Category Archives: Pets and Kids

PW Superwomen Carole, Val, Ande, and Sherry on reopening day.

January 23, On This Day

On This Day. Facebook memories is perhaps the most brilliantly wicked customer retention tactic in the history of social media to date, I swear. January 23, 2016 “Mark your calendar! Pet World is reopening 1-23!”

Do I remember this date? Um, yeah… you could say that. It was the day I learned once and for all the importance of listening to your community and letting them guide you.

Fire destroys Pet World while the store is closed.

Fire destroys Pet World while the store is closed.

Our business was completely destroyed by fire and our local community made it very clear that they felt the loss and wanted it back. At first, we weren’t sure if we would rebuild. We were devastated. Lost. Another corporate pet store had just opened right before the fire. Anything we sell can be purchased somewhere else or online. It took over 25 years to build that business the first time. There are other exotic animal rescues. How many pet stores does one small town need, anyway, right? But the outpouring of letters and support, explaining what the Pet World experience has meant to so many people…the message was loud and clear. Our community needed PW back. We needed it back. They were right. So we promised to rebuild.

But I said no to a vigil thinking it would be too painful.

Community vigil to honor pets lost in the fire.

Community vigil to honor animals lost in the fire.

The PW community, however, had other thoughts. They said, “We want a vigil. We need a vigil. You need a vigil. We’re having a vigil, one way or another.” So we held a vigil. And hundreds of people came. All walks of life, filling the parking lot – some silent, some weeping, some laughing, some chatting – all sharing in the crazy, bittersweet moments created when people come together after loss. 27 minutes. 27 candles. One for each year PW had been a part of the community. It was beautiful. They were right. We all needed that vigil to let go and move on.

Next the fundraising issue arose. Well intentioned hats were passed. Both honest and not so honest GoFundMe accounts popped up. I said, “Please, no fundraising. We’re fine. We have insurance.” But it didn’t matter. The PW community knew better. Deductibles would have to be met. Uninsured expenses would show up. And then there was the cost of that new sprinkler system. Everyone knew it was a deal breaker and we refused to reopen without one. Plus, people wanted to help but there was nothing yet to do. So we set up the relief fund account at our local bank and the money started coming in.

$300.00   $75.00   $31.00   $12.30    Lemonade stands. Benefit concerts. Fundraiser nights at local restaurants. Fundraiser drinks named for us! We had never seen anything like it. They were right. When people want to help we need to let them help.

But then we had to figure out the best use of these funds. This wasn’t our money; it belonged to our community. Grief clouds our minds and knock us off course but sometimes moments arise that bring us back to our core. We are entrepreneurs, after all. So we asked our tee shirt designer to create a fundraising shirt for us. Having never let us down over the years, he came up with a new design that was perfect so we ordered a hundred of them with the relief fund money.

Pet World Rebuilding Team Shirts

Pet World Rebuilding Team Shirts

“If you rebuild it, they will come,” on the front. Inspirational. “Rebuilding Team” on the back. Perfect. After most of the first hundred shirts sold, we used that money to order more, and continued that pattern until we had sold nearly 1000 shirts at about $15.00 each. Want to know how much money we needed for the new fire sprinkler system? About $15,000.00.

Yeah.

I don’t believe in coincidences. Never have. I think we often call something a coincidence when we can’t or won’t acknowledge there is something much bigger happening than what we can comprehend.

The night before our grand reopening to the public, we invited everyone who owned one of those Rebuilding Team shirts to wear it to a private, sneak peek party. People shivered outside in the freezing cold to watch a 28 minute lighting ceremony, where my son turned on 24 red light bulbs, one at a time, followed by three yellow lights, and finally one green light. Closed to the public, we opened a secret side door and let in all of our invited guests. Hundreds of people filled the building – mingling, hugging, laughing, crying – wearing the same, matching shirts while they took it all in for the first time. No purchases. No money. The registers were closed. Free drinks and snacks from local places were enjoyed as stories were told and animals were held and children smiled.

Happy faces after Pet World reopened!

Happy faces after Pet World reopened!

I’ve seen a lot of beauty in my life but, to this day, I can’t think of a more beautiful scene than what I witnessed that night. The people of the Pet World community were right. I will always remember to trust them.

PW Superwomen Carole, Val, Ande, and Sherry on reopening day.

PW Superwomen Carole, Val, Ande, and Sherry on reopening day.

Sometimes I see that notification, “You’ve got memories from this day…” and I roll my eyes. I think, Way to go, Zuckerberg. Now I’ll never be able to delete my Facebook account. But then a memory like this pops up and I kinda want to send that dude a thank you card.

 

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.

Hope (and a Little Mascara)

2015-08-09 17.33.00Today I wore makeup for the first time since before the fire. Not a lot, but mascara and some powder foundation. That might not mean much to some people but for women like me it reveals everything you need to know about where I am in the grieving process and life in general.

Nearly three months have passed.

Three months.

Sometimes it feels more like three days; other times more like three years. The pain is often as fresh as three hours while the fog occasionally mimics the safe illusion of three lifetimes.

