Petco, one of the biggest pet retailers in the country, severed its relationship with a Pennsylvania small-animal dealer amid a federal investigation into conditions at the facility where it keeps thousands of hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and other species.
Petco said in a statement Tuesday that Holmes Chinchilla Ranch and Other Small Animals Inc. is no longer a supplier after the retailer concluded "they did not meet our animal care standards."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture spent several days at Holmes this month after an animal-rights group shot video purporting to show substandard conditions at the dealer's facility in Barto, about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
"You have roughly 20,000 animals in severely crowded bins, competing for food, competing for water," said Dan Paden, associate director of evidence analysis at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
He said a PETA employee got a job at Holmes and worked there, undercover, for three months, collecting evidence that PETA presented to the USDA. The agriculture department's investigative unit recently spent five days at Holmes, according to Paden.
Tanya Espinosa, spokeswoman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, confirmed the agency has an open investigation into Holmes but declined further comment.
The video, which PETA shared with The Associated Press, includes scenes of bins with dead guinea pigs; dishes filled with what appears to be fouled water; loose cats that PETA said preyed on hamsters, mice and rats; live rats stuffed in a plastic bag and placed in a freezer; and a "waste-filled cooler" where dozens of small animals of varying species were dumped and gassed, "sometimes ineffectively," PETA said.
Holmes declined to answer questions about its operations.
The dealer said in a statement that it is cooperating with USDA, "and anticipate that we will satisfactorily resolve any concerns that they have now or arise in the future, as we have since the beginning of their inspections of our facility."
Holmes passed its last several federal inspections, according to online records that go back three years. PETA, in a letter to the USDA, requested the inspector who gave Holmes a clean bill of health as recently as January 2015 not take part in the current probe, citing evidence the staffer warns facilities ahead of time of impending inspections.
Holmes' 2015 federal inspection report said the facility housed 16,787 animals — ferrets, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs.
Holmes also supplies PetSmart, another huge retail chain.
"We have reached out to the USDA to learn about its findings. If we find our standards have not been met by this supplier, we will take swift and appropriate action," PetSmart spokeswoman Erin Gray said.
Petco spokeswoman Lisa Start said the retailer ended its relationship with the supplier "as a result of our own recent inspections at Holmes Chinchilla Ranch, which are a regular part of our strict vendor oversight protocol."
Paden, with PETA, said the PETA employee working undercover was there when a Petco representative showed up to inspect the facility on Dec. 2. He said the employee was packing animals destined for Petco as recently as Jan. 5, her last day at Holmes and the day that USDA officials began their probe.