SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. -

A criminal investigation is underway into Evergreen Pet Shop, which was shut down in July by the Department of Revenue for tax evasion.

Despite the shutdown, store owners said they cared for the animals in the store every day until sometime last week when something changed.

SCRAPS has been receiving complaints about the store for several months now, and the agency reports its investigators had been checking up on the store and found no violations until last week.

Despite his great escape this weekend Houdini the Chinchilla is back in a cage. Ellen found him running freely around Evergreen Pet Shop. She, along with dozens of other community members, heard animals had been abandoned there and needed homes.

"I've never seen rats so thin in my life," Ellen said.

She wonders, as do a lot of other community members, why SCRAPS didn't step in sooner.

"They should have had it a long time ago and been a little more proactive I think," she said.

"There is an active investigation at Evergreen Pet for potential violations of the Revised Code of Washington as they pertain to animal neglect and animal cruelty," SCRAPS director Nancy Hill said.

One person who contacted KXLY said they called SCRAPS seven times since July about the store. Hill said they only received two complaints, and on both occasions an investigator responded.

"When the officer came, they got there the same time as the caretaker, went in, saw the place before the caretaker had performed any duties and there were no violations," Hill said of the first site visit back in October.

The second complaint was lodged last week.

"When we went last week, then the situation had changed," Hill said.

"Sometimes it doesn't take long for a disaster to occur; I've seen that many times over the years where a certain level is care is being maintained and then something dramatic happens and things can go south rather quickly," Hill said.

Hill can't say what condition the animals were in because the investigation is still open. However, after they hear from the veterinarians caring for some of the animals, SCRAPS will decide whether to recommend criminal charges against the owners of Evergreen Pet Shop.