon. This article has been updated from an earlier version to reflect this correction.

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5209.

Leave a Comment