Category Archives: Pets

SOUNDOFF! Speak your mind on fire safety for animals.

Fire safety: How do we protect animals who can’t protect themselves?
Please read then speak your mind!

After our tragic fire on Memorial Day, Pet World landed on the front lines of fire safety for animal housing facilities – somewhere we should have been before the fire. Our hope is to share our experience, our failure, and our insight to prevent tragedies like this from happening again. Fire safety codes are currently being discussed at the city level. Suggested changes will likely be put to a vote this Tuesday so now is the time to make your voice heard. We are presenting your opinions to the city commission so think it through and don’t hold back! It’s time to SOUNDOFF!

City staff will be making the following recommendations to the city commission:

Recommended Action

Amend the City Fire Code to reflect the following revisions:

  1. Retroactively require that all animal housing facilities provide smoke detection with integration into a monitored fire alarm system.
  2. Require all new facilities or facilities subject to renovation:
    A. <3,000 sq. ft. to provide smoke detection and monitored fire alarm
    B. >3,000 sq. ft. to provide smoke detection, monitored fire alarm, and automatic fire sprinklers installed to NFPA 13.
  3. Require all facilities to provide:
    Fire extinguishers and extinguisher training for staff;
    Provide CO detection where fuel fired appliances are in use;
    Develop and provide disaster/emergency management plans and provide drills for staff.

Part 3: Fire Extinguishers, CO Detection, Emergency Plans, and Training.
Part 3 is easy. We can’t imagine anyone opposing any part of Part 3. But if you have insight to share, please do.

Part 1: Monitored Smoke Detection and Fire Alarms
Part 1 is also easy EXCEPT for one little detail. City staff recommendations do not specify which kind of communication will be required with monitoring. This worries us because using only one path is risky and adding additional paths is not cost prohibitive at all. Dual Path units can be installed for $200-300, easily under $500, and less than $20 per month to monitor which is a small price to pay for this modern level of protection.

Three types of communication are possible: Landline, Wi-Fi, and Cellular. As we learned, landlines fail when damaged by fire and may not survive long enough to call for help. Wi-Fi communicators are good but, as with landline communication, if the internet goes down the alarm signal can’t send. Cellular alarm communication is great because cell signals only get better over time with no wires to fail and no risk of power loss. Cellular alarm signals are sent as fast as a text message. Since three communication paths are available, we suggest utilizing at least two of the paths with one of them being cellular. If the city doesn’t include dual path language in their code changes, at the very least we hope the commission will vote to always follow or exceed NFPA 150 guidelines so then, when the language is updated at the national level, it will be automatically updated at the city level, hopefully reducing the risk of outdated safety codes.

City staff recommends requiring Part 1 retroactively. That means all animal housing facilities will be given a reasonable deadline to comply right away. Pet World now has 32 addressable smoke detectors that can tell firefighters the exact location of the fire. We now have 4G cellular monitoring as well as Wi-Fi monitoring but, before the fire, we didn’t even realize these kinds of alarm communicators existed. We are pet experts, not fire experts. Had this requirement been implemented when the technology became available, or even last fall after the fire at a local boarding kennel, Pet World would have complied and the outcome of our fire would have been much less devastating. We hope you will join us to push Part 1 of the code change through immediately.

Now let’s talk about Part 2.

In the pet industry, aquarium stores and open enclosure pet stores like Pet World have always feared sprinkler systems. Horror stories circulated of misfiring sprinklers contaminating fish tanks and drowned hamsters floating in glass pens. So in the early 1990s we basically closed our minds to fire sprinklers. Unfortunately, we never revisited the concept. Obviously, we regret not staying up to date on fire safety because modern fire sprinklers are an integral yet overlooked part of fire safety.

Times change.

First of all, modern fire sprinklers don’t misfire. Each sprinkler head independently releases water only when its temperature becomes unsafe, indicating fire. Also, sprinkler head placement is strategic. The NFPA 13 has the flexibility to allow for careful placement of each sprinkler head where it would be the most effective with the least risk to nearby areas such as deep fryers, stove tops, live reef exhibits, aquariums, etc.  Sprinkler heads are placed where they can help control the fire without unnecessary risk.

Animals died from smoke even 100 feet away from the fire.

Animals died from smoke even 100 feet away from the fire.

