Animal rights group PETA said Friday it plans to confront shareholders of CBL & Associates Properties Inc. over the company's permitting the sale of exotic animals in its malls.
PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the Chattanooga-based company lets a business known as Pocket Pets set up kiosks in its malls which sell sugar gliders, a small tree-dwelling marsupial. The group also complained about CBL allowing animal circuses to perform on its properties.
"PETA is calling on CBL to stop hosting businesses that cause animal suffering, and that includes circuses that beat animals as well as the irresponsible exotic-animal peddlers," said PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders in a statement.
CBL said it planned to wait until the meeting to hear PETA's questions. CBL's annual meeting is set for Monday at 4 p.m. at the Embassy Suites, 2321 Lifestyle Way, in Chattanooga.
However, an official for Pocket Pets denied any wrongdoing, saying PETA is making "false assumptions" about its business.
"Our company was founded on the idea to make sure gliders are sold ethically and responsibly," said Adam Wayne, Pet Pockets' regional director. "We go to great lengths to make sure that's the case."
Wayne said PETA does "very little to investigate. They've never contacted us directly. They just try to get us in trouble."
David Byer, PETA's senior corporate liaison, said the group has been calling on CBL for years to join other company's to ban Pocket Pets from its properties.
He said the company appeals to impulse buyers to purchase the animals, which are high maintenance and require a special diet.
"It's a bad situation for the animals," Byer said. "We see complaints when [Pocket Pets] appears at different malls."
But, Wayne said the company discourages impulse buyers, asking them to first do their due diligence on the animals. He said Pocket Pets asks buyers to sign "contracts" which say what they should or should not do with the animals.
Wayne said the purchase price for a sugar glider along with food, a cage and supplies ranges from $600 to $1,000.
He said buyers receive an hour-long CD with basic care instructions, emails about every other day for the first month and access to a customer service team.
"They're really well supported," Wayne said.
Gliders can live 10 to 15 years, and the company makes much of its money off of ongoing purchase of food, vitamins and toys, he said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.