Tag 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 facebook.com/petworldlawrence 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.

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!