Cookeville Pet Shop Owner Disputes Animal Cruelty Charge

Posted at 5:56 PM, Jul 21, 2015

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The owner of a Cookeville pet shop is facing an animal cruelty charge.

Cookeville Police made the claim after inspecting the Age of Aquariums shop last week, but that shop’s owner says he's not being cruel to his animals at all.

The charge of animal cruelty came after a tip from the animal rights group PETA.

Cookeville Police officers investigated, and say they found several things that weren't normal.

“They felt like it was a level of uncleanliness and neglect for some of those animals that rose to the level of them actually being cruel and abusive,” said Major Nathan Honeycutt with the Cookeville Police Department.

But inside the Age of Aquariums fish and pet shop, owner Michael Cassella says he’s done nothing wrong.

“There's no cruelty at all,” Cassella said.

Among some of the concerns in the officer's report were several fish tanks including an outdoor one that was listed as dirty, with algae growing inside and the fish left out in the sun.

“They're applying common sense to this investigation, things that they know from their life experiences,” Honeycutt said. “They know this was not good for those animals.”

But Cassella, who says he has degrees in wildlife and fisheries science, says he’s providing them a temperature-controlled environment that tropical fish are accustomed to.

“The tank has some natural sentiments, but it has floating plants that we sell at the top,” Cassella said. “The fish are very happy, it's a tropical rainforest fish and it belongs in that kind of environment.”

Officers also noticed an above-average amount of feces in a birdcage in the back.

“There were some birds confined in a cage that the officer said was way too small for the birds that were in there,” Honeycutt said.

But Cassella says those birds were just being held in one cage for a short time because there was a problem with another cage, and Cassella says those birds are his son's personal pets.

“The police entered a private pet area where the pets were not for sale, with no price tag, and they're my sons personal pets,” Cassella said.

Cassella says he feels like his name and his business has been unnecessarily dragged through the mud, but police say, they think their case is solid.

“When we got that complaint, it was important for us to act immediately, and that's what we did.” Honeycutt said.

Cassella now has to face a judge for the animal cruelty charge on August 26.