Dead rabbits piled up in a freezer and hidden under a table in a back room were among the many shocking discoveries made at a Petland store in Fairfax, Virginia, during a five-month hidden camera investigation by the Humane Society of the United States. But what our undercover investigator, who worked at the store for two months, found that was even more shocking was that the store did not appear to have a policy requiring medical care for the rabbits, nor were any attempts being made to find out why the animals were dying.

Virginia law mandates veterinary care for rabbits kept as pets to prevent suffering or disease transmission, but several employees indicated that it was regular store practice to let sick or injured rabbits die rather than providing such care. One employee told our undercover investigator that when rabbits get sick, “we just let them die.” Another said, “normally the sick ones just kind of die out.”

When our investigator dug deeper, they made yet another shocking discovery: the store’s primary rabbit supplier in Maryland is an unlicensed rabbit mill that is keeping 200 rabbits in dirty, crowded and inhumane conditions.

With Easter around the corner, we are releasing the findings of this investigation because if you have bought, or are considering buying, a rabbit from a pet store, you should know that you could be supporting businesses like this Petland store and the mill it buys from, that are treating the animals in their care with absolutely no concern for their welfare.

The store’s primary rabbit supplier in Maryland is an unlicensed rabbit mill, Wagner's Farm, that is keeping 200 rabbits in dirty, crowded and inhumane conditions.

Among other findings at the store:

  • Besides 14 dead rabbits in the freezer, our investigator found a dead rabbit in a plastic basket under a table. An employee stated, “that’s where we hide them.” When a customer brought back a dead rabbit named Moon, saying the animal had had several seizures very shortly after purchase and then died, store staff simply told our investigator to put Moon in the freezer, where other dead rabbits were piling up. There appeared to be no plans to find out why any of the rabbits died.
  • After we linked Petland’s rabbits to Maryland breeder John Wagner in March this year, an investigator visited Wagner’s property, Wagner’s Farm, and found approximately 200 rabbits kept in dirty and crowded conditions. The conditions were similar to what we normally find in puppy mills, only in this case they were breeding rabbits. Some of the animals looked injured, and at least one dead rabbit was seen laying across the top of a cage.
  • Mr. Wagner acknowledged to our investigator that he sells about 60 rabbits a month to the Fairfax Petland, a volume of sales that would require him to obtain a U.S. Department of Agriculture license and follow specific standards of care. We found no indication that Wagner has a USDA license.

This isn’t the first time Petland has been accused of mistreating rabbits. In 2009, a Petland store in Ohio closed down after an employee posted a photo on social media of herself holding up the bodies of two rabbits she had drowned inside the store. She later pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges.

As we’ve reported previously, Petland stores have also frequently been linked to sick puppies. The HSUS has received more than 1,300 complaints about sick puppies purchased at numerous Petland stores across the country since 2006. At the Fairfax store too, our investigator found puppies were frequently sick, with as many as 21 in isolation for illness or receiving medications at any given time.

We have reported our findings to law enforcement, which is reviewing a large volume of videotape and notes we provided. We will update you as soon as any outcomes of their review can be shared.

Meanwhile, you can help by being a conscious consumer. Rabbits can make delightful and long-lived companions if given the proper care, and families who are considering bringing home a bunny should research their needs carefully. If a rabbit is the right fit, make sure your purchase isn’t supporting an inhumane operation. Adopting from a rescue group or a local shelter is your kindest option.

Urge Petland to stop selling bunnies, kittens and puppies