By Kim Carr:
Back when I was in college (1982–1986), I worked at the University farm during the school year caring for the horses, cleaning stalls, feeding, watering, cleaning tack, and such. On breaks, during the summer or a long weekend home, I would work at Tropical World Pets. Dave, the owner, had a couple store locations, but I mainly worked at the Dorsett store until after graduation when I worked the one off of Zumbehl Road in St. Charles.
I loved both jobs, and they gave me an opportunity to learn a lot about animals firsthand. At the pet store, we were encouraged to take home every book on the racks and read it. When a customer came in and asked about the best Ph level for their saltwater fish tank, proper diet for a Gold Cap Conure, the difference between a pinkie and a fuzzy, and what supplies they needed for a pet gerbil, I would know the answer, or at least know where to find the answer. Last resort was calling the owner, which I very seldom ever did in my four or so years there because I studied and learned what I could so that I would be able to take care of my customers.
While I was at college, another girl started working at the pet store. She was as obsessed with knowing everything about all the animals and proper care as I was. Customer service was a priority. I guess she heard a lot of stories about me and what a great worker I was. In turn, I heard a lot of stories when I would return about how knowledgeable and fantastic she was. Initially, we worked a weekend or two together when I was home on breaks.
At first, we were friendly to each other, but there was a rivalry as to who could be the best pet store employee on Earth. Looking back now, it really is very funny, especially since I don’t consider myself very competitive; however, I guess I am and just don’t recognize this trait in myself. Anyhow, by the time summer rolled around and I took on full-time hours, something shifted, and instead of being rivals we became a well-oiled machine, working together as one. If I didn’t know something, she did, and vice versa.
We didn’t care if you drove up in a Z-28 red convertible and were about to shell out a couple thousand on a hand-fed baby macaw with a wrought-iron cage and every wooden rope toy known to mankind or if you were nine years old, rode up on a bicycle, and had a baggie full of change so that you could buy crickets for your pet lizard; we treated everyone equally and with the best service possible.
Liz was a constant jokester, usually at my expense. I became the straight man to her shenanigans. I would often chuckle inside while envisioning my hands around her throat. One VERY BUSY Saturday, I was working with someone else. This person was a fair-enough worker but lacked the pizzazz. I was bouncing between my customers, working the register, taking phone calls, and trying to help out my co-worker.
The pet store was well known for its hand-fed baby parrots. The owner took pride in breeding, raising, and selling gentle, well-socialized birds. We had a sale going on with several of the birds, and the store was packed because of it. In addition, we had our regular business of selling guppies, hamster wheels, and matching doggie leads and collars. I was doing my best to juggle it all while everyone and their brother were also calling the store with questions like, “I think my boa has gone blind, his eyes have turned grey, what should I do?”; “My kid left the lid off the hamster cage, should I call an exterminator?”; “What size bags do you carry of Purina Cat Chow?”
In the midst of all the craziness of a Saturday rush, I answer the phone, “Thank you for calling Tropical World Pets. This is Kim, how may I help you?” The person on the other end of the line asks me if we are running a sale on our birds. I reply, “Yes, we have some of our parrots on sale.” They ask me if we have any Pterodactyls left. My brain just sorta scrambled. I’m doing a mental inventory. I know we have Macaws-scarlets, blue and gold, green winged. We have a Cockatoo, a Severe Macaw, some Conures, and an African Grey. I’ve just not heard of this Pterodactyl and can’t place seeing one. The customer on the phone gets a little aggravated and tells me we have them listed on sale in the newspaper ad. So, I’m still ringing folks out on the register while the person on the phone starts to go off about false advertising and whatnot as I smile at the customer in front of me and thank them for their purchase of red and blue aquarium gravel mix plus a ceramic mermaid. The phone customer is still ranting when I calmly say, “Sir, can I give you the number to our other store? Perhaps they have a Pterodactyl over there.” Bingo, the little lightbulb goes off in my head as soon as I say Pterodactyl out loud. The next word out of my mouth was simply, “Liz.” With that, I hear her in the background, busting out laughing hysterically.
I’ll never forget the day a customer tried to buy a Pterodactyl and I wanted to help them. It’s evident I didn’t grow up playing with dinosaurs. I encourage you to let the kids in your life play with them and teach them the names so that one day they do not find themselves frantically searching a room of birds for the new arrival of any Pterodactyls.
The point of my story is . . . I think my pet duck, Buttercup, looks like a modern-day Pterodactyl. What do you think?
Kim Carr is a photographer and mid-Missouri hobby farmer who has combined her love for the country life with that of natural-light photography. Her work reflects my commitment to sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of all animals. To learn more about Kim, read her interview with Elizabeth Gracen here.
To purchase Kim's photography, visit her website.