NEW YORK (Reuters) - Petco Animal Supplies Inc said it is selling fewer pets to make space for more products as the retailer tailors outlets to local markets following an ongoing review of its marketing strategy.
A Petco spokesman said on Friday the decision was based on the results of a test begun in November 2007.
Animal rights group People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), however, contended that the move follows its investigation which "uncovered abuse and neglect of birds and animals" at one of Petco's suppliers.
Animal rights groups like PETA frequently urge pet stores to stop selling animals, and encourage aspiring pet owners to adopt from animal shelters instead.
But retailers point to consumer demand for pets from known stores over adopting or buying from unknown dealers, and continue to sell a variety of small animals and birds.
A Petco store in New York City, for example, sells hamsters, birds, and guinea pigs, while rival Petsmart Inc sells reptiles, fish and birds at a New Jersey store.
Both companies support separate pet adoption programs.
Petco's move took customer needs into consideration, and also aimed to keep animals in stores for a shorter period and free up floor space to stock pet products, Petco spokesman Kevin Whalen said.
In its talks with PETA, Petco had only discussed speeding up the process of having fewer animals in all stores, Whalen said.
"While it will benefit animals, our decision to expand the test program to all of our stores is unrelated to our discussions with PETA," Whalen said in an e-mailed statement.
San Diego-based Petco, with over 850 U.S. stores, was bought by private equity firms Texas Pacific Group and Leonard Green & Partners in 2006. Petsmart, based in Phoenix, has 993 stores in the United States and Canada.
(Reporting by Aarthi Sivaraman, editing by Richard Chang)