However, Ross denies threatening to accuse the Vaughans of elder abuse, calling their description of what happened “absolute nonsense”. He said the idea that the owner is being abused by his client is incorrect.
He added: ‘If you walk into the store you will see a hard working family and an elderly lady who has been put under pressure.
Ross declined to comment further.
On April 14, Lake County Animal Care and Control Department Director Jonathan Armas said the store had been repeatedly inspected and cited for violations, such as overcrowded cages, and had received a written warning.
However, when officers last visited this month, they found “no major violations” of the state’s pet code, he said.
The department cannot conduct “unlawful searches and seizures,” he said, and the store has the right to require a warrant before entering, which delays inspections.
“People post things on social media but they don’t call us,” he said. “By the time we get a call, it’s a bit later. When we checked we did not see what is described every time.
“We haven’t seen a ton of dead animals. I’m not saying it’s not happening, but we haven’t seen it during checks,” Armas said. “But whatever violation is found, we request a correction,” which is essentially a written warning, he said.
“We are doing everything we can.”
Vaughan and the store’s critics argue that Pet Country staff clear the store and the animal cages when they know an inspection is imminent or when they fear one, such as when a Facebook group protest has been contemplated , but never happened.
“We worked with animal control but (Schweitzer) won’t let them in. They must give 24 hours notice. They spend the night cleaning up and making it just decent enough,” Steve Vaughan said. “Animal control gets a warrant and comes back and it’s not the same. It goes back to how it was two days later.
Schweizter denies it. “It’s an everyday thing – we don’t clean our cages because someone said they were going to protest, we clean our cages all day, every day,” she said.
“His father had certain agreements with us about how the maintenance was to be done and Steven Jr. decided not to follow through on that,” she said. “I’m doing the part I’m responsible for.”
“Dead, Don’t Sleep”
Roberta Lee of Kelseyville, who visited the store, filed a complaint against Pet Country with the Lakeport Community Development Department on April 15, citing criminal state code violations.
A former exotic bird educator for the San Francisco SPCA, Lee said she graduated in zoology from UC Berkeley. She said when she saw the photos of the lizards posted on Facebook by Erica Gutierrez, she knew there was a problem.
“I had many lizards, iguanas, Agamid, skinkidae, legless lizards, various (monitor) lizards and these were dead, not sleeping,” she said.
She emailed The Press Democrat a copy of her complaint to the Lakeport agency, which said she visited the store in February ‘prompted by negative messages’ about how the animals were kept .
“The small birds were kept in overcrowded cages and I observed a budgerigar (an Australian parakeet) with obvious clinical symptoms of illness. The cockatoo was located near an electrical outlet sticking out of the wall…There was a noticeable odor.
She added that at the back of the store “pet grade rats…were crammed into a 5 gallon aquarium so thick I counted 22, but I believe there were more. Neither food nor water was present.
“I showed the manager…the sick parakeet…I explained to him that the puffy feathers, closed eyes and flapping tail were signs of a bird in respiratory distress. She said she didn’t know and was dismissive.
Jenni Byers, director of the city’s community development department, confirmed that her inspectors, along with staff from Animal Control and the Lake County Fire Protection District, responded to a complaint about the store in July 2021. His department found ventilation and storage issues and a lack of fire extinguishers, which were resolved.
The department has now opened a case in response to Lee’s complaint and will work with animal control.
Lee’s email “brought us up to speed with the Facebook chatter,” Byers said. However, “Facebook messages are not a way to file a complaint. We need people to contact us.
But all of that might be moot, since Schweitzer plans to sell the business to Lakeport entrepreneur Aaron Wooden and his wife, Candice. The Woodens have been negotiating to buy the business since October, Aaron Wooden said.
“My family is buying this because my family loves reptiles. We have four dogs, two cats, two snakes, four lizards, two geckos and two rats,” he said. “My wife is going to run it and our son going to work on it.”
He said he had concerns about the store and had heard “a lot” about the business over the past two months.
“We plan to make it a lot nicer,” he said.
Ultimately, however, it depends on whether the Vaughans, owners of the building that houses the pet store, decide that a lease transfer is in their best interest.
They ask their lawyer to look into the potential deal, which they say came last week from Ross, Schweitzer and Fernandez’s lawyer.
It may be best to have an empty building for sale, Steven Vaughan said, but he’s happy to hear the Woodens’ plans.
One thing sticks in the Vaughans’ stomachs if the lease transfer goes through.
“We are upset that we were unable to expel him (Schweitzer) months and months ago,” Steven said.
“And saved the lives of countless animals,” Rachel added.
You can reach editor Kathleen Coates at [email protected] or 707-521-5209.