Pet World Lawrence

Fire Updates

August 27, 2015

pet-world-logoSOUNDOFF! Fire safety: How do we protect animals who can’t protect themselves?
Please read then speak your mind!

After our tragic fire on Memorial Day, Pet World landed on the front lines of fire safety for animal housing facilities – somewhere we should have been before the fire. Our hope is to share our experience, our failure, and our insight to prevent tragedies like this from happening again. Fire safety codes are currently being discussed at the city level. Suggested changes will likely be put to a vote this Tuesday so now is the time to make your voice heard. We are presenting your opinions to the city commission so think it through and don’t hold back! It’s time to SOUNDOFF!

Follow the link the read the post then comment!


November 16, 2015

pet-world-logoAnnouncing the OFFICIAL COUNTDOWN to reopening Pet World!

You miss the PW experience. We miss the PW experience. The temporary location has been great but we are all SO READY to get back in that big building! Let the countdown begin.

Immediately after the fire our web site traffic exploded and we are happy to announce we have replaced it with a new site that is much more mobile friendly. We still have a few details to work out but we think you’ll like it! You'll notice you no longer have to scroll through miles of fire updates to read the most current update. That's just one of many improved features!

If you’ve driven by the damaged location you’ve seen it was essentially destroyed. The fire was much worse than anyone realized and even the steel, overhead beams were destroyed. With a fire that intense that reached flashover so fast, we are truly fortunate that Pet World was closed at the time. After seeing the extent of the damage we now understand why so many officials don’t believe any people would have made it out of that fire alive if we had been open. Drive by sometime soon and you’ll understand why we are now the biggest proponents of fire suppression systems you’ll ever meet. We will have 24/7 monitored smoke detection with not just landline monitoring but wifi and cellular monitoring! That means a fire alarm will be sent in the time it takes to send a text message. Our cell phones will be alerted as well as central dispatch and emergency services, all within mere minutes. We'll also have live feed surveillance with 24/7 temperature readings as well as high tech fire sprinklers. Our systems will rival those of a hospital. The new building will be the safest place in Lawrence for animals and animal lovers alike!

Good news! We finally have an official timeline. Expert masons are finishing up the brick replacement right now and the roof gets rebuilt immediately after that, then it is game on! Once the building is secure from the elements this project will finally gain serious traction.

Here is the game plan:

Wed, Nov. 25
The employment process section on the new web site will be updated with new hiring dates and the new pdf application by Wednesday, Nov. 25. We will be closed for Thanksgiving then start accepting applications on Black Friday, Nov. 27 and continue accepting apps up until the Monday before Christmas.

Sat, Nov. 28
All of our holiday specials will begin on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 28 and continue through Christmas Eve. Take advantage of fabulous prices to expand your pet passion.

Sat, Dec. 5
Our annual Holiday Sale will be Saturday, Dec. 5, 10am-8pm. We’ve borrowed some showroom space in the old Hume music location next door to bring in aquariums, large cages, and more! These are available now so come by and check them out!

Mon, Dec. 7
Online, phone, & face to face interviews will begin as early as Dec. 7 and continue as needed through Dec. 23. We have recalled all previous employees, however, we still need to replace our senior launches from last May. This winter hiring replaces what would have been our traditional fall hiring.

Saturday, Dec. 12
Our staff Christmas party is Sat night, Dec. 12. Please forgive us for closing a little early to have a much needed get together with a staff that has been through a very long grieving process. We’ll close at 6pm on Dec. 12 for the staff party which begins at EPIC followed by our traditional dinner party at the Emersons.

Mon, Dec. 14
Our new fish aquarium systems are scheduled to arrive on Dec. 14. As soon as they arrive, Ian and Xavier will transfer half of their hours to the rebuilt location to help with the installations. In the weeks following, more managers will disappear from PWX to help with set up. Matt, Jeremy, and the rest of the temp staff will work extra to meet all your needs as well as more returning employees who are helping us with the transition. For safety reasons, the rebuilt location will be completely off limits to the public until Jan. 22.

