Monday, June 02, 2008

little shop of horrors...

A pet shop or pet supply store can be a very interesting if not frightening destination. From the customers' dogs - ranging from fierce to friendly - to the pet shop employees - both over-zealous and zany, one can become easily overwhelmed (or in the case of the employees, creeped out) by a visit to the shop. I know this, dear reader, from my experiences as both industry insider and consumer. These two perspectives are not mutually exclusive; and in fact, I am a pet owner - albeit a lousy one - only because of my stint as pet supply store stock boy.

For posterity, we'll start at the beginning.

In high school, I worked for a year or so at PETCO. Without getting too political, as everyone knows you shouldn't buy a dog or cat from a chain-store for fear of supporting "puppy mills", I will say that PETCO is indeed a capitalist organization. The bottom line was usually more important to management than the welfare of the animals (this includes the employees). This fact had an interesting effect on employee motivation.

In many cases, his/her love of animals combined with a meager paycheck, led the typical long-term employee to "morally justified theft." You see, management had an unspoken policy of letting sick animals die - it's cheaper than proper veterinary care and better for the bottom line. The disgruntled and underpaid employees would then steal the sick animals and the supplies to nurse them to health.

Of the interesting characters I worked with - Denise*, the nympho who had notches on her bedpost "well into the double digits"; Andy*, the drug aficionado who once cauterized a box-cutter injury on the job while stoned on horse tranquilizers; Lauren* and Ken*, the couple who shared everything on and off the job. - Ron* was the most interesting. He was the king of veterinary theft. Ron was 27, and had a menagerie of animals in his bedroom at his parent's house. Four rats, 2 turtles, a few parakeets, a cockatoo, 2 dogs, and countless fishtanks left his house smelling like a zoo. He also had an unfounded hatred for hamsters, claiming they were "the worst possible candidate in the animal kingdom for a pet." Despite his care and love for every other animal in the store, I once saw him drop-kick a hamster 40 meters after it bit his finger.

Well, one day Ron showed up at work with a full set-up for a leopard gecko because he had to make room for another rat cage at home. He offered it up for free, and setting aside my worries about the legitimacy of his ownership of the tank, I raised my hand. There was no reptile included, but we carried leopard geckos, and there was a sick one in need of nursing.

The set-up as given to me by Ron*. The mountainous backdrop was my addition.

That is how I became the proud owner of Hermangus (his name a portmanteau of Herman and Gus - two names that were confusedly used interchangeably during his youth). He is an exceptionally boring creature, spending most of his time under a rock. But he shows some excitement when his lazy owner decides to feed him a box of crickets. This, of course, adds excitement to my life because I get to venture into the local Concord Pet Supplies for a box of crickets. Having completed my ethnographic field studies of the pet store employee, I have a vested interest in the continued observation of said creature.

Hermangus makes a rare appearance for a drink.

My last purchasing experience began with a chime of the electronic bell as I crossed the threshold. Without pause, I was greeted by the girl at the counter, struggling to contain her excitement around helping a customer. My request for a box of crickets revealed her uncanny love for lizards as she gave the cash register an almost sensual caress. "What are you feeding?" she asked in a sultry voice. My response of "a leopard gecko" seemed to send almost orgasmic electric shivers through her very being. I paid quietly and quickly and left the store a shaken mixture of arousal, intrigue, and shame.

Dinner awaits, meanwhile the chirping of the crickets adds a flavor of meadow to any living room.

But alas, dear reader, that is a small glimpse into the shady world of pet supplies. I could spend an entire week with various anecdotes, observations, and advice. Though my tenure at PETCO ended over 8 years ago, I still have Hermangus, who has survived over 10 moves, and countless famines. He remains my reminder of the love of mankind for small slithery things.

*names changed, of course, to protect the identitys of these slackers and animal lovers.


Rosie said...

When I first started reading this, I was afraid it was going to end with the death of Hermangus, but I'm glad it didn't!!!!!!

I can't wait until he digs again!

Rachael said...

you are a nut!

Dan said...

I wish I had the loaf in my background. that made me laugh