Here is what we know:
Smoke killed all the mammals and birds that died at Pet World and most of the reptiles.
Smoke comes from fire.
The more a fire can be controlled the faster it can be extinguished.
Less fire equals less smoke.
Less smoke equals less loss of life.

Prevention is the first step. Early detection and reporting is the second step. Rescue and putting out the fire are the final steps. But what about the time between reporting and responding? Fire sprinkling is the only way to help control the fire while help is on the way.

Sprinklers reduce fires which reduces smoke. Evacuation is much easier down a hall with no smoke and it’s much easier to run through a sprinkler than a fire.

We know fire sprinklers are expensive and understand they will always be helpful but may not always be necessary. For example, when enough people are present to safely evacuate animals in the event of a fire, maybe it’s okay to not have fire sprinklers. If an animal related business only has attended animals during the day and no unattended animals overnight then perhaps sprinklers aren’t critical. But if animals are left unattended overnight, or any time for that matter, then while they helplessly await rescue those animals need the extra protection only fire sprinklers can provide.

Obviously we are completely in support of fire sprinkling so what is our issue with Part 2?
We feel like the one distinction being offered in Part 2 is the wrong distinction.

The proposal specifies requirements by facility size rather than by animal risk. Unattended animals who cannot save themselves are the ones at risk and this proposal doesn’t differentiate between facilities who have unattended animals overnight verses attended animals only during business hours. As proposed, it is implied that fire sprinklers are important enough to mandate in a 3000 square foot facility but not a 2900 square foot facility. As written, animals in a 3000’ facility are worth extra protection from sprinklers but animals in any smaller facility are not.

We see no difference in the value of an animal’s life based simply on the size of its facility. In all other applications, fire safety codes are based on risk assessment but this particular distinction has nothing to do with risk. In fact, smaller facilities are higher risk for loss of life due to smoke than large facilities so exempting smaller facilities makes no sense from the standpoint of fire safety. We believe the sprinkler requirement should be based on attended animal risk verses unattended animal risk. Animal housing facilities should be classified by those who keep animals after hours verses those who don’t, not by size.

Here are some examples to illustrate the fire sprinkler code as written:

A 3000’ groomer who offers doggie day care would be required to have sprinklers even though no animals are ever left unattended after hours or overnight.  

A 2900’ kennel who boards 30 dogs unattended overnight would NOT be required to have fire sprinklers.

A 3000’ fish aquarium and pond shop would be required to have fire sprinklers.

A 2900’ pet boutique with dozens of puppies and kittens who stay overnight would NOT be required to have fire sprinklers.

Animals in smaller facilities would have been closer to the fire and died even faster from smoke.

Animals in smaller facilities would have been closer to the fire and died even faster from smoke.

In the Pet World fire, smoke killed boarding animals separated by four rooms and a closed, fire door. Smoke killed animals 100 feet away from the fire in a 10,000 square foot building. Had Pet World been a smaller facility more animals would have died from smoke.

Personally, we believe all facilities with animals should have fire sprinklers as soon as possible. We support Part 2 mandating fire sprinklers in animal housing facilities but believe it should be ALL housing facilities who have unattended animals at any time regardless of quantity, type, or facility size. Groomers, pet sitters, and animal housing facilities who never have unattended animals should have the choice to install fire sprinklers or not. We are open to limiting this mandate to only new construction and major remodels but would prefer to see it implemented retroactively for all facilities with unattended animals within a reasonable time frame.

Why is it important to mandate fire prevention for animals? The same reason we mandate stopping at a red light or car seats for children. Safety. Not just safety for ourselves, but most importantly for others who cannot protect themselves. If drivers would think to stop at every intersection we would not need stop signs. The fact that animal facilities, including the most responsible, respected pet store in the Midwest, operate in code compliance yet do not have adequate fire safety measures in place proves that increased safety code requirements are needed.

Think about this:
What if firefighters would have arrived at Pet World and the fire had already been extinguished by sprinklers? What if they wouldn’t have had to chop through the roof to access the fire and instead could have located it using addressable detectors? What if they could have run straight to the animals instead of fighting blindly through the black smoke? The outcome certainly would have been very different. It could have been different and it should have been different. This is what we must live with every day for the rest of our lives and exactly why we want the city’s help in preventing a tragedy like Pet World’s from ever happening again.