Thu, Dec. 24
In keeping with a longstanding PW tradition, the entire management team will work with Tim and Sherry on Christmas Eve. We will serve cookies, eggnog, and help customers pick up surprise Christmas gifts up until 4pm. At four o’clock we’ll lock up so everyone can get home to their families.

Fri, Dec. 25
PW will be closed on Christmas Day.

Mon, Dec. 28
With a new occupancy permit in place, all of our new shelving will arrive this week. The entire PW staff will be working tirelessly to get everything set up. We’d like to thank all the customers who’ve already offered to help us set up. Unfortunately, insurance only covers employees but thanks, anyway! We have the best customer family ever!

Starting this week we will have a new set schedule at the temp store to cover managers’ absences. All inactive employees are being called back full time by Dec. 28.

Sun, Jan. 10
All new hire interviews will be completed by Jan 10.

Thu, Jan. 14
Rookies will attend training seminars Jan 14-17 then shadow train with PW trainers starting Jan. 18.

Fri, Jan. 22
Pet World Express will close at 1pm on Friday, Jan. 22 to move all remaining inventory over to Pet World and will not reopen. All PW Rebuilding Team members (anyone with a fundraiser Rebuilding Team shirt) are invited to a Private Unveiling Party on Friday, Jan. 22, from 6-8pm.

We started offering fund raising shirts a few weeks ago and as of today we have about 375 of the 1000 shirts left. They are currently $20 for long sleeve, $15 for short sleeve, while supplies last. Your Rebuilding Team shirt is your ticket to the private party including free drinks, snacks, music, and private tours of the new, state of the art facility. Any remaining shirts will be for sale or auctioned to the highest bidders in the PW parking lot Friday evening.

We’ll begin with a special 27 minute lighting ceremony out front at 5:33pm. PW will be closed to the public that night but anyone wearing a Rebuilding Team shirt will be let in at 6pm (or as soon as there is room if we go over occupancy capacity). At 8pm we will wrap up the party to decorate for the Grand Reopening the next morning!

Sat, Jan. 23
We will reopen to the public on Saturday, Jan 23! (Easy to remember as 1/23.) Current and former employees will join us to welcome you to the new Pet World Experience. We’ll open at 10am with special events all weekend! Not all of the new exhibits will be complete and we'll be missing some new shelving (excuse the boxes) but we'll be ready to move back in and reopen!

Mon, Jan. 25
Normal business (if there is such a thing) will resume at Pet World starting Mon, Jan. 25, exactly eight months after the terrible fire.

We are very grateful for your support at our temporary location and will be especially happy to once again offer you the Pet World experience you’ve come to know and love! Please help us spread the good news!

August 17, 2015

As of this week, all of our managers are back up to full time and we have recalled a total of 11 employees back to work!

How is this possible? You.

Your patronage is not only saving us, but literally building us up at an impressive rate. Where you shop matters and every penny counts right now. You said you wanted us back and you meant it! You are coming in and telling us what you need. If we don’t have it, we order one for you and a few for us. All orders arrive in less than a week and are added to normal inventory so we have it in stock the next time you come in. This process is building up the essential inventory you expect from Pet World and YOU are making it happen. With the right inventory, we are not losing so many sales to other places and can afford to call back more employees who were laid off after the fire. Having more employees means better service for you so everyone wins!

With our fancy new fire alarm system, we are all finally starting to feel more comfortable having live animals in the store. We are now requesting all animals rescued from the fire to be returned. Every day we have more and more pets in stock, starting with the fire survivors. This location may be small, but each day it’s looking and feeling more like the interactive, education center you’ve come to know and love. If you or someone you know is fostering a PW animal, please spread the word that we are ready to take all of them back!