May was busy, as usual, with finals, proms, high school and college graduations, schedule changes, employee launches, and summer camp preparation.  Excitement about our Memorial Day trail run and five upcoming summer camps filled my days. The Kitten Pit proved a huge success with seven adoptions the very first weekend of the new program. Business was great, continuing its steady, record setting growth and our staffing was as good as it’s ever been. 27 years of hard work was paying off and many, many of us from the Lawrence area were enjoying Pet World’s success.

And then my phone rang. Two hours into the event, I was getting more PW5K tee shirts out of the back of our car when I heard Tim’s phone ring first, reverberating in the cup holder. I remember thinking, “Who would be calling right now?” It seemed like all the folks who call us had either just left or were at the tortoise farm with us and most were on the trails running or drinking post race PBRs. Service is terrible at the property, too, but I had parked in a high spot to avoid the mud, a spot that apparently has decent reception – not that I had any intention of using my phone. Nor did anyone else since many of them were tossed in my car for safekeeping. No sooner had Tim’s phone stopped ringing than my phone started, and then other phones started ringing. At that point I decided I better answer.

The rest, of course, is history.

They say everything comes in threes. Three hours to get the fire out and determine cause. Three more hours to deem the place a total loss. Three hours for fire to destroy someone’s entire life’s work in the worst possible way. Three weeks to open a temporary location. Three days to clean out the contents of the building. Three weeks to schedule the big investigative meeting with representatives from three parties only to decide they needed three more weeks to meet again and take three days to agree the initial cause was exactly what the local experts said three hours after the fire. Three weeks of delays for nothing. Three months I aged at least three times faster with not enough optimism to even throw on a little mascara. I’ve had plenty of threes. I’m done with threes.

So after cancelling and altering three different summer travel plans we decided to take our kids on a much needed family vacation to Cozumel, one of my favorite places on Earth.  We enjoyed spending time with aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and every day made a conscious decision to embrace life (while we thanked God we had already paid for this all inclusive stay last spring).

"I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared."

“I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared.”

At one point I remember lounging by the pool, feeling hopeful, yet fearing that perhaps I was just going through the motions and not as okay as I wanted to believe. I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared. I snapped a photo and started giggling uncontrollably, knowing everyone around me assumed intoxication – which may or may not have been a contributing factor. If nothing else, at least I knew in that moment I was definitely not numb and perhaps the hope was real after all. I think I actually felt happy.

On the way home, Tim and I stayed an extra day in Dallas to meet with the designer/manufacturer who helped us remodel our live fish department just one year ago. Fully rested, I popped right out of bed and grabbed that familiar, pink mascara tube. We toured the facility, shared ideas, drew sketches, made plans, and revered time spent on conception and creation as opposed to destruction and devastation, surrounded by like minded people who understand our mission and share our vision to bring the Pet World experience back to Lawrence even better than before. No insurance adjusters, no cleanup crew, no accountants, no stench from electrical smoke – just good ol’ Texas hospitality from a creative, Dutch family who runs an impressive American business.

Tim and Lambert deHaan at Dutch Aquarium Systems

Tim and Lambert deHaan at Dutch Aquarium Systems

Our temporary location has offered reprieve for many of us but it’s just not the same. Finally moving forward toward this next chapter, though… Hallelujah.  As for the rebuild, all I can say is that if folks liked the Pet World experience before the fire, they’re going to love it even more when we reopen – our staff as much as our customers.

Our employees are like our kids and laying them off ripped my heart out. My God, what they’ve been through. Customers miss seeing them and they are all still feeling lost. On the plane ride home, Tim slept while I imagined my employees’ faces as they help rebuild, knowing once again their jobs will be secure and meaningful. I pictured the smiles and hugs from our customer family and tried to inhale the inspiration that only children can provide. No matter how crazy things get, happy children always make our efforts worthwhile. Pet World kids give me hope for humanity. I accepted that rebuilding will be exhausting and we’ll have days we question everything and want to quit, but, we won’t quit. We can’t quit. And as I closed my eyes to imagine the joy and relief we’ll all feel when we reopen those doors for the first time I felt my mascara run down my cheeks, carried by tears – happy tears. For the past three months I hadn’t worried about ruining my makeup because I had been too heartbroken, too busy, too stressed, and too numb to even bother with makeup. But tonight’s streaked face served as proof that I was, in fact, feeling hopeful, and that I finally felt good enough to care at all.

Who knew enlightenment could be found in a pink tube?

God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us
 — in the dreariest and most dreaded moments —
can see a possibility of hope.
                              ~Maya Angelou

 

 

Fly Away Home – a Tribute to Fletcher

My knees don’t buckle easily. But a recent gift from artist and former employee, Erin Bratzler, touched my soul and genuinely facilitated my grieving process.

Artist: Erin Bratzler

Artist: Erin Bratzler

The first original piece of artwork I ever purchased was one of Erin’s pieces at her first big art show. I simply loved it and hung it proudly near the education room at Pet World. Sadly, smoke and water damaged it during the fire. When I saw Erin at the vigil I immediately started crying as I disclosed that her beautiful creation might have been ruined. She worked so hard on it and she knew how much I loved it. Also, the mural she and Megan poured so much time and effort into was ruined. In fact, all of Erin’s artwork, in various places inside Pet World, was ruined. So sad. Irreplaceable and now gone. I said, “Oh, Erin, all your work…I’m so, so sorry.” But she just hugged me and assured me everything would be okay.