We want to bring your feedback to the city commission before they vote on fire codes at their Sep. 1 meeting. Please share your thoughts in the comments below or on this post at or on twitter @petworldkansas and THANK YOU FOR SOUNDING OFF!!

Snake Snuggles? Post fire love from the limbless.

Ben Smith at ConfabuLarryum, overcoming his fear of snakes in a big way.

Ben Smith at ConfabuLarryum, overcoming his fear of snakes in a big way.

Last week we shared some social media posts about this fabulous, local festival called Confabularryum! The event founder, Ben Smith, messaged me to thank me for sharing and he mentioned his desire to include Pet World in the event but his hesitance to reach out because of the tragic fire. Understandable. We actually have an interesting history with Ben and Callahan Creek, the marketing agency he works for. We had been following Ben on twitter but ended up going all the way to Orlando before meeting him in person, at a pet industry trade show, of all places. He gave presentations that really motivated pet business folks, especially those who can’t resist his British accent. Crazy we all live in Lawrence but had never met. Who knew our paths would cross again just down the street at South Middle School?! I told him I would like to run it past my staff just in case someone could bring over a critter or two.

In our employee group thread I asked if anyone was free Saturday and would be interested in sharing animals at Confabularryum. Most of our employees have been laid off since the fire and not all of them have replaced their PW jobs so I had no idea what response I’d get. Amazingly, not only did several of them offer to help, one in particular even offered to bring Goliath to the festival and then to our temporary location for a visit!

Goliath, the local celebrity snake.

Goliath, the local celebrity snake.

Goliath is our large, rescued Burmese python who instantly became famous on social media when rescued by fire fighters. Folks love to tell us the story of how they saw a firefighter cross himself before entering the building then emerge a few moments later with this 13 foot snake. The funny question was whether his crossing was because of the fire risk or the snake risk. Locals know and love Goliath from his travels to schools to teach kids about Rain Forest animals. He also helps us teach customers what not to buy when it comes to appropriate pets.

The visit was fun for everyone even though many of us got emotional, customers included. At the festival, many children and adults shared how Goliath was the first snake they had ever touched. That concept of touching a snake for the first time is one I had completely taken for granted. At Pet World, we have shared that moment with folks every day for the last 27 years. Literally. Every single day. Human-animal interaction is a critical part of our mission.

The Pet World Mission: Foster, Educate, Inspire, Conserve

The Pet World Mission:
Foster, Educate, Inspire, Conserve

Until the fire, I had forgotten how many people would never have that opportunity without PW. We joked about it with Ben, in fact, teasing him until he, too, touched his first snake. We even laughed as we took his picture. But after he walked away, I thought about how his unique, first experience is something we do every day. I observed all the other first timers and marveled at their faces. It’s always the same reaction. “It’s not cold and slimy!” Nope. Smooth and shiny, like a basketball. We’ve said that more times than we could possibly count. What interesting jobs we have.

We weren’t even old enough to legally drink when Tim announced he wanted to buy a pet store. I thought, oh no. I’m going to be poor the rest of my life. But it was his dream — and he was my dream — so I was all in. And when I think about all the smiling faces who have passed through those doors, I’m incredibly grateful Tim had such vision and I’ve been blessed to help him see it through.

Popular Instagram post with Goliath and KU basketball players, Jamari Traylor and Wayne Selden.

Popular Instagram post with Goliath and KU basketball players, Jamari Traylor and Wayne Selden.

Watching Goliath at the festival was fun and felt normal but seeing him at Pet World brought back a lot of memories and stirred up powerful emotions. I thought about when Luke Welton, our reptile manager at the time, assured me that rescuing Goliath was a good idea and me standing there with a kid on each hip, wondering what in the world we were going to do with that big ol’ snake (and wondering if he could actually eat my twins). I laughed about the day we convinced Kansas University basketball players, Jamari Traylor and Wayne Selden, to pose with Goliath. I remembered a fire fighter asking us how they could tell if Goliath was still alive, the best way to get him out of his enclosure, if he would bite as they rescued him, Tim asking if he could just go in himself, and then Tim lying, offering assurance that, no, Goliath wouldn’t bite. Several of us looked at each other and actually smiled, knowing that our scripted, trained response is always, “Any animal with a mouth can bite.” But who could blame him. They were wearing heavy gear, they’d be fine, right?