Last week I asked our employees if anyone was free Saturday and would be interested in sharing animals at Confabularryum. Most of these employees have been laid off since the fire. Amazingly, not only did several of them offer to help, they even offered to bring Goliath to the festival and then to PWX! Goliath is our large, rescued Burmese python who instantly became famous on social media when rescued by fire fighters. Locals know and love him since he travels to schools to teach kids about Rain Forest animals and teaches customers what not to buy when it comes to appropriate pets. The visit was fun for everyone even though many of us got emotional, customers included. Seeing Goliath in the pet store, especially with Mariah who single handedly cared for him the day of the fire, brought back a lot of memories and stirred up powerful emotions. At one point, I realized Goliath was literally cuddling Mariah. Never in my life would I believe a snake could exhibit emotions but I watched him curl up on Mariah’s lap and frequently look up at her then rest his head back against her. We reached a point where Mariah and I couldn’t even maintain eye contact without crying. What a truly amazing experience.

Click here for photos and a behind the scenes look at our first public appearance since the fire.

The final step of the cleaning process is underway! Soda blasting began today. This is exciting news because it means we are about to begin the next phase of rebuilding! Soda blasting is a non-destructive, environmentally friendly process in which sodium bicarbonate is applied against a surface using compressed air. It’s very effective for fire and smoke damage cleanup as it cleans the soot and deodorizes the surface, also removing the mold that generally forms after fires are extinguished, while not harming the environment with unnatural chemicals. By the end of this week we should have a projected timeline and finally get a good idea of when we can reopen in our old location. Until then, please come see us in our temporary location!


August 9, 2015

Progress! The old building has been gutted down to the studs and concrete. Next will be the replacement of the entire roof. We have a lot of work ahead of us but, thankfully, we're in forward motion with an end in sight! Tentative reopen dates are still projected for November. We'll just have to wait and see.

Tim and Sherry met with the designer/manufacturer who helped us remodel our live fish department a year ago. They toured the facility, shared ideas, drew sketches, and made preliminary plans. Sherry said they "...revered time spent on conception and creation as opposed to destruction and devastation, surrounded by like minded people who understand our mission and share our vision to bring the Pet World experience back to Lawrence even better than before. No insurance adjusters, no cleanup crew, no accountants, no stench from electrical smoke – just good ol’ Texas hospitality from a creative, Dutch family who runs an impressive American business." See her latest blog post for the entire story and her reflections on finally feeling some real hope for the future.

Tim and Lambert deHaan at Dutch Aquarium Systems

The PWX temporary location has been great and the customer support has enabled us to recall NINE employees back to work! Seeing all of you and moving forward is helping us all feel normal again. We're getting excited about rebuilding. Sherry says, "...if folks liked the Pet World experience before the fire, they’re going to love it even more when we reopen – our staff as much as our customers." The new exhibits are going to be spectacular.

Special thanks to the deHaan family and D.A.S. for helping us rebuild!

For more personal, detailed information on the latest happenings after the fire, please visit



July 19, 2015

pet-world-logoPET WORLD EXPRESS!
Have you visited PWX? It’s small but more and more stocked by the day. Filling your orders and adding them to normal stock has worked well to improve our inventory. We know it’s not the same experience without all the animals and activity and we truly appreciate your support. Insurance helps the first eight weeks but after July 25, the business must support its own expenses. Your continued patronage helps cover labor costs and as sales increase we can start calling more employees back to work! You already know supporting local businesses creates and sustains Lawrence jobs but in this situation you quite literally are maintaining our employees by shopping with us. Thank you! PW employees work hard to get and keep their jobs. They make commitments to us and to the community while we commit to them. Laying off more than half our staff after the fire was heartbreaking. Your support is making it possible to bring them back to work one at a time and we can’t thank you enough!

It’s been very nice to reconnect with so many familiar faces. We can’t believe how many of you held out that first month, buying little to nothing elsewhere, confident that we’d find a way to reopen as soon as possible. We feel honored that you trusted us. Your loyal patience is inspirational. In fact, please bring us pictures of your favorite PW memories for our inspiration wall because sometimes your faces are about the only things that keep us going on difficult days.

Your recent feedback was critical regarding our live animal decisions for our temporary location. As always, when we aren’t sure what to do, we ask and you answer. With your help, after much discussion, we’ve reached a final decision.

