After years of complaints about conditions in the store and the welfare of the animals, the pets are gone from Eagle Pet Center in downtown Shakopee.
Last Tuesday, owner Ed Dressen willingly surrendered what was left of his menagerie to humane agents, including about 50 to 60 rodents, a handful of tropical fish, eight rabbits and a cockatiel. The animals were given to local rescue organizations, the humane society and a fish store.
“We’ve had agents investigating it for years,” said Tim Shields, attorney for the Minnesota Federated Humane Societies, a nonprofit authorized by the state to intervene in cases of animal abuse or neglect. “It would get cleaned up, improve, and then things would get bad again.”
The store had received increased media scrutiny after a Facebook page was created in mid-July. The page, which called for Dressen to stop selling animals, received more than 6,000 likes in two weeks.
Agents had made several visits there recently, Shields said. If Dressen hadn’t agreed to surrender the animals, Shields had prepared a warrant and was confident a judge would have authorized seizing the animals due to neglect.
The final straw for Dressen, who has run the business for more than 40 years, may have been that he’d had no electricity for nearly a week due to an unpaid bill. The lack of power resulted in a dark store and water dripping from the ceiling, said Shields. Frayed power cords were nearby, he added.
That only added to the poor conditions in the old, damp building, owned by Dressen. “It’s horrible in there, between the urine and the mold,” said Lissa Muehlberg, a state humane agent who helped remove the animals.
Other complaints surfacing on Facebook were that tanks were so thick with algae that it was hard to see the fish, rodent cages were overcrowded, and animals’ cages weren’t cleaned regularly, said Tania Richter, a Shakopee business owner who started the page. Finally, even on hot days, Dressen wouldn’t run the air conditioner, she said.
“It’s just a very unpleasant atmosphere for people and animals,” said Shields. “I’m surprised the city would let the business continue to operate because it’s a danger to the public.”
Recently, Richter offered Dressen some cleaning help and suggested the idea of holding pet adoption events if he stopped selling animals. “I gathered from that conversation that he truly believes he’s not doing anything wrong,” she said.
Mayor Brad Tabke has addressed the store’s conditions several times recently on his blog and in Web chats. He said he’s received more than 120 e-mails over two weeks about conditions there, and a petition addressed to him and other government officials garnered more than 2,600 signatures.
Although the store “isn’t kept up the way that I would hope a pet store would be,” the city couldn’t take action because there was no imminent danger to the public, Tabke said.
He added that he had personally chosen not to shop at the store and that he was sympathetic to the animals’ conditions. In response to public concern, the City Council will address the possibility of adding ordinances pertaining to pet stores at its meeting Wednesday.
Richter said she’s happy the city is considering such ordinances, because “the bigger issue is protecting animals in the future.”
Dressen is not allowed to purchase any new animals until a full inspection of the building is made, Shields said. However, he may continue to operate a pet supply store, Shields said. It’s unclear whether Dressen will stay in business, since he declined to speak with reporters.
Annie Green has worked at Turtle’s, the bar next door, for 20 years and lived in Shakopee her whole life. She said she’s glad the animals are gone, because walking by the store made her sick.
She recalled seeing rat feces on the store’s floor, and wooden aquarium frames that were chewed through, apparently by rodents that had escaped. She remembers a monkey, kept in a small, dirty cage, that was once a fixture there.
“Even when I was a little girl, I was sad for [the animals],” she said. “I can’t believe it’s gone on this long.”
But not everyone was pleased. JP Poulton, who owns a tarantula, said the store had “the best cricket prices in town.”
“I’d hate to see this place go,” he said. “There are too many people who make something out of nothing.”