Man, those firefighters were awesome. I mean, seriously, firefighters are truly amazing people.

Also last Saturday I watched my employees, closely, and felt so much pride. Morgan, graduated from KU, supposed to have “launched” from PW a success story this summer, yet there he was, still around, helping with Goliath. Then Navid, who volunteered to transport Goliath to and from his visits, laid off from PW, yet there he was, helping again like he has done so many times this summer. Then Mariah, our reptile department manager, helping out on her day off, holding Goliath.

Goliath makes his first public appearances after the tragic fire and genuinely appears to snuggle Mariah for hours.

Goliath makes his first public appearances after the tragic fire and genuinely appears to snuggle Mariah for hours.

I could still picture Mariah on that dreadful day, in her nice, clean sundress after completing that muddy 5K, just weeping as she held on to Goliath in the parking lot, gently bathing him, washing away the soot. For hours she cared for him that day and kept him safe and here she was again, caring for him, keeping him safe. At one point, I realized Goliath appeared to be snuggling Mariah. Never in my life would I believe a snake could exhibit emotions like that but I watched him curl up on Mariah’s lap and frequently look up at her then rest his head back against her. The longer I watched, the more I was convinced he felt genuinely at peace in her lap. It had been three months but I swear, I think he recognized her touch. Neither Mariah nor I are ones for anthropomorphism but we reached a point where we couldn’t even maintain eye contact without crying. What an ordeal this has been.

BabaDioum_QuoteThose close to me know I don’t believe in coincidences. The paths we cross, the lives we touch, and those who touch us — I don’t necessarily believe it’s all part of some master plan but I do believe there is higher meaning in every interaction if we just take time to look. I would give anything for this Godforsaken fire to never have happened but it did. And I must admit we have since encountered some beautiful situations and learned to truly appreciate every human-animal interaction we experience and the life lessons we are fortunate to teach.  What a truly amazing journey this has become.

Pet World Dilemma After the Fire

photo Lakeshore Systems, inc.

photo Lakeshore Systems, inc.

Our family business had a devastating fire on May 25, 2015. Please click below for background info leading up to this post. To expand comment potential, I’m hosting this particular post on my personal site so folks who don’t use Facebook or Twitter can participate.


June 20, 2015
Live Animals and Fire Prevention at Pet World Express

The new, temporary Pet World location (across the parking lot by Bikram Yoga) is open and running. Well, crawling is probably a better word. But we didn’t want to wait any longer to reopen. You need our staff, our feeders, our water, and you’ve made it very clear you want to spend your money at “PW Express” in order to facilitate rebuilding. We appreciate that very much and the truth is, we need you more than you need us. We need to see your smiling faces, pet your dogs, test your water, trim your bird’s wings, count your crickets, and answer those pet questions. Every time you come in, even just to pick up a pig ear for your pooch, you are helping us heal and move forward. Thank you for that.

Everyone wants to know when we’ll have pets available at PWX. The building is up to code but not currently equipped with any fire prevention system – not even a smoke detector. We have emergency lights, lighted exit signs, and fire extinguishers but that’s it. A sprinkler system is not an option in the temporary location for a variety of reasons beyond our control. But we just found out that our insurance will pay for monitored smoke detection in the temporary location. Not just landline monitoring (which we all know is worthless when the landline is destroyed), but 4G cellular, wireless monitoring! That is very expensive but it’s the latest in monitored alarm communication and goes above and beyond most professional recommendations. I hope this is not inappropriate but I must say that American Family has done an outstanding job in assisting us and guiding us since day one when our agent (Ron King since 1988) was on the scene right away.

Here is the dilemma: live animals or no live animals in the temporary location? Pet World will not reopen permanently in the former location or any other location without the latest in fire safety, including sprinklers. If we can’t do it right, we won’t do it at all and, quite frankly, a sprinkler system is a deal breaker for us. No sprinkler system? No Pet World.