Compromise and Collaboration
Excessive paranoia aside, a small compromise seems best while sticking close to our new resolve regarding fire safety. Based on our animal losses during the fire, it’s obvious which animals are at the highest risk. We’re hoping new legislation will address these risks and set a new industry standard for fire prevention and we’re honored to be included in these very important discussions. I am very proud of our city and the current fire safety collaboration taking place on the local level, all the way up to the national level. City officials are considering input from many stakeholders, big and small. The two largest animal housing facilities in Lawrence are Pet World and the Humane Society. Fortunately, we work well together, sharing the same mission, and now we’re honored to work with LHS again on this most important issue.

Monitored Smoke Detection and Sprinklers
Our new system has smoke detection that is monitored 24/7 via cellular and landline, both. We’re also adding a WiFi component, all housed in a fireproof box with battery backup. Live feed surveillance with monitored temperature control is in the works. The city is pushing for mandated monitored smoke detection in all facilities and we hope they take it to the next level and require back up monitoring via cellular since we all know a landline can’t call for help when it’s destroyed by fire. Sprinklers are not available in our temporary location but we will definitely have them when we return to our big building. Now that fire sprinklers operate independently we no longer believe sprinklers are a hazard in our industry. In fact, we wish we would have already had them and believe sprinklers should be mandated in all animal facilities – especially those housing high risk pets such as birds or mammals overnight. One safety code suggestion is to require sprinklers in facilities over 3000 square feet but the problem is that size has less to do with animal safety than staffing. We’re hoping the focus will shift to potential animal risk as opposed to a facility size that will exempt virtually every facility in town, rendering that particular proposed code change fairly pointless.

Unattended Animals – the Primary Concern
Of course the real issue here is not so much about fire safety while people are present; it’s about early detection and prevention when people aren’t around to help those who can’t help themselves. Animals in a building can’t save themselves from fire. Therefore, the most important safety measures are the ones put in place for when animals are unattended. From leaving your cat inside when you go to work, to caging birds in rescue facilities, to keeping fish in your office, this fire has compelled important, fascinating discussion. As for us, we’re not as concerned about animals inside who are attended 24/7 as much as those left unattended for periods of time.

Birds at PWX
Because birds can die from simple Teflon fumes while we cook in our kitchens, we believe that, in the event of a fire, birds are the highest risk pets and should not be housed unattended anywhere without an advanced fire prevention system, monitored 24/7 via cellular and landline, that includes sprinklers to keep small fires under control to reduce smoke while awaiting rescue. For this reason, other than daytime visits, we will not keep birds for sale at PWX, but we will have birds again when we return to our refurbished building (complete with sprinklers). We still have all our connections, though, so when you are ready to make your bird purchase we can help you with that.

Mammals at PWX
Mammals are next on the high risk list. From the tiniest mouse to the largest dog, all mammals are highly susceptible to smoke. Even though our new detection system at PWX surpasses most U.S. animal facilities (since we have constant cellular in addition to landline), because it won’t have sprinklers, we will not house mammals overnight while we are closed. We will bring in a limited number of live mammals for sale and exhibit each day but they will go home with us each night.

Reptiles and Arachnids at PWX
As we discovered after the fire, many mature reptiles and arachnids have a remarkably high tolerance for smoke. For this reason we will house a limited number of reptiles and arachnids for sale and exhibit and most will stay on site overnight. This will also help PWX feel more like the Pet World experience you’ve come to know and love.

Fish at PWX
Our aquarium fish selection is terribly missed by many and since fish are the least susceptible to fire and smoke, we have set up one fish wall. The tanks are up and running and we’ll increasingly add fish as the systems become more established. These seasoned tanks will not only recreate an important part of the PW experience but also help us prepare our new fishroom when the time comes.

PWX will not be offering boarding in the temporary location. Fortunately, though, we have finally reached a decision that we will once again offer exotic boarding when we return to our refurbished building and will be pleased to offer the safest boarding possible with state of the art facilities unlike anywhere I’ve ever seen.

