Feces on the floor, fish belly up in the tanks, an aroma deemed stinky even by pet store standards -- these are but a few of the recent complaints against an area pet store with a history of problems.
In September, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which regulates pet stores across the state, slapped Valley Pets in Fountain for 10 violations including failing to place informational leg bands on birds, animals being tethered too tightly, filthy floor conditions and too much algae in the fish tanks.
Valley Pets owner Dave Neverette was given between 15 and 30 days to fix the problems or face possible fines that could lead to the revocation of his license to sell pet animals.
Cynthia Thompson, a field inspector with the Department of Agriculture, declined to comment on the state's continuing investigation of Valley Pets, in a strip mall on Highway 85 in Fountain, though conceded the store has been experiencing more than its usual share of problems and complaints. She said she expects to complete her report by the end of the month.
For his part, Neverette concedes his store could be cleaner, but says he has worked hard to be in compliance with the state's standards for pet stores. The bad economy, nearby highway construction and competition -- including Petco and a nearby Wal-Mart -- are making it hard for him to stay in business, he says.
Several dead fish
Numerous appalled customers and potential customers, meanwhile, wonder why the state has allowed the store to stay in business at all. In the last two years, Valley Pets has received eight citizen complaints -- which do not include four more that are part of the state's current investigation.
"It looks like your worst friend's chaotic house," said Colorado Springs resident Deborah Rivers. "I've never seen a pet store so filthy in my life."
After observing several dead fish in the tanks, Rivers called the local Humane Society and was referred to the Department of Agriculture.
Earlier this year, Stuart Loflin reported he saw dead lizards being tossed into a trash can inside the store. He said he witnessed employees throwing rats on the ground to kill them. The animals, Loflin says, were to be sold as snake food for customers who didn't want to feed their pets live rats.
Springs resident Mark Berger said he's also made repeated complaints over the last few years. An owner of many lizards, Berger says he no longer shops at the store.
"I've never been able to get a good answer (from the Department of Agriculture) on why this place is still in business," said Berger said. "I can't stand to see animals in that kind of condition."
Dead mouse on counter
In 1996, Valley Pets was issued a cease and desist order for operating without a license. A year later Neverette was issued a $200 fine after the state found his store infested with crickets, roaches and flies, as well as other "housekeeping violations."
On a recent visit by the Independent, the store's floors were dirty. Several fish tanks were clouded with algae. A dead mouse was observed on a counter.
In business for the last 19 years, Valley Pets was for a time a mini chain with two stores in Colorado Springs, one at the Southgate shopping center and another on the east side near Doherty High School. Both folded in the late 1990s.
Owner Neverette says that running a pet store is all he ever wanted to do, and all he's ever done since he opened his first store a year out of high school.
And regarding the litany of complaints about his store's upkeep, Neverette admits conditions inside his store could be better; however he maintains he works hard on upkeep.
"I know how to run a pet store, I'm not a business graduate," he said.