I worked for a large retail chain dealing in live animals and pet supplies as my first job out of high school. At the time, I thought it would be the perfect job for a young pet lover eager to make money while introducing people to the joys of pet ownership. As it turned out, this was not the case. While pet supply stores that don’t sell live animals tend to be fairly pleasant work environments for people who thrive on customer contact and keeping a store neat and tidy, stores selling live pets aren’t a great employment choice for people who love pets.
Without naming names and while keeping things mostly light-hearted, I’d like to poke a little fun at my expectations (and the expectations of most newly hired pet store employees) by comparing them to the realities of working at a pet store.
Fantasy vs. Reality: Working at a Pet Store
Expectation: Get to work, hold cute hamster. Talk to some customers. Cuddle cute bird. Talk to some customers. Pet funny lizard. Sweep store. Hold squirmy ferret.
Reality: Employees rarely get to hold the pets for any other reason than to show them to customers or to move them around while cleaning cages. Get caught snuggling instead of selling or cleaning, and most chain stores will quickly find an unpleasant task for you well away from any adorable temptations.
Expectation: Introduce children and their parents to the joys and responsibilities of hamster ownership.
Reality: Introduce children and their parents to the joys of returning a dead hamster to the store three days after it was purchased, because they disregarded your instructions to minimize stress by leaving the poor creature alone for a few days after bringing it home.
Expectation: Give sage training and behavior advice to customers struggling with dog training problems. Sell them some training classes and humane training aids.
Reality: Quietly suggest that most trainers don’t recommend shock collars for puppies six months of age; wake up next morning to boss shouting at you over the telephone because the customer left a long-winded complaint about how judgmental and nasty you were, and demanded you be fired.
Expectation: Ask questions about a family’s lifestyle in order to recommend the pet best suited for their needs, then sell them the necessary supplies.
Reality: Spend an hour discussing the benefits of Leopard Gecko ownership for a household new to reptiles but interested in learning more about them. Build a lovely 30-gallon setup with all necessary supplies for Leopard Gecko. Eight-year-old boy sees Baby Savannah Monitor lizard, convinces parents based entirely on how small it is now that it will never really be four to six feet long, parents insist on purchasing Savannah Monitor with Leopard Gecko setup that it will outgrow within three months. You get shouted at for spending so much time with one customer.
Expectation: Help new fish owners learn all about everything they need to keep their fish healthy and happy.
Reality: Sell ten million betta fish in those teeny plastic cups to people who insist, “My cousin’s college roommate’s sister Sally’s ex-boyfriend’s aunt had one of these and it lived five years in the cup it came in– I won’t be needing a tank or bowl!”
Expectation: Help new puppy or kitten owners pick out a pet food that will meet all of the new pet’s nutritional needs and help it stay healthy for life.
Reality: Store carries over 20 lines of premium puppy food. You hear, “Where’s the Purina Puppy Chow?” more frequently than any other pet food question.
Expectation: Tell new mouse owners all about the intelligence of mice and how easy it is to train them to do a few simple tricks. Encourage purchase of toys and treats for the mice.
Reality: Tell new mouse owners all about the intelligence of mice and how easy it is to train them to do a few simple tricks. Encourage purchase of toys and treats for the mice. Then find out the mouse purchased is intended as snake food.