WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. — The owner of Steve's Wonderful World of Pets in Williamsville has a special promotion this time of year. It's meant to be cute, but it comes with controversy.
For the past 15 years, Steve Lane has allowed people to rent two baby chicks at Easter time, take care of them for about two weeks and then give them back after the holiday.
"It was really a response to stop people from buying disposal pets, to getting a pet and then dumping it off somewhere in a couple of weeks," Lane said.
It costs about $39.99, plus a $10 deposit. The pet store provides the birds and the supplies.
"We give them a container that has everything that they need to care for them. It has the medicated food, the bedding, the water bottle that has electrolytes in it for their start and a clamp lamp with a heat bulb in it," he said.
Lane estimates he rented chicks to 200 people last year, and he's already gone through 50 chicks this year. But not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. A Facebook post from the store about the promotion has drawn harsh criticism, and angered people who say the practice of renting out the chicks can be inhumane and harmful. The SPCA Serving Erie County has received hundreds of complaints on social media.
"We're dealing with fragile animals. We're dealing with animals that people are generally unaccustomed to handling. A very innocent mishandling of that animal can kill that animal," said Gina Browning, chief communications officer for the SPCA.
Browning says Lane is taking advantage of a loophole in the law. The statute prohibits people from selling, trading or giving away these animals in groups of less than six or to inappropriate facilities, but the law says nothing about renting the chicks.
"These animals are not being sent for two weeks to an ideal situation, of course not. These animals do not belong in this type of a program," Browning said.
The law also stops people from selling or giving chicks that have been artificially dyed from their natural color. Lane says his shop did that many years ago, but ended once he found out it was illegal. A photo on his Facebook event page does show dyed chicks, but the ones he actually rents have their natural color.
"Maybe that picture might've caused some excitement. It's a great picture. They’re cute chickens. But it is illegal to display them in New York," he said.
Of the 400 chicks Lane rented out last year, he says two died before they could be returned to the store. The vast majority he says, come back in good condition, and he gives them to friends who raise adult chickens for eggs and meat. Despite the controversy, he sees this as completely legal and will continue the practice.
"I stand behind what I'm doing. I think this chick rental thing is a good thing. It's a great thing for families with young children," Lane said.
The State Department of Agriculture and Markets has received many complaints about this issue. A spokesperson says the department is monitoring the promotion, and could take action if the dealer is found in violation of any animal cruelty laws. So far, that has not happened.