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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

January 2, 2012

Not in the Curriculum

By Elizabeth Creith


When I was in school, back when megafauna roamed the earth, each of the students in my graduating class had a little meeting with the guidance counselor. This meeting was intended to help prepare you for your shiny new career in the big world. I wouldn't have missed a thing if I'd gone to the beach that day instead, because "owning a pet store" wasn't even on the guidance counselor's radar.

They call them "pet stores," but really, I think they should all be "pet food stores." Anyone who's been in the trade any length of time knows that it's a no-brainer: if you sell an animal, you should sell what it eats. One rabbit will eat a barnful of alfalfa pellets, and you might as well be the one selling them.

We don't make a lot of money on live animals; at least on the ones that are intended as pets. Face it—once we've paid someone to feed, water and shovel up after a bunny for a week before we sell it, most of the profit margin is gone.

That rule goes double for reptiles. You don't make a lot on the snake or lizard, especially if they hang around for a few months. The animals that really make money are the feeders—crickets, mealworms, mice and rats whose sole reason for existence is to be the blue-plate special for some other animal.

I once worked out that if someone bought a leopard gecko from the store, kept it for 10 years and bought all the crickets from me during those 10 years, I could afford to give away the gecko. (Before anybody asks, until the day when I can cast a spell that will make you buy those crickets from me and only me, there will be no free geckoes at Animalia!)

Crickets are so important to our business that the one thing I made absolutely sure I could do before we bought the place was catch crickets without cringing. My guidance counselor never mentioned this.

I'd also never thought about frozen rodents. When I kept snakes—back in my pre-Animalia days when I actually had time to keep exotics of my own—my snakes got their meals on the hoof. The concept of frozen dinners for snakes was terra incognita to me.

We have a small deep-freezer in the store in which the frozen fish food is kept, but the frozen rats and mice live in the freezer compartment of the store refrigerator. I occasionally make and freeze things like turkey wraps and so on for lunches. These also go into the freezer compartment of the fridge, which means that if you're not looking when you get lunch out, you might be microwaving a rat wrap for lunch instead of a turkey one. It encourages us to pay attention to what we're taking out of the freezer.

David calls the frozen snake bait "ratsicles and mice cubes." We have occasionally had rats come in with the tails laid neatly straight behind them. I wish I had a picture of David holding up a ratsicle. I bet I could have got him to pretend to lick it.

When the frozen mice come in, they've usually thawed just a bit on the outside—enough to be damp. I lay them out on a tray and let them freeze hard again before I put them in the frozen-mouse bin. I failed to do this once. If anyone's curious, I do have several workable techniques for chipping and breaking individual frozen mice off of a clump. They involve chisels and whacking a lump of frozen mice against a concrete floor or a shelf edge. Why do high-school guidance counselors not prepare you for this?

"Elizabeth, from your aptitude tests, it looks like you'd make a pretty good teacher. You also seem to have the inclination and talent to run a business. Tell me, how do you feel about laying out damp dead mice on a tray to freeze so they won't stick together in a clump and have to be chipped apart with a chisel? Do you think that's something that you'd enjoy doing?"

Clearly there are serious gaps in the school curriculum. They never asked me how I felt about catching crickets with my bare hands, either.

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