Immediately after the vigil Erin reached out to everyone she knew, secretly requesting images of Fletcher, my bird, the store bird of 20 years, who died in the fire.

Artist: Erin Bratzler

Fletcher’s Ascent by Erin Bratzler

Using markers, my favorite medium, Erin began to recreate Fletcher’s image. She captured Fletcher’s face, transformed her into a phoenix, and embodied her ascent to the Rainbow Bridge in her feathers. She added rays of light reflecting our faith and a banner over us stating our mission. Truly incredible. When I saw it, I immediately felt weak and slowly sank to the floor. “Erin,” I said, “you turned Fletcher into a phoenix.” And then the tears started flowing as I finally let myself remember so I could let go.

I removed Fletch from her cage that dreadful day. I opened her door, looked inside, saw her lying there, and whispered, “Oh, Fletcher. Look at you.” The firefighter patiently waited while I cried in frozen silence then he offered to get her out for me but I needed to do it myself. She felt soft, sopping wet, like a hundred other times after taking her bath. Fire. It provides light and warmth yet its black smoke shrouds victims in darkness, blinding them and stealing their breath. Fascinating yet terrifying, especially since the actual fire was 25 yards away. One of the vets reminded me how sensitive birds are to smoke and assured me Fletch passed very quickly.

Created by Pet World Staff

Created by Pet World Staff

Tim buried Fletcher for me at the tortoise farm. He dug her grave himself, in a beautiful place surrounded by life breathing trees, facing south to always have sunshine.

In my mind I find peace in that, imagining that now she can once again see clearly and breathe freely in the fresh breeze.

This wasn’t our first pet loss so I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I also knew I’d be able to handle it. Did you know we had a Double Yellow Amazon parrot before Fletcher? Corky, who died in 1994 from a contagious illness he got from a boarding playmate, was our home pet in 1986 before becoming Pet World’s first store bird in 1988. He sparked my initial interest in Amazon parrots. Corky sat on the counter near the front door and greeted guests as they arrived. His “helllllllo” was distinctly recognizable because he only emphasized the first syllable so it sounded more like shouting an expletive than saying hello. One night, while I was working late and not paying Corky enough attention, two patrol officers summoned me to the door, one with gun drawn. “Ma’am, are you okay? We noticed the lights on after hours and heard you screaming for help.” I stared blankly, utterly confused. They asked, again, if that was me shouting, “Help! Help!” and didn’t seem to believe I was fine. Then Corky shouted from beside me his shrill “HELLLLLLLo.” The look of realization on their faces was priceless. Amazon parrots are so entertaining.

Fletcher was actually a surprise gift from Tim for Mother’s Day, 1995, before we had any children. She was tiny and all down, only the beginnings of pinfeathers – the ugliest looking gray chicken I had ever seen with the one digit band number 7 – but I loved that stinkin’ bird.

Pinfeathers emerging through the gray down feathers.

Pinfeathers emerging through the gray down feathers.

She slept with me while I fed her every two hours. I still remember the heartfelt warnings from another pet store owner about the risks of letting baby parrots sleep with humans. But she was so tiny and pathetically precious, I couldn’t resist. I always thought Fletcher was male, too, until Jackie, the Bird Department manager at the time, observed very feminine behavior and ran a blood test maybe 12 years ago. To this day I still say “he” sometimes. We never told him he was a she. We figured she wouldn’t care either way. 😉

Truth be told, Fletcher was a chubby little brat, completely spoiled rotten. She would chase down and bite the ankles of a few while showing nothing but affection to others. Her first words were Hola and Mama and she would scream at us every morning if we didn’t give her enough attention. She ate baby bird food whenever offered no matter how old she got. Fletcher would nuzzle Maria and sit on her shoulder then bite her when I walked by. What a stinker. Some found her annoying but Fletcher was loved by many and had a large following. When I was on bed rest in 1999, pregnant with the twins, we took her home but only for a week because her fans missed her too much and wanted her back at Pet World. Her cage door was usually open but she rarely bothered to wander. Typically too lazy to fly, one time, during a presentation at the Boys and Girls Club, she suddenly took off during her locally famous Stevie Wonder dance and flew right smack into a huge window. She landed hard on the floor and I thought for sure she had broken her neck. The kids were silent. Then the next thing we heard was, “Heeeeere kitty kitty kitty,” followed by an eruption of laughter.

Fletcher  April 1995 - May 2015

Fletcher
April 1995 – May 2015

What a bird. She was 20 years old.

Thank you, our customer family and staff, for giving Fletcher your love and attention. Thank you, Erin, for visualizing her passing in a poignantly appropriate way, something only you could do. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful bird.

Fletcher will be missed.

Do you have your own memories of Fletcher or thoughts on pet loss? Please share in the comments.

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!