If you care about animals, you should never buy one from a pet store. That may seem counterintuitive, but PETA’s undercover investigations have demonstrated time and again that pet shops and the companies that supply them treat animals like disposable objects. No thought is given to the fact that they are living beings.

PETA’s case proves this point.

Imagine a worker putting hamsters into a plastic bag and bashing them against a table in a crude attempt to kill them. One hamster languishes-panting heavily and suffering-for several minutes.

Unsalable animals are gassed in a filth-encrusted glass tank. Hamsters are killed when careless employees crush their necks between shipping boxes and box lids.

These are just a few of the atrocities that PETA documented during a recent three-month undercover investigation of Sun Pet Ltd., a Georgia-based wholesale animal dealer that supplies small mammals, birds, fish and other animals to PETCO, PetSmart, Pet Supplies “Plus,” Walmart and “mom and pop” pet stores across the U.S.

At Sun Pet, PETA’s investigator routinely found severely decomposed rat, mouse, gerbil and hamster remains in bins containing live animals. Guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, chinchillas and sugar gliders were housed and/or shipped in severely crowded bins, cages and boxes. Sometimes the distressed animals fought, resulting in injuries such as shredded ears and gouged eyes.

A supervisor and employees routinely handled animals roughly. The supervisor said that “you could throw [the mice] against the wall and they’ll stand back up again and keep on running” and that you could forcefully squeeze small mammals’ abdomens “like a … PlayStation controller handle” to determine their gender.

In more than three months of employment, PETA’s investigator never once saw anyone from PetSmart’s or PETCO’s corporate offices inspecting the Sun Pet facility. Dozens of PETCO and PetSmart stores shipped sick and injured animals back to Sun Pet without food, water or veterinary care. Some animals were dead upon arrival.

One bad apple? Hardly. The situation at Sun Pet is all too common.

This is PETA’s fourth exposé revealing the abusive handling and filthy conditions endured by animals who are eventually sold at PETCO stores and our third revealing such conditions for animals sold at PetSmart.

Last year, a PETA investigator spent seven harrowing months working inside U.S. Global Exotics, Inc. (USGE), a Texas-based multimillion-dollar animal supplier that sold animals to Sun Pet and other distributors.

As a result of PETA’s investigation, Texas authorities seized more than 26,000 animals from USGE last December in the largest animal confiscation in history. USGE’s U.S. Department of Agriculture license has since been cancelled, and the company is now closed. Its owner, Jasen Shaw-who is now a fugitive-is wanted by the federal government for violations of the Lacey Act and is under investigation for charges of smuggling, conspiracy and aiding and abetting.

One down, many more to go.

If you share your home with an animal companion, please stock up on necessities at shops that sell only supplies, not live animals. And if you’re ready to pour your time, energy, money, attention and love into an animal, visit PetFinder.com or your local animal shelter to adopt a furry friend.

Most importantly, never buy an animal from a pet store. Appalling abuse and neglect are just business as usual for the warehouses that supply pet shops. The suffering will continue until consumers stop patronizing stores that purchase animals from these hellholes.

You can help secure justice for the hamsters and thousands of sensitive individual animals peddled for profit by Sun Pet. PETA has received information indicating that Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr. has instructed his office to halt its investigation of animal suffering at Sun Pet. Please complete this form to urge Mr. Howard to investigate and file suitable cruelty-to-animals charges against the worker caught bashing hamsters against a table and also to file charges against other appropriate parties.

Dan Paden is a senior research associate in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.