23 September 2002

 

            On 6 September 2002, I reported for work at 8:00 am.  Around 10:30 am, Steve Brooks, the manager, said, “Can you step back here for a minute?”  We went back to the dog food area, where Brad Votaw (the Loss Prevention guy) was waiting.  Steve set his clipboard down on a stack of dog food.  Then I could see it was an Employee Disciplinary Warning.  I figured I was getting written up because Votaw had found the bird cages unlocked earlier in the week.  I admit they were unlocked.  I hadn’t had time to check them that morning.  I just assumed that Kinsey Webb, the manager in training (M.I.T.), had locked them the previous evening.

            Brooks said, “Well, your thirty days’ trial period is over. [referring to the 30-day trial period for Assistant Manager]  It’s just not working out.  Every time I leave the store, everything goes to hell.  I come back to email after email of complaints about you.  Now, we have to decide what to do with you.  We could just put you back to M.I.T., but after talking with Terry, we’re just going to terminate the position.”
            I noticed he was getting increasingly red in the face, and very fidgety.  I didn’t say anything.  The decision had already been made; there was nothing at all I could say.

            At this point, Votaw took over.  He began with mentioning the unlocked bird cages, adding, “I know you keep saying nobody could steal those birds, but you don’t seem to care that you’re leaving thousands of dollars of Karl’s money available to whoever wants to take it.”  Then, as he continued, pieces started falling into place.

            “There’s no nice way to say this, you’re a total bitch.  Pretty much every call that comes into the office is a customer complaint about you.  She was a bitch, she refused to help me, she was a complete bitch.  I’ve talked to some people at other stores, everybody I talked to agrees, you’re an absolute bitch.  You bite their heads off for asking the simplest questions, you won’t give them any help.”

            He then went into “the last straw” – a customer named Frank who had come into our store on Saturday 30 August, early evening.  “You totally refused to help him, and you were a bitch to him.  So he went over to the store on Battlefield, where he said everybody was the nicest people he’d ever seen.  He told them how he’d asked you for help with his fish tank, his fish had ich, and you refused to sell him any medication.  They got him fixed up, he told them he only had three dollars, but they got him some medication.”

            As it happens, I remembered Frank very well.  He was drunk.  He was belligerent, and rude to the M.I.T., Kinsey Webb, who asked me to please come over and deal with him.  He told me he’d bought a fiddler crab at our store, it gave all his fish ich, he’d lost $80 worth of fish.  He wanted $80 in cash, compensation for the lost fish, and he wanted medication free of charge.  I told him we couldn’t reimburse him for the lost fish, because we couldn’t be sure what he’d lost.  He couldn’t produce a receipt for the fiddler crab. I showed him the choices of medication, and he told me he had no money whatsoever.  He stomped out.

            I promptly went up into the office cubicle, and emailed Steve Brooks RE:the episode.  In detail.

            Back to the firing:  As I mentioned, pieces were falling into place.  Then Votaw dropped the key piece, saying, “You’re ruining our company.  We’ve got to protect our business.”
            Bingo.

            This had almost nothing to do with the bird cages, or the customer complaints.  The office wanted to get rid of me because I kept asking them why they were doing so many illegal things.

            Most recently, they had violated the USDA regulation regarding “all animals of the order Testudinata,” which includes both turtles and tortoises, can be found in 21 CFR Ch. 1 (4-1-91 edition) pages 550-552.  Specifically:

 

1240.62 (b)  Sales; general prohibition.  Except as otherwise provided in this section, viable turtle eggs and live turtles with a carapace length of less than 4 inches shall not be sold, held for sale, or offered for any other type of commercial or public distribution.

 

            This is known as “the Four-Inch Law,” and the most recent violation involves a 2”-long African spur-thighed tortoise for sale at the store on Independence.  The office is well aware of this law, employees at that store are aware, yet they opted to order the baby tortoise anyway.

 

            [For your information:  I have attached a copy of an info sheet I made and faxed to all the Springfield, Missouri stores, regarding the 4” Law, and Missouri Wildlife Code.  According to my Word software, the file was created on Friday 19 July 2002, modified 22 August 2002.]

