By Nathan Duke
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling on the owner of an Astoria pet store that was recently gutted by a fire to reopen the site as a pet supply store with an adoption center rather than selling dogs and cats.
On May 31, Astoria’s U.S. Pet Discount, at 31-52 Steinway St., was engulfed in a massive fire that took nearly 45 minutes to extinguish, a city Fire Department spokesman said.
Firefighters saved as many as 30 animals from the store, including dogs, cats and gerbils, but the shop’s exotic birds, which are sensitive to smoke inhalation, were all killed. Some of its fish and snakes also died in the blaze.
But PETA is now calling on the store’s owner, Donald Dalessio, to sell pet supplies from his store when it is reopened. The group is also asking him to create an adoption center for puppies and kittens at the site, rather than sell the pets.
“Breeding and selling animals cannot be justified when millions of homeless cats and dogs in animal shelters are literally dying for a good home,” said Tracy Reiman, PETA’s executive vice president. “Up until now, U.S. Pet Discounts has been part of the animal overpopulation problem, but the tragedy of this fire has provided the store with an opportunity to become part of the solution.”
Dalessio could not be reached for comment.ï»¿
An employee of the store who answered the phone Monday said U.S. Pet Discount’s owners were “definitely” planning to reopen.
Michael Lyubinsky, a PETA spokesman, said the group has offered to place pro-adoption posters featuring celebrities, such as “The Hills” star Audrina Patridge and Kellan Lutz of the “Twilight” film franchise, on the scaffolding of the store during its construction phase as an incentive.
PETA is promising to direct its members in the five boroughs to the store if its owner turns it into an adoption center.
It was not known where the animals from the burned store are currently being held.
“We are requesting that they only use their facility as a shelter and run the store as a supply business,” Lyubinsky said.
In their letter to Dalessio, PETA contends that pet store suppliers have bad reputations for failing to provide adequate veterinary care for animals as well as breeding dogs for exaggerated physical traits, such as squashed faces or long bodies.
The cause of the fire at the Astoria pet store has not yet been determined.
City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said firefighters had difficulty gaining entrance to the building because it had a roll-down gate. The store also did not have a sprinkler system, he said.
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.