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Having come from 8 yrs of working in a LFS, and training the staff in the 8,000 sq ft. fish room with over 350 tanks, I have to be honest. As the others have said, not ALL stores are the way you describe, but far too many. There is one reason besides the obvious already mentioned (money/business)... the other reason is because there is no law to regulate the care fish get, anywhere. Our government still sees fish as "disposable" animals, which is very sad. The stores don't do more than they have to in most cases, and with no laws to worry about, they are free to kill as many animals as their budget allows.
There is a store not far from me, where a friend of mine was working. Her general manager ordered mudskippers, and instead of listening to her about what they needed for a habitat, he tossed them into a full tank of freshwater, like the fish, and within 24 hrs all 30 of them were dead. The owner never even questioned it, and this was one of the reasons my friend quit. Many stores have this stupid idea that fish don't need to eat, don't need to be cleaned, don't need attention of any sort, because they aren't supposed to be in the tanks long term. For all of my complaints about the store I quit working at 3 months ago, I have to stand up and say, they do properly take care of their many animals, down to the last fish. Their problem is a little different... they forgot that morals has something to do with selling a living animal, thus their new policy that I couldn't live with... if the customer wants it, give it to them and list it as a "customer risk".
Something important that I must touch on here, is that not all of the fault lies with the LFS's. Go into a busy LFS with a large fish room section, and listen to the CUSTOMERS. It's sad, but 98% of the people who shop these stores don't care about the animals. I have had groups of ADULTS come in and ask me "where do you keep your killers?", I had another guy come in once, asked for "feeder angelfish" for his piranah, since he thought it would be amusing to see them ripped apart by his aggressive fish. I could list the endless stories that torture the "good people" who work in the LFS's. I have offered advice, only to be told to "bag it anyways", or "it's my money, you have to sell it to me". That has to be one of the most frustrating jobs in the world for anyone who cares at all for the animals. My website was born because of the number of "bad customers" I had to deal with on a daily basis, 5 - 6 days/wk.
Now, not ALL customers are bad, just as not ALL LFS's are bad... but the majority rules on the side of bad in both situations. It has always amazed me that people could be so cruel and heartless, but it is a fact of life in this dreadful world we live in today. Many people don't want to learn, many people don't care enough to want to learn.
There ARE things we can all do to help this situation, in both areas mentioned above.
1) Don't be afraid to complain... open your mouth, voice your opinions. I've heard many say that 1 person can't make a difference, but that is untrue, especially with smaller LFS's. Every paying customer counts, and an unhappy customer doesn't usually spend money.
2)Don't buy sick and/or injured animals, even though you wish to "save" them. This only contributes to the store's practices. If they spend money on something and it dies, they have to eat the loss. If they spend money on something and it sells, they will do it again and again. If that something is in poor condition, and sells anyways... this encourages them to continue with poor care practices, as there is no need to change it, money is made and all is good. All is NOT good, and if they lose business because something is sick, then they have encouragement to fix it, save it, to recoup their expenses in price and care already given.
3)Even though fish are left out of our animal cruelty laws, LFS's are under obligation to meet health code requirements in order to keep their license. If the store is filthy, animals obvoisly dirty and neglected, sick... report them to the local health department. This takes about 15 minutes and if reported, they MUST investigate in most states. In many cases, you don't even need to leave your name. They can also be reported to local humane societies or the humane society of the united states (if in the states), and those can be found online. And, something many people don't think to do, if the fish are poorly kept, check out the other animals they're keeping... chances are they are poorly kept as well. The authorities might not care as much about fish as they do cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, etc., but if it gets them into that store to clean it up, they're there, and the fish are part of what will need to be taken care of. Once they're in the door, everything about the place is under scrutiny. The health department DOES have the ability and power to close them down and to issue fines. Unhealthy animals and their environments is considered a breeding ground for disease, and there are some very strict laws that apply to ANYONE who keeps live animals in a business environment.
