In the panic, confusion, and disarray of catastrophic flooding, accidents will happen. But one tragic story has highlighted extreme levels of malfeasance on the part of a large corporate pet store, PETCO, which allowed an estimated 100 animals to die as the Twin Tiers experienced record flooding due to Tropical Storm Lee. The corporate pet store chain claims they did no wrong, but countless scores of area residents beg to differ.
Flood warnings came early Wednesday, with the Declaration of a State of Emergency being signed by Broome County Executive Patrick J. Brennan at 1300 hours (1:00 pm) that afternoon. Some area schools, such as Ann G. McGuinness in Union, were dismissed at 12:45 pm due to the risk of flooding. Metro areas throughout the southern tier were being evacuated by the early evening, with those evacuations intensifying all throughout the evening. "NY ALERT," an automated messaging service that calls New York State residents to warn of severe weather advisories and other emergency news, had contacted my home at 8:21 pm, and several more times throughout that evening, informing us of the State of Emergency and that flooding may be as severe, or even more severe, than the flooding our area suffered in 2006.
By 9:00 pm on Wednesday, the State of Emergency and the evacuations were common knowledge to area residents, as was evidenced by the massive surge of related comments and status updates pouring into social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. That, coupled with the numerous calls placed to area residents by the NY ALERT system, and breaking local and national news headlines, makes it rather impossible for area businesses to claim they weren't aware of imminent flood risks. PETCO, however, is making claims to the contrary.
PETCO claims an associate was sent to the store at 11:45 pm (their standard business hours having ended at 9:00 pm) on Wednesday evening to check on things, and had reported that there was no flooding in the area. They also claim that no one at their store was aware of flood warnings in the area. They claim that the flooding that affected their store was not from the Susquehanna river, but was rather caused by clogging in the sewage/ drainage system in Johnson City.
However, the State of Emergency had been in place for several hours by the time they closed that evening, and evacuation orders had been given in several metro areas as well, some locations having been evacuated before 9:00 pm, and many, many others having been evacuated before 11:45 pm. City officials and experts across the board state that while the clogging did contribute to the flooding, the river itself did a vast majority of the damage.
PETCO has entered a state of damage control at this point, attempting to deflect any culpability for the deaths of the 100 animals that perished in the floods. However, the store's management and employees did, as an absolute matter of fact, have several hours to relocate animals from their store and prevent those losses of life. The warnings were blatant, obvious, and area residents considered them to be common knowledge.
The associates, the management, and the corporate staff should all be tried on 100 counts of animal cruelty... one for each of the animals killed by their reckless endangerment and total malfeasance in the face of an obvious, imminent disaster. They had more than enough time to act during this crisis and save those animals. They made the conscious decision to not rescue those animals or take adequate precautions that may have prevented loss of life. If these were human beings locked in caged and forced to drown by laziness and ignorance, those PETCO employees would go to prison, and many of them would never again see the light of day.
When this story started to break yesterday, Facebook erupted in a massive burst of comments regarding PETCO and their cruelty toward animals. Links to local news stories spread like wildfire, and before the evening was through, Southern Tier residents had made their views resoundingly clear: PETCO is to blame for those deaths, and the obvious state of the impending disaster makes it obvious and inarguable that PETCO was fully warned of the coming flood, and did not act on those clear and present warnings. Countless scores of area residents have vowed to boycott the store. Many are talking about organizing protests as the flood waters continue to recede. It has become obvious that PETCO will have a very difficult time operating in this area in the future, and if it were up to a public vote, they would be banished from the Southern Tier altogether.
I'm not one to usually leave articles on a sour note, so here is the silver lining. In a related story, the owners of another local pet store, Pet Depot at the Town Square Mall, acted heroically to save the animals trapped in their store. Borrowing kayaks, they valiantly put themselves in harm's way to literally row into their store and rescue as many animals as they could before the flooding became too severe to do more. While it remains unknown if any animals lost their lives at the Pet Depot store, one fact stands in defiance of contradiction: The owner of Pet Depot is a hero, and the story of their bravery in the midst of a major disaster stands as one of the most inspiring stories of heroism that has surfaced in the wake of this historic flooding. Unfortunately for PETCO, however, it also illustrates just how vile their in-actions were during this disaster. Still, this Newsvine columnist hopes that after the dusts have settled and the city has regained its composure, the owners of Pet Depot will be given the heroic recognition they truly deserve.