Monthly Archives: August 2015

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.

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