In case you ever happen to work in (or walk into) a pet shop, here is a helpful guide to red flags that can keep you safe from the weirdos who lurk like angler fish to snatch you into horrible conversations. I’ve been there, and I came out the other side.
1. Cat on a leash. On this one, I’m throwing in ferrets. If you see someone in the park, on the street, in a burrito joint, and they have a cat or ferret on a leash, walk the other direction. If they walk into your store, go on break. I used to work in a pet shop in Santa Cruz, where stinky-weasels-that-bite were illegal, and ferret customers were among the worst. They would come in asking for ferret food like teenagers asking where the pregnancy tests are. Once you nonchalantly gestured at the ferret food, and they felt safe, they would tell you in hushed tones about how awesome their stinky-weasel-that-bites is and rail about unfair laws trying to protect them from their own stupid.
2. Crying child with a box. Oh crap… that guinea pig, parakeet, rat, turtle, iguana, chinchilla, etc didn’t survive riding on a remote control car and now it’s your problem. Or it was legitimately sick, either way this is going to be unpleasant.
3. Rich white trash. The single most annoying customers I ever dealt with were white trash with money. They always want to buy something expensive, preferably venomous, and definitely “super exotic” in the reptile department. Then they refuse to listen to one second of advice about its complicated care, never buy the book, and will take the thing home and put it in an old fish tank with a hot rock from the 70’s. They get extra butt-hurt if you refuse to sell them something you just know they’re gonna kill.
4. Pissed off white trash with a box. See above.
5. People who get off on feeding a snake. Snakes need to eat too, but don’t get a boner while you pick out the rat like you’re Caligula. Also it’s great when they tell the little girl picking out a pet rat what they plan to do with their rat. Then I’m the monster for selling feeders.
6. A home school group class that thinks you’re the “free petting zoo.” While their “class” is strangling the rabbits, you get to listen to whatever crackpot theories the class leader has about religion, swinging, vaccinations, fluoride in the water, black helicopters, Elvis, or bigfoot (personal experience, once a week). Oh and can they hold the Nile monitor lizard the employees call “Cuddles”? (I once held Cuddles head under water for a solid minute before he spit out my thumb.)
7. People who think you’re a veterinarian. AKA the terminally cheap. Here is a warning that goes both ways. Your average pet shop employee knows jack shit about animal medicine, but will give you medical advice if you won’t stop bugging her. If you work there and pull something out of your ass to tell a customer and it goes south… they will come back in to discuss this. With a box.
8. Feeder fish customers. There are two kinds. The person who walks in and asks for feeder fish, ya know to feed a predator fish. Love them. Then there is the person who walks in with a child and the kid wants to pick one particular goldfish out of five thousand; because $3.79 is way too much money for a fancy goldfish when you can have a feeder for a nickle.
9. Special orders of exotic pets. You really want a Starburst Baboon Spider? Really!? Well here’s the deal, it comes in a Chinese takeout box that I ain’t going to open, so you get to take this home, open it yourself, and play arachnid grab bag. I hope you’re all paid up on any life insurance.
10. Holiday shoppers. Working retail is a special kind of hell the rest of the year, but add the holidays and holy shit. In the pet trade, the problem is people want to buy an animal, but want to you to save it for the big day. So they have to put it on hold. This creates a problem with animals that are kept in pens, like rabbits or mice. How the hell am I supposed to put a “sold” tag on a rabbit? We had a lot of rabbits with magic marker ink in their ears one year. The back room was like a refugee camp for animals.
BONUS TIPS. Teenagers… they are shoplifting. Oh, or a kid sticking his finger in a parrot’s cage… that’s probably a good time to go for a latte.
Here is the reason I quit my job at the pet shop. The owner did hiring based on ability to accept a crap wage; myself included. The girl with big tits who was hired after me and whose boss I was, bitched about her hourly rate while making nearly twice my wage to me once. That day was extra special because his latest hire was at work completely spun on meth, and asking customers if they could see the “snake mites” burrowing into the wrinkles in his hands. I left the keys to the shop with “speedy”.