4)Be a good example, be a good customer. Do your homework, avoid impulse buying. The more you know, the less you need to rely on someone else to give you proper information, if any at all. It is not uncommon for a customer to specialize in something, and teach the staff who work in the stores. I openly admitted and bragged that it was one of my regular customers who taught me to breed my bettas for specific color and physical traits. He would bring me his fry from time to time as "gifts" so I could learn from them. You'd be surprised at how many staff members want to learn, just have nobody to teach them. The problems in LFS's usually lay in the hands of upper management, people who don't have to provide the care for the animals directly. If you teach them, then the next time someone asks that question, they are happy to hand out the answer and to show a customer how much they know about what they're doing. This gives a fish room employee power over the others inside the company, too. With one person knowing the right way, that person ends up teaching others, one way or another... it's a cycle, and we, as customers, have to take responsibility for the things we purchase. There is no law demanding the LFS to teach the proper care, but there are laws about providing it. There are message boards such as this all over the internet, and unless it's an "uncommon" species, information is easily available. Be sure to sort through it and make sure you get ACCURATE information, but if you're interested enough to spend money on a pet, then it's in your own best interest to know how to take care of it.
5) Again, speak up. If you are in a store and hear someone getting bad advice, and you know the answer, excuse yourself and pass it on!!! If you're bold, such as I am, ask the staff member a specific question, question their answers until you know it's accurate, and don't be afraid to ask them to pull a book from the shelf and look things up to prove themselves. 9 times out of 10, if it doesn't sound right to you, something is wrong.
6)Be a smart shopper. Don't let slippery salespeople push something on you. If you don't need it, or don't feel you do, ask them why it's important, and then ask someone else before you spend your money. Take your time and understand what you're looking for before you buy it.
If you're buying a computer, walk into a store, and a sales person suggests you buy the most expensive model, do you question that? Do you question it if the price difference is huge? If you question a computer, you HAVE to question a live animal or equipment that a live animal relies on for its life.
7) Last but not least in my list, walk into a store with morals and values, and stick to them. When someone offers to teach you something new, listen to them. Ask questions and get involved. There ARE people out there who really know what they're doing, we just have to be open to them when we find them. You'll most recognize them because they'll offer information without you having to ask. Your job is to listen and ask more. Pick up a book from a shelf, look things up, and when in doubt about something, just don't. Get the information first, PLEASE!
I recently talked to a guy who had a 30 gallon cube tank, saltwater. It had been set up for about 2 months, and already he had killed numerous animals, and was experiencing a tank crash. The store he went to allowed his "impulse buying" because it made them a ton of money. In this tank he had damsels, clown fish, anemones, dog face puffers, lionfish, clown trigger, shrimp, snails, crabs, and almost no live rock. As 1 fish died, he ran out and added 1 or 2 more, never bothering to find out what the problem was first. The fish I named above were all in this 30 gallon cube tank together, at the same time. Imagine for a moment what that tank looked like, just viewing it... then ask yourself where he thought it all would go. It's common sense more than it's anything in this hobby, and education is the key. Fish are not disposable, and when a customer treats them that way, the problem in the LFS's gets worse. There was a time when we were allowed to refuse a sale if we could determine an animal would surely die if we sold it to someone. Those days are fading everywhere, fast... because if customers are denied, business is lost. Lose enough business, the store closes. Overhead costs for a fish store are very very high, and sales dictates a lot of the practices going on.
Sorry this post is so long, but I hope I can help to shed some light on things for you, and for everyone else out there. Sometimes people are "bad customers" without realizing it and nobody is willing to say it out loud. I want to help the animals, more than anything else. "We the people" have a voice, but some of us are afraid to use it. These animals need it. Bring your stories here, from both sides of the fence, and teach each other. Get the word out!!! But, use that voice where it counts the most, in the store! I have cleared places with my complaints voiced in front of other customers, and when that happens, the business hurts for it. The easy and least expensive fix for the business is to make the customers happy. I hope this post saves some money, but more than that, I hope it helps to save some lives!
Thanks for taking the time to read it all!