Except for boarding, all other services are now available. Wing and nail trimming, water treatment, water testing, and free, professional consultation are all back in full swing with normal business hours. We are excited to announce the return of StorytimeLive! and Feature Creature the first of August!

While on site parties won’t be possible at PWX we are now offering off site parties! Please call Ande at PWX to discuss.

The old building has finally been officially and completely released by all parties involved. The property owners are working through bids and doing everything they can to expedite the rebuilding process. Assuming the building can be repaired without a total demo, inside estimated dates are near Halloween while outside estimates are Christmas. Fingers crossed!

It has been my privilege and pleasure to serve as the voice of Pet World for so many years and throughout this tragedy. Communicating with all of you has been therapeutic and your supportive feedback is uplifting and truly inspiring. Future updates will continue to be posted on our website and via social media but the focus will now shift to shorter, more information based posts.

I’ll be locating the more detailed and emotional posts on my personal blog at to spare many readers the long updates. The good news is that you’ll be able to check in at PW now without the risk of tears! (No promises if you read my personal blog, though, because I have some pretty serious stuff to process regarding some of the behind the scenes ways the tragedy has affected our family and staff along with inspirational stories about customers and children.)

PW Survivor Series
Hopefully you’ve seen our video series on animal survivors by PW’s own Rachel Cross (available for viewing anytime on YouTube). It’s been truly beautiful to see the employees caring for the rescued animals. Last night, Tim broke his silence and gave Rachel the interview that many a news reporter has been denied. Parts of his interview will be in her fourth and final video soon. I was very proud of Tim for finally opening up a little. Until now he has really only spoken with family and close friends. I think seeing some of you at PWX has helped him a lot.

Returning to Normal Weirdness
After seeing our employees handle so much stress and witnessing Tim’s progress I think it’s time for me to step off the stage now and let PW transition back to what it was before the fire. After the tragedy I became equally protective of and dependent on our staff. Most of them felt too lost for words and as a mother I couldn’t help but want to shelter them while they each found their own ways of coping. Keeping them close has been as much for me as for them. They have accomplished many great feats and there is no way Tim and I could have moved forward without them. But the truth is we have many voices at Pet World and all of them are worth hearing. The focus of our social media needs to return to our part in the community. Pet World was never about me and it’s really not even about Tim. It’s about your relationships with our staff and our employees’ relationships with the community. The grieving process is complicated and we still have a long way to go but I believe we are all ready for some normal Lawrence weirdness without the tragic tales.

We will never forget what happened. Surviving was our first test. Rebuilding will be our next. But now Tim and I need to step back just a little and focus some much needed attention on our immediate family. Our kids have been amazingly strong but they miss their parents and we miss them, as well as each other. What a crazy, intense, whirlwind this has been. We’re encouraging our managers to take some time off as well. Family first, as you, our extended Pet World family, have proven to us by the way you have surrounded us with your unconditional love and support.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for following. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for carrying us. And thank you for making this journey so worthwhile. Every day I thank God for the people in my life, including you. The staff at PWX eagerly awaits your visits and Tim and I will see you again very soon.


June 28, 2015

pet-world-logoPET WORLD EXPRESS
Our temporary location is up and running! We are across the parking lot from our old store, between the laundromat and Bikram Yoga. The space is only ¼ of what we’re accustomed to but we’re making it work. How can you help? Bring us your smiling faces and your product suggestions. We are currently stocking all the top selling merchandise just as fast as we can but we need to know exactly what you need that we have yet to order in. We can fill most orders within a week and your requests are critical in helping us create our inventory to best suit your needs. Each time you pick up an order, that item is automatically reordered and then becomes part of our normal inventory. Then, the next time you shop, you’ll be able to simply find what you need on hand. Your input is very important so please keep those orders coming!

We currently have everything you need for feeder insects, fish, and rodents – live and frozen. Live pinkies will arrive on Fridays starting July 3 but won’t last long. Breeder rodents will be back soon and after a few weeks we should be able to meet the demand for live pinkies and fuzzies. We have heard your complaints about corporate policies regarding feeder rodents and fully understand your frustration with other stores. Our position is that a pet snake’s life is just as valuable as any other pet’s life. We understand the food chain and embrace the circle of life, placing equal value on animals regardless of whether they have scales or fur.