But what about in the temporary location for the next 3-6 months? The system we are installing at PWX goes above and beyond what is being proposed in fire safety code revisions. We’ll have 14 smoke detectors monitored by a non-stop 4G cellular alarm communicator with battery backup. Response time will be virtually minutes because the alarm will activate in mere seconds. 14 smoke detectors in this 2400 square foot space is basically the same as one detector per 9’ x 9’ room – except there are no walls so it’s even more effective. Overkill? Maybe. But without a sprinkler system we feel like it’s the next best thing. Are we being too paranoid? Yes, but we all know why. PWX is small and we can’t house very many live animals but unnecessary risk of even one animal is too much.

So please talk to us. One reason our customers feel the loss as much as we do is because you all are an integral part of PW and you know that. You speak, we listen. We ask, you answer. Pet World is yours more than ours. So here is my question to all our tangible customers, current and former, who actually shop with us in Lawrence and understand exactly what PW means to the Lawrence community: How do you feel about us having live animals in the temporary location after the new fire prevention system is installed, even though it will not have sprinklers?

Please comment via facebook, twitter, or on this blog post. Your feedback is very important. Thank you.

Pets as Presents: Solving the Dilemma

I’ve worked at a pet store/rescue/education center since 1988 – more than half my life. Frequently we’re asked the question, “Is it okay to give pets as gifts to children?” 

Tortoise at Pet World wearing a Santa Hat

Tortoise at Pet World wearing a Santa Hat

Our answer is always the same.
Yes! And no. It depends.

If the recipients are able and willing to cherish and care for the pet for the duration of its life, can understand it’s a living thing, and the parents can afford the costs, time, and effort to support them, then anytime is a good time to give them a pet! If not, then don’t. No occasion will change the responsibility of pet ownership or the correct person-to-pet match.

It’s not about the OCCASION; it’s about the recipient.

Responsible parents make the decision to give their children pets as gifts long before the actual occasion. In fact, the occasion is merely the opportunity to give the pet! Impulsive pet purchases are always discouraged but if parents have been planning on giving children a pet and just waiting for the occasion to do it, then there is nothing wrong with that!

Fostering a child’s natural affinity for animals and teaching life lessons through responsible pet ownership is critically important in the development of children – when the time is right.

For example, we applaud parents who resist the fuzzy temptations of chicks and bunnies around Easter time. For children who are not ready or willing to care for a pet, the responsible answer is always no. We suggest bringing kids in to PW sometime wearing their Easter clothes and take pictures with the bunnies instead! Often you’ll hear people say not to give a pet for Christmas because the child will equate it to a toy. The truth is, if a child can’t differentiate a live animal from a toy then that child is not yet ready for a pet, regardless of occasion.

Also – let’s be honest. We all know that often the parents are the ones doing most of the pet care giving because secretly we wanted that pet. Sometimes we say the pet is “for the child” but it’s really for mom or dad. Kind of like that table saw my husband and kids gave me for Mother’s Day.

It’s also not about AGE or GENDER; it’s about the recipient.

Sometimes the answer is no but sometimes it’s yes. If the answer always needed to be no, then kids would never have pets! How sad. A pet is either right for a child or not. It has less to do with age or gender than it does the children themselves. My son is a teenager and probably still not ready for the responsibilities of a pet. Even though he is smart, kind, compassionate, and helps with our pets, being solely responsible for a pet doesn’t suit his busy lifestyle or impulsive personality. His twin sister, however, (who is even busier and less compassionate), has responsibly cared for her pets since she was two years old with little to no help. After age 3, I could have given my daughter a box of kittens with zero concern. She has an innate sense of discipline which is well suited for owning pets. Plus she’s responsible enough to resist a pet she can’t take care of.

For the select few children who are ready, whose parents have been planning to gift a pet anyway, guilt-free permission is granted! You know your child best and that decision is only yours to make. We share in your passion and salute you for your impeccable timing!

Choosing Your New Pet

New pets can bring endless joy and create priceless memories for almost any family when a good, solid people-pet connection is made. A little research can go a long way. Before bringing home a new pet, families should first consider their lifestyles and assess who is home at what time and for how long. New pet owners need to know their patterns and schedules before they can make an educated decision about a pet. A family must match their new pet’s needs to their commitment level and time at home is a major factor in determining how committed they can be. Maintenance expenses are another factor.


This child is convinced a tarantula would make a great pet for him.

This child is convinced a tarantula would make a great pet for him.

