A judge's ruling Wednesday in an animal welfare case leaves 82 pets in limbo.
The Pet Company will be given two weeks to fix the problems at its Hamilton Place store before being allowed to sell animals again, Chattanooga City Judge Sherry Paty ruled.
Judge Paty said the store must pass an inspection by officials from the McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center and the U.S. Department of Agriculture before animals can be returned and sales resume.
In the meantime, the animals seized June 15 from the store will be sent to other Pet Company stores, the judge ruled. The chain has 22 stores across the nation, with the nearest in Atlanta.
Before being trucked across state lines, all 82 animals must be checked for giardia, a contagious parasite found in four of the dogs seized two weeks ago. The cost of the tests and the health certificates will be footed by the McKamey Center, which is funded by tax dollars and donations.
"The judge has said the healthy animals can leave, but we now have the burden of determining whether they're healthy or not," McKamey Executive Director Karen Walsh said.
The Pet Company had faced 90 city code violations, including many tied to animal cruelty.
City and state officials were trying to get the store's license revoked, and Judge Paty still could do so if she determines that the store has not complied with conditions.
Judge Paty's ruling came after a four-day Chattanooga City Court trial, the longest in the court's history, Judge Paty said.
A hearing is scheduled for July 14 at 1 p.m.to evaluate whether the store has met the judge's conditions and who will pay fines and other animal care expenses.
"It doesn't sound like this store is actually running in compliance with what their manual calls for, let alone what the city code calls for," McKamey attorney Mark Litchford said Wednesday during closing arguments.
Andrew Pippenger, attorney for United Pet Supply, the parent of the Pet Company, argued that McKamey's actions were unjustified.
"The reality is their process was fundamentally unfair," he said. "They came out to take the animals without a hearing. They came out to revoke our license without a hearing. That shows they're biased."
Judge Paty said store employees' failure to follow their manual was "unacceptable." She also criticized the store for failing to fix its air conditioning system for three weeks and for unsanitary conditions.
After looking at photos of animals matted with urine and fecal matter, she said the store was currently unfit for business.
"A picture is worth a thousand words," she said.
Yet Judge Paty also noted that McKamey officials had failed to give adequate formal warnings to the company before resorting to the raid.
She also criticized a petition that a McKamey volunteer posted on the center's website, calling for signatures and donations to shut the Pet Company down. The petition made McKamey, which is a civic authority, look biased, she said.
Ms. Walsh said her priority now is to care for the animals while they are still in McKamey's care. She also said the organization would work with the Pet Company to ensure that the store meets the city's standards.
"That's our job," she said.