In addition to our personal pets for you to enjoy, we are slowly starting to bring in a few pets for sale. Little by little, employees are bringing in pets they’ve been fostering to stay at PWX most of the day then go back home at night. We won’t have very many but after the new system is in place, we’ll bring in a few more and the fish and reptiles will stay overnight. The new system we selected will be monitored via landline, WiFi, and – most importantly – cellular. We don’t know of any facility in the area with this level of monitoring. At the first sign of danger, an emergency signal is sent as fast as a text message, with battery back up in the event of power failure. The risk of transmission failure like all the “landline only” systems is practically eliminated. That said, after your heartfelt feedback regarding live pets, we’ve decided we are not yet willing to risk having birds or mammals stay overnight. Our temporary location has floor to ceiling brick walls between us and our neighbors and even without sprinklers our new system exceeds all industry standards, but, quite frankly, it’s just too soon. Warm blooded animals (fur and feathers) are much more susceptible to smoke and fumes than cold blooded animals (scales) so we have decided to only bring in a few, low risk, cold blooded pets for sale. Remember, though, we can special order any pet you want anytime.

Because our temporary location is not yet generating much revenue, we can’t yet afford to call back more employees. Hopefully, soon, our sales will increase to a level where we can afford to call everyone back. Until then, we would like to update you regarding the status of the employees you miss and the PW pets they are fostering. Please follow us on Facebook and Twittter to see regular progress reports of PW staff and PW pets, showing you where they are now. Pet World is nothing without our staff and we know how much you love and miss them. We do, too.

Losing Pet World has been difficult for our community. Thousands of us felt pain but no one experienced the loss quite as much as our summer camp kids. There’s never a good time for a fire, but there could not have been a worse possible time than late May for something like this to happen at PW because June is camp month. Cancelling our camps was one of the hardest decisions we've ever had to make. Employees work hard to achieve the highly coveted camp counselor status. Kids wait all summer for our camps to come around. Parents go to great lengths to secure spots for their kids who often start at age four and spend eight summers in a row with us then go on to become junior volunteers and even employees. Breaking the news caused extra heartbreak on top of the obvious losses because for many kids it was their last chance for a particular camp because of their age. We have five camps and four of them are mostly on site so we had no choice. Morning Critter Camp (ages 3-4) had to be cancelled completely, Afternoon Critter Camp (ages 5-7) and both weeks of Animal Camp (ages 8-9) were canceled with the offer of a free Friday field trip to the tortoise farm. But the last camp of the summer, Wilderness Camp (ages 9-11), we were able to keep and it proved to be a blessing for all involved.

This particular camp begins and ends at PW every day but is primarily held at the tortoise farm which is located on the private, Pet World Nature Preserve so we decided with a few modifications we could still offer it. PWX does not have a kitchen area or even a break room that could serve as an Education Room. For this reason we couldn't pull off our foil dinner, family cookout Thursday night. Instead of being disappointed with us, parents and siblings joined us for roasting hot dogs and s’mores, spending the afternoon/evening getting private tours from their camp kids.

Usually, after kids pack their lunches, they get free time at PW up until 10am each morning before we leave for the farm. The kids get to “work” at PW, help care for the animals, or simply play with them. Sometimes we return early for additional free time between 3:30 and 4. Normally, anytime we get severe weather, we can always have free time inside at PW. The lack of animals at PWX greatly reduced the free time possibilities. This concerned me but to make things better, employees rallied each morning, bringing pets from home. The Humane Society, Sunfire Ceramics, Prairie Park Nature Center, and the Natural History Museum all offered assistance as alternate field trips in time of inclement weather. Parents of former employees hosted catch and release fishing field trips at their nearby pond and even let us use their home for restroom breaks and ice water refills.