 

            The company had also violated the Wildlife Code of Missouri, Chapter 9:  3CSR10-9.110, which states clearly that you may not buy or sell any nonvenomous animal native to the state of Missouri, regardless of where you obtained it, unless both the seller and the buyer hold a Class I Wildlife Breeder’s permit.  They had for sale a rough green snake, and a tiger salamander.  Connie Webster, the General Pet receptionist, is the one who unpacks arriving reptile orders, and she called me about the rough green snake.  Shortly thereafter, email was issued by Brad Votaw explaining that the Department of Conservation had inspected the salamander, and it isn’t a species native to Missouri.  He also stated that Karl Keller has a permit, so it’s okay for the stores to sell native species.

            That isn’t the way the permit works.  To the best of my knowledge, Karl Keller is not the owner of record of the Pet Warehouse chain.  General Pet, Incorporated, is the owner of record.  I never quite got a clear answer from the office on whether each individual store holds a permit, or not.

            In any event, the seller’s permit is not the only issue.  The buyer must also have the permit, or the sale isn’t legal.

            I had also raised a number of health- and safety-related issues.  For example, the office insists that each store retain all dead animals in a freezer on the premises until someone from the office comes out to check the dead.  It’s my understanding this practice originated (and continued) because the office was convinced some of the employees were stealing live animals and writing them down as dead.  At our store, 5009 S. Campbell, we had only one refrigerator’s freezer – we couldn’t use the BilJac dog food freezer, obviously – in which to store animal carcasses, and all the frozen foods (for reptiles and fish) that were sold to customers.  Many times, one of us would open the freezer and have an avalanche of corpses shoot all over us.  When I read an article in the “Pet Product News” – a trade paper – regarding attempts in San Francisco to ban live animal sales because some stores had freezers full of dead animals, I asked the office yet again why we had to do that.  I never got an answer.

            In response to a general email sent by the office in June 2001 which discussed rising insurance costs, too many employee accidents, especially animal bites, and asked for employee suggestions, I sent the attached document, titled “15 June 2001,” to the office.  I addressed many issues and concerns.  I never received a response.  The office did provide gloves – jersey gloves, and some strange rubber-coated, non-waterproof, non-bite-proof, gloves.  Dust masks have never been provided, unless a particular store employee brought his or her own.  The office did provide something almost like training – which took place at the office on St. Louis Street, far from any of the stores – thus far from any hands-on – which had little or nothing to do with hazards.

            The issue of biohazards in the Pet Warehouse stores has never been addressed, to my knowledge.  Insufficient time is allotted for cage cleaning, resulting in a slap-dash, inadequate shot-in-the-dark style of cleaning – and a bacteria paradise.  Certain animals are grossly overstocked for the cage space allowed, for example, 40 to 50 small rats in a 2’ by 2’ by 2’ particle-board enclosure, or 50 to 60 mice in a similar enclosure.  One employee, who moved from our store to the store on East Sunshine, has been suffering with a bacterial infection in her finger for well over a year.  Her doctor took a biopsy, determined the bacteria came from scrubbing dirty fish tanks, prescribed an eight-month course of what she described as “very expensive antibiotics,” and even then told her the infection would never be totally cured.

            As for the other issues I brought up, most were ignored.  The office continued to put monitor lizards on sale – and required each store to purchase a certain number of them.  The office continued to overstock cages, especially parakeets and hamsters.  Payroll constraints continue to force managers to schedule as few workers as possible – meaning cages wouldn’t get any cleaner.

            In summary, these are the real reasons I was fired.  Consider also these facts:  I was Associate of the Month for July 2002, I was promoted to Assistant Manager on 5 August 2002.  If my record were truly as bad as Brad Votaw claimed, why did I receive that award, and why was I promoted at all?  If the unlocked bird cages were such a huge infraction, why wasn’t Kinsey Webb written up for leaving them unlocked in the first place?  To the best of my knowledge, she didn’t even receive a verbal warning.

            I’m sure it’s just coincidence that I’d sold our particular “problem child,” a blue and gold macaw who wouldn’t let anyone but me handle him, the day before I was fired.