For example, a young family with a parent who spends a lot of time at home and has dedicated, pet-passionate kids might be well suited for a high need, long term pet like a rabbit. A family with parents who work a lot outside the home and busy teenagers who are frequently away and leaving for college soon might choose a low maintenance, short term pet like a betta fish. Personally, I happen to find parrots fascinating! However, the only reason I own one is because I have a full time staff to care for her along with hundreds of fans who give her the endless daily attention she needs. My busy lifestyle is not conducive to having a pet parrot at home. Discerning which pet is right for which family at which time is absolutely essential to the success of the family-pet connection.


Once a good family-pet match is determined, I encourage families to start at the beginning with pets, exactly as if the new pet is a baby, even if it’s an adult rescue. Starting at the beginning will expose any issues that need to be addressed and affirm healthy boundaries and behaviors that are already present. Acclimate all new pets in small steps, maintaining proper care and boundaries from its first day home. New pet owners are tempted to go overboard with a new pet at first but it’s actually better for pets to experience their typical routine from day one, just the way it’s going to be for life.


Determine who takes care of which needs and when. Maybe one person is in charge of morning feeding, another evening feedings, and another in charge of cleaning. Rotating a schedule of responsibilities might work for some families while for others, perhaps the person with the most predictable schedule is in charge of the most important daily tasks, while someone else is in charge of the more variable tasks. The important thing is that a schedule/routine is established before the pet comes home so adjustments can be made right away. Sometimes simply setting up the schedule exposes the fact that a pet’s needs exceed a family’s possible commitment level and a failed connection can be avoided before it occurs.


Only purchase the basic necessities for a pet (in small quantities) before actually bringing the pet home. Learning a pet’s less predictable needs may take a little observation time. For example, we always suggest only one of each type of dog toy until it becomes obvious which type of toys your dog prefers. If he’s a hunter then he might need extra toys to hide, seek, and fetch. If she’s a destroyer, she might not need a retrieving toy at all and the budget might be needed to frequently replace soft, destructible toys instead. Temporary phases (like teething) need to be considered, as well.


Lastly, pet proof your home along the same lines as you would when toddler proofing. If your new pet will spend time roaming the home, start at the floor level and literally crawl around to get the correct perspective. Remove tempting or hazardous items from the floor up until they are out of your pet’s reach. Look for potential risks and educate your family regarding potentially harmful substances.


Caring for pets is an important part of life. Spend time in responsible shelters and high quality, independent pet stores where you can handle the animals and ask questions. Notice which pets appeal to you then evaluate your potential commitment to narrow your search. Matching the right pet to the right family at the right time makes for successful people-pet connections to last the life of the pet!

Pet Store Puppies

Modified from my business blog entry at

Scrappy, our most recent rescue mutt, found abandoned.

Scrappy, our most recent rescue mutt, found abandoned in an old outbuilding.

Since 1988 I’ve owned and operated a huge pet store and education center with my husband, Tim. Almost daily I am asked, “Why doesn’t Pet World sell cats and dogs?” 

The short answer?
There is no short answer.

Truth be told, Tim and I have never entirely agreed on the issue of pet stores selling cats and dogs. All pet stores are different, so a blanket approach makes no sense. One perspective is that the world has too many unwanted dogs and cats so perhaps selling them could inadvertently contribute to that population or, at the very least, give this perception. That doesn’t seem very responsible. The other perspective is how lame it is to be this industry leader, influential among pet hobbyists, and not show the world how to responsibly handle the number one and two pets in the U.S. when it’s not like it can’t be done. It can. Although, selling dogs and cats according to our high standards was not exactly cost efficient, I must admit. Not a money maker at all. In fact, it was so cost prohibitive I’m surprised my frugal partner would do it.

Maybe Tim just did it for me because I like dogs and cats so much. I mean, I was sleeping with the boss after all. 😉

The whole not-selling-dogs-and-cats thing initially seems like the responsible choice but you know what? Self imposed bans are a very slippery slope. Some pet stores sell puppy mill puppies – which is flat wrong. Puppy mill dogs should be illegal across the board in any venue. But some pet stores are inspected, licensed, regulated, and go to great lengths to sell quality, responsibly raised puppies, purchased directly from local, hobby breeders. Nothing wrong with that. So the idea that no pet stores should sell any puppies ever is based on assumption and stereotype, only treating the symptom, and not addressing the real problem.