All of our camp supplies got ruined by water and smoke from the fire but vendors worked hard to replace everything as fast as possible. We received our water bottles and backpacks just days before camp and Gambler Graphics remade our shirts in less than a week. Even with the wonderful support and modifications, without Pet World we knew the overall camp experience would not be the same so we offered no hassle withdrawls with full refunds, no questions asked, at any time before or even during camp.

Not one parent took us up on our offer. Not one.

There are two burial sites at the tortoise farm for Pet World animals who died in the fire. Camp parents know that our philosophy includes telling kids the truth up to the point of understanding (no unnecessary oversharing) yet they didn’t shy away from the situation. We are experienced with pet loss and have found the truth is generally the best approach as kids tend to handle loss better than adults. The camp kids were free to visit the burial sites as desired, alone or with others, since both are within sight of base camp. We didn't make a big deal of visiting but it also wasn’t something we avoided. Some kids visited briefly in groups, others a little longer in private or with a counselor. All the kids shared in some discussion – some fleeting, some in depth. Most already knew enough about the fire from their parents but some had questions. Many kids simply shared how they heard about the fire, where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt. The most meaningful thing to me was how their parents not only trusted us to handle these discussions, they encouraged the overall experience. Several families even compiled a huge scrapbook of photos from past camps and PW parties, some going back many years, to remind us the importance of what we teach every summer and how it shapes their kids. Many times, right in the middle of camp, I would just catch Ande’s eye and we would both tear up, knowing how much these kids matter to us and how much Pet World matters to them.

Last week offered us a much needed time of reprieve, restoration, and renewed purpose.

I cannot thank parents enough for sharing their kids with us, especially this particular summer when we probably need them more than they need us. Sharing a week with all those muddy little kids, laughing, climbing, learning, and embracing nature gives us more inspiration than anything else in this world.

June 20, 2015

pet-world-logoLive Animals and Fire Prevention at Pet World Express

The new location (across the parking lot by Bikram Yoga) is open and running. Well, crawling is probably a better word. But we didn’t want to wait any longer to reopen. You need our staff, our feeders, our water, and you’ve made it very clear you want to spend your money at Pdub Express in order to facilitate rebuilding. We appreciate that very much and the truth is, we need you more than you need us. We need to see your smiling faces, pet your dogs, test your water, trim your bird’s wings, count your crickets, and answer those pet questions. Every time you come in, even just to pick up a pig ear for your pooch, you are helping us heal and move forward. Thank you for that.

Everyone wants to know when we’ll have pets available at PWX. The building is up to code but not currently equipped with any fire prevention system – not even a smoke detector. We have emergency lights, lighted exit signs, and fire extinguishers but that’s it. A sprinkler system is not an option in the temporary location for a variety of reasons beyond our control. But we just found out that our insurance will pay for monitored smoke detection in the temporary location. Not just landline monitoring (which we all know is worthless when the landline is destroyed), but 4G cellular, wireless monitoring! That is very expensive but it’s the latest in monitored alarm communication and goes above and beyond most professional recommendations. I hope this is not inappropriate but I must say that American Family has done an outstanding job in assisting us and guiding us since day one when our agent (Ron King since 1988) was on the scene right away.

Here is the dilemma: live animals or no live animals in the temporary location? Pet World will not reopen permanently in the former location or any other location without the latest in fire safety, including sprinklers. If we can’t do it right, we won’t do it at all and, quite frankly, a sprinkler system is a deal breaker for us. No sprinkler system? No Pet World.

But what about live animals in the temporary location for the next 3-6 months? The system we are installing at PWX goes above and beyond what is being proposed in fire safety code revisions. We’ll have 14 smoke detectors monitored by a non-stop 4G cellular alarm communicator with battery backup. Response time will be virtually minutes because the alarm will activate in mere seconds. 14 smoke detectors in this 2400 square foot space is basically the same as one detector per 9’ x 9’ room – except there are no walls so it’s even more effective. Overkill? Maybe. But without a sprinkler system we feel like it’s the next best thing. Are we being too paranoid? Yes, but we all know why. PWX is small and we can’t house very many live animals but unnecessary risk of even one animal is too much.

