"Animals are such agreeable friends –
they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms."
— George Eliot (novelist, 1818-1890)
There are two kinds of people in the world: pet people and not-so-much pet people.
True confession (the irony* will become apparent shortly): throughout my childhood and into early adulthood, my idea of owning a pet was to visit a zoo twice a year. I liked animals just fine. You know, over there. Or in nature. Or as pets in someone else's house.
Growing up, we had the requisite number of family pets. Our first was a parakeet named Trini (for Trini Lopez, who my parents saw in a show while visiting Las Vegas). We got our Trini as a consolation prize, because back then it was considered inappropriate to take children to Las Vegas (or, for that matter, even bring them back a souvenir from Las Vegas). Then there was a black guinea pig named Silky and, finally, an almost-cocker-spaniel named Mitzi. My brother loved that dog, but I was ambivalent at best and highly irritated during my angsty teenage years, when I only wore black and she only shed blond.
Perhaps the trouble started when I was the lucky kid in third grade who got to take the guppies home from school. (Warning: the following anecdote contains graphic references that may bother sensitive readers.) I kept the fishbowl on a little stand by my bedroom window and, sometime in late fall or early winter, the water in the bowl got too cold, formed a thin layer of ice and, tragically, killed the guppies. I sobbed to my mother, who told me to take them into the bathroom and that we would perform the traditional fish funeral after the ice thawed.
Imagine my joy when, about 20 minutes later, I went into the bathroom to see the little fishies swimming happily around their bowl. I ran down to tell my mom about the miracle, but by the time we made it back up to the bathroom, the fish (in the bowl that had been sitting on the radiator) had again, and permanently this time, met their match. I had first frozen and then boiled them to death, all in the same day — tragic for the fish and traumatic for me.
I lived a simple, pet-free life for many years after leaving home, so will someone please explain to me how I ended up as the owner of a dog (Hazel), a cat (Pirate), two hermit crabs (Maize and Blue) and … wait for it … a pet store? "*Ironic, isn't it?" says my oldest son. It's true; my husband and I are owners of The Animal Store in Lincolnwood, IL. I'm still not quite sure how it happened, and friends who know me well mock incessantly.
Still, pets are our family business, so I needed to step up. My role is limited to producing the store's blog, designing forms and signs, and other such writerly endeavors, while my husband, Kenn, does the actual hard work of owning a pet store (thank you, DH). People are often dismissive about owning a small business, but let me tell you, there is nothing small about it. The Animal Store has tens of thousands of SKUs (stock keeping units) and, think about it, a good portion of our inventory is alive. That means we don't close up shop for a weekend or a vacation. Those animals need to be fed and cared for every day.
Like a plumber with leaky pipes, I managed to keep my kids petless for a good long time. "Mama, can we have a bunny?" "Sure, honey, and you can play with it every time we visit Daddy at the store." Eventually, however, the kids wised up and started asking their Dad.
In the 17 years that we've owned The Animal Store, I've learned a lot about pets and their people. Pet owners are fervently devoted to their animals. Some pet people are partial to a particular species or breed – there are ferret fans, bearded dragon devotees, and African Grey aficionados. Others are equal opportunity animal lovers, often owning a few (or many) different kinds of pets at one time.
Kenn frequently takes some of his animals to visit nursing care facilities or group homes. Studies have shown that caring for pets and even just visiting with them can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and prolong life. They can even help pay your mortgage (well, at least in our case they do, so we are especially fond of pet-loving people).
I've even learned that aquariums can be an essential and beautiful part of your home decor, and are often an important element in the art of Feng Shui (placing an aquarium in the proper corner of your home can purportedly boost your prosperity). I know for a fact that putting a baby in front of an aquarium produces a bounty of peace — all four of my babies were mesmerized by our salt-water fish tank.
You will be happy to know that, thanks mostly to my husband and his knowledgeable staff, I have learned how to care properly for our pets at home (no more frozen/boiled guppies). I have come to appreciate the joys that pets can bring. And there is still nothing quite like a boy and his dog (bonus points if you can tell which is which in the picture at the top of this post).
Now for a little SSP (shameless self promotion). As a special thank you to all our customers, The Animal Store is hosting a blow-out sale this weekend — lots of fun for the entire family, including great raffles, tons of giveaways and free glitter tattoos (for people, not pets). Learn more here. If you're a pet person, you won't want to miss it; if you're a not-so-much pet person, come in and say hi to Kenn anyway, and get a free glitter tattoo. Not local? We can ship to you.
Tell us about your favorite pet or pet story by clicking here. And, in case you were wondering, my mom (a children's librarian) helped named The Animal Store after a wonderful poem by Rachel Fields:
The Animal Store
If I had a $100 to spend,
Or maybe a little more
I'd hurry as fast as my legs would go
Straight to the Animal Store.
I wouldn't say "How much for this or that?"
"What kind of dog is he?"
I'd buy as many as rolled an eye,
Or wagged a tail at me!
I'd take the hound with the drooping ears
That sits by himself alone;
Cockers and Cairns and wobbly pups
To be be my very own.
I might buy a parrot all red and green,
And the monkey I saw before,
If I had a hundred dollars to spend
Or maybe a little more.