Principled Transparency
At our shop, we focus all our energy into education. We know that teaching by example with full disclosure regarding responsible pet ownership is the right thing to do. All of our pets are handled and sold without pretense. We tell customers the truth and regularly redirect them from one pet to another, depending on their situations, until we make the best connection for both human and pet. Sometimes the best pet is no pet, using weekly visits, instead, to scratch that itch. Since we’ve applied this principle successfully across the board, for 25 years, with all the pets we sell, why not dogs and cats? Good question.

Brief History
For our first 10-15 years we did sell puppies and kittens on occasion – more so in the first 10 then increasingly less from years 10-15 when we became even more active in adoptions. We never had the big Wall of Shame full of sterile kennels and sad looking puppies. That was never our style. But we did bring in purebreds sometimes. Mostly we offered mixed breeds and entire litters from local, hobby breeders who let their pets have one litter a year. We vehemently opposed puppy mills from day one and never purchased from them or brokers, leaving us with no consistent supply of dogs and cats. Not a great business practice but at least we knew our sources.

In many cases we’d bring in the whole litter at 7-8 weeks, allow customers to hand select their puppy, then have the puppies stay together until they were all sold – usually around 10 weeks. New owners would come in regularly for play time then pick up their new pups all on the same day so the litter mates were never left alone. Also, this extra time with litter mates helped puppies through their biting phases as they learned appropriate mouthing while practicing on each other.

We had our share of drop off puppies and kittens left in boxes on the doorstep but we didn’t mind. We’d take care of them, get them vaccinated and ready for new homes, and sell them for just enough money to offset our expenses. Personally, I loved having dogs and cats and helping people with their commitments to them. I really miss seeing all the kids sitting on our floor, inside the playpens, playing with the puppies. I miss the kittens climbing their cat trees and finding my oldest daughter asleep in the cat pen, covered in exhausted piles of fluff.

*Sigh* I do miss those puppies and kittens. They brought so much joy to Pet World!

Sounds ideal, right?

Difficult Decision
So why not continue to sell dogs and cats? That’s tough to answer. We never actually declared a moratorium, per se; we just, sort of, stopped. We would sometimes go months with no dogs or cats so those sales weren’t a big part of our business anyway. And Tim’s acute radar regarding public perception started going off. Our adoption days slowly got less and less attention. Each time we brought food and supplies to our local shelter, we’d see more unwanted dogs and cats and, even though we never saw any who came from our store, the increasing numbers bothered us. We worried that having puppies and kittens available in our store might detract from the adoptions we were promoting, so, little by little, we just stopped selling them.

I was opposed to this decision and the staff was split right down the middle. Half agreed with Tim that the potential risk was too high to remain in line with our mission; half agreed with me that it was our duty to demonstrate self regulating and responsible selling of America’s favorite pets. But the pet store itself was Tim’s childhood dream, not mine, and his business sense has always been keener than mine, so we went with his gut and let go of dog and cat sales.

Sad Truth
As it turns out, we were the first of many. In fact, fewer pet stores sell dogs and cats now than ever before in history – only 3% of all dog and cat sales in the U.S. – yet the unwanted dog and cat populations are at an all time high and increasing every year. And now, with the vast majority of dog and cat sales happening online, we are losing ground with no way to regulate breeding or sales, having removed ourselves from the loop. Inspectors can’t keep up on all the breeders because they now sell direct to individuals through web sites and online ads, bypassing pet stores and subsequently bypassing regulation. What seemed like a good idea at the time actually backfired in many ways. Not long ago I was discussing this over drinks with our local shelter’s director. We both agreed, in retrospect, we should have put all our effort into stopping puppy mills directly as opposed to taking the easier, human pacifier route and just eliminating one step in the process – a step that actually drove the mills even further underground. Live and learn.

The Future
Undoubtedly the issue of selling dogs and cats remains complicated but who knows? Maybe someday we’ll be able to offer carefully selected dogs and cats again. Tim still doesn’t think it’s feasible but I’m always optimistic. Until then, we hope customers understand and will continue to bring in their dogs and cats to visit! We encourage folks to always support your local shelter and spread the word about the importance of spaying and neutering. And if any of you have ideas or thoughts on this issue, we welcome you to share!