So please talk to us. One reason our customers feel the loss as much as we do is because you all are an integral part of PW and you know that. You speak, we listen. We ask, you answer. Pet World is yours more than ours. So here is my question to all our tangible customers, current and former, who actually shop with us in Lawrence and understand exactly what PW means to the Lawrence community: How do you feel about us having live animals in the temporary location after the new fire prevention system is installed, even though it will not have sprinklers?

Please comment via facebook, twitter, or on the original blog post at (where it is being hosted to facilate participation without the use of social media). Your feedback is very important. Thank you.

June 17, 2015

pet-world-logoI don’t know which to tell you first – the good news or the bad news. We have some of each.

The Lawrence community continues to inspire us. The outpouring of support from businesses and families has been truly amazing. And city officials continue to work with us, offering nothing but compassionate guidance and support. We got our occupancy permit for our temporary location and in no time at all the place was ready to go. The last two days have seen serious progress. Our utilities are on, Niehoff came out and repaired the air conditioner, a local electrician added necessary outlets and light switches, Lindy Spring Water loaned us a water machine to make aquarium water, Stoneback Appliance dropped off a free mini fridge, Rueschoff installed the alarm system and city officials just inspected the premises so we can open right away. Lawrence SignUp is making us a banner to use as a temporary sign.

Last night the phone rang for the first time and employees raced to answer it, nearly knocking it off the wall. The person calling was from out of town and didn’t even know about the fire. That was not only humbling and endearing, it reminded us that even though it feels like our world crumbled, life goes on and so shall we. The temp location is a tiny space but it will work for now. Because the temporary PW is so small (25% of the real PW) the staff nicknamed it “Pet World Express” or, better yet, “Pdub Express” and I must admit, it’s pretty catchy. The space reminds me of our early days in the 1980s. Maybe Tim will grow his hair back out into a mullet just for old time’s sake.

Our shelving order has yet to arrive…none of it. So that makes it impossible to completely set up shop. Our landlord loaned us some old shelving yesterday and we are using pickup trucks to load and unload it, piecing together as much as possible, but we won’t be able to fully stock our shelves for another week or two because, well, we don’t have enough shelves to stock. We also have yet to find a suitable counter but we’re still looking. For now a pop up table will do the trick.

It’s been three weeks since the fire and it feels like three months. We miss each other and we miss you. At least we can open the doors now and begin to get you what you need if you don’t mind the ongoing mess. As of right now, we can make any aquarium water you want and can take your orders for whatever products you need most to make sure they get added to our new stock lists. We won’t have room for everything we normally carry but we’ll do our best. Later this week we’ll have crickets and should have frozen feeders. Next week we’ll fill your orders, add more feeders, and stock more merchandise (assuming we find more shelving). Live feeder rodents should be available in a couple weeks. (Until then you can get live feeders at Safari Pets in Topeka, Miles of Exotics in north KC, or Olathe Pets.) As soon as we can secure more shelving we will stock it for you. Stop by anytime and we’ll be happy to answer your questions and help you in any way we can. We’re now in Suite 12, across the parking lot, between Bikram Yoga and the Lawrence Laundromat. Our hours are the same as usual, 10am-8pm Monday through Saturday, 11am-6pm on Sunday.

Being closed is never good for any business and especially dangerous for pet stores whose customers can’t wait even if they wanted to. Most of our customers shop on a three week rotation so as of right now we’ve lost all of you at least once, some of you more than once. The longer we are closed the less likely we’ll be able to recover so time is of the essence. On Monday, three investigative teams worked very hard to narrow down very specific details regarding the fire. We had many officials on site all day and it was supposed to be a one day insurance investigation but by 5pm the insurance investigators suspected they wouldn’t finish on time. They stayed on the scene a few more hours, making good progress and trying to finish, but by 8pm they realized they could not all completely agree on everything and decided they need more time. Unfortunately they will not be able to resume their on-site investigation until July 7 but they did assure us they believe they’ll finish by July 8 so the backroom part of the building should be released by July 9. Demo and reconstruction can begin after that as soon as a permit is pulled. The three week delay is frustrