It can be a hard thing for an animal lover to view a living pet as a product to be advertised and bought, making a career in selling them all the worse some days. It’s hard to watch a big lazy cat get drug off by a family with three screaming toddlers and even harder to watch a young spry one be shuffled away by an older couple who probably didn’t drive themselves to the store. Fear not, my friend! Though seeing animals as products is part of the job, this doesn’t mean anyone need be neglected or ignored in any way, shape or form. The best pet stores are those that not only see to the well-being and care of the animals, but also take a few more steps to ensure their charges are in an environment rich with socializing activities and endless entertainment.
I’ve found that getting to know each of the animals in the store on at least some sort of personal level is a serious tool when it comes to finding them good homes — and when I say each of the animals, I really mean all: from the bigger animals like cats and reptiles, all the way down to each of the eight hamsters, 14 guinea pigs, etc. This comes in handy for a few different reasons. First, it can be a big help when moving animals between cages or enclosures if they have a little bit of trust in you. Taking time to handle or talk softly to your living products can create an understanding between the two of you that, although you look big and scary, you have no intentions of eating them. This also comes in handy when showing the animals to customers, as consumers are much more likely to consider buying an animal that appears calm in the keeper’s arms rather than a skittish fellow who just wants to scramble away.
Taking time to bond with the animals can also aid you in making sure each animal is placed in the correct family environment. Our store at this point in time is home to 11 parakeets of not only various colors, but various personalities. When a family comes into the store looking for one of our parakeets and asks which one I think would be best, I can give them a short description of what each one’s temperament is like, because I’m always sure that I use my down time in the store to bond with the animals. Often while I’m waiting for a manager to count down drawers at night, I’ll go over and spend a few minutes with my hand in the parakeet enclosure, watching to see how they react to me and each other. I lure them in with my rings, which they can’t help but be fascinated by, and try to tempt them on to my hand. Parakeets are much easier to sell when the owner can see one easily hop up onto a finger without looking skeptical. I also find a great way to attract potential buyers and have a little fun with the birds is to simply throw one of my cheaper rings in for the day. Not only do the birds get an afternoon of good rough-and-tumble times playing keep away, but who could ever resist a parade of tiny birds chasing after another more-frantic bird with a ring clasped in its little beak?
Speaking of rough-and-tumble, enrichment is key when it comes to actually getting your animals sold. No one wants a cockatiel that sulks in a stressed-out manner in the corner of his cage from no play time, or a couple of ferrets that only feel like sleeping. Getting the animals the exercise and enrichment they need is a great way not only to advertise the great times your customers could be having with the pets if they took them home, but also to ensure happier animals, which are much easier to sell than grumpy ones!
I put enrichment into two types of categories: playtime, where the animal is getting stimulation from a toy or other object, and exploration, where an animal is discovering new environments or objects. My co-workers and I try to whittle away the hours with some good playtime when things are slow. Animals can quickly because distressed or cranky if they don’t get the attention or exercise they need, plus the fun and games are a great way to bond with your animals and make them more people-friendly.
Exploration enrichment is a great way to make sure your animals aren’t feeling like every day is the same day. Some animals, like ferrets, are born curious and take every opportunity to stick their noses in whatever they’re presented with. New sights and smells will be sure to interest, but be sure that you don’t overexpose them, as too much time away from the comfortable norm. can make a pet panic and become frightened. Also, ALWAYS stay close and never leave an animal unattended in an environment that is not completely secure. They WILL find a way to either slip away and get lost or injure themselves.
Speaking of ferrets, the above is a video I took on Sunday of me changing the ferret bedding because I wanted to show you that sometimes spending a little extra money can bring on some serious animal enrichment. Our ferrets live for Sundays because they get a fresh change of bedding, made up from our absolute best quality bedding. Though this bedding costs a bit more than the pine shavings we use in our other small rodent cages, using this particular bedding is great for several reasons, first being of course the enrichment of the animals. Ferrets, being playful and energetic spirits, love to dig and jump and roll and pounce as much as they can. They are completely excited by this particular bedding and really get a kick out of it. Spending a little extra money to keep them stimulated and happy certainly comes back to us in the end, as they spend a lot more time playing together outside of their house than sleeping, making for better sales. Another great reason for the bedding is advertising! Everyone knows the big stereotype of ferrets: they smell HORRIBLE. However, it’s easy for me to sell our best bedding when customers walk right up to their cage and notice little to no stinkiness. They can also feel it in their own hands and imagine how much softer the bedding probably is for the animals that have sensitive paws or sleeping habits. I have sold a lot of this bedding just on showing off the ferret cage. If you watch this crazy couple playing above, it’s a no-brainer: a little extra attention to detail goes a long way.
So if you haven’t figured out my angle here, bonding with all of the store animals is a crucial point to finding them great homes and bringing in the money. Exploration and playtime are key and essential parts of keep the animals happy and healthy.
Well, that’s all for this week, and I certainly hope you enjoyed some of my experimental videos! Even if you’re not a pet-store worker, feel free to apply some of my tips to your own pets to ensure a happy life together. Your animals will live much longer lives if you both have developed a strong and fun relationship together!
On Tuesday I was pulled aside by a woman looking to feed her son’s ball python. I chatted with her enthusiastically, as it’s clear they’re my specialty. However I noticed quite early that the woman seemed less than pleased with her son’s choice of pet. She seemed very uninterested in any python behavioral tips I had to recommend, and overall seemed a little nervous just talking about a snake.
I finally got around to asking her, “How many mice are you wanting from us today?”
She looked puzzled, obviously not having thought about it, “I… my son just told me to feed him. How many should I get?”
I asked her for an age and length and offered her the number four, to which she looked satisfied with. I went to the back room and retrieved the little white mice, placing them in a small box to carry home.
When I returned, I opened the box to verify them with her. “Are these four alright? I tried to pick some smaller ones so he has an easier time swallowing them.”
She looked down into the box and jumped back with something between a loud squeal and a gasp, covering her mouth in the process. “Oh no no no, those are live. I can’t do live mice. No no no.”
Feeling a little light-headed as my heart recovered from the woman’s terrifying reaction I stuttered out, “Um- uh, OK. Hold on. I’ll go get some frozen ones. Is that alright? Sorry about that…”
“Frozen ones?” She looked at me wide-eyed, then seemed to consider it before nodding.
I walked slowly back to the freezer area, wondering what she was expecting, and selected four frozens. When I came back I handed her the bag and began answering her many questions about how to feed frozens. “So I just put them in the microwave?”
I looked at her in horror, gulping a bit as I imagined a microwave with exploded mouse guts dripping down the inside. “Um, we usually just leave ours in the bag and soak them in some hot water for a while. I would recommend that.”
“OK.” She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them wide, looked me square in the eye and said, “So when I thaw them out will they come back to life?”
I stared at her, completely taken off guard. What could I possibly say to that? “Uhm… No, ma’am. The mice are dead. They won’t come back to life.”
With all of the exposure to the idea of a zombie virus in the media recently, I have to say, with the image I got from that statement, I certainly hope that if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, mice find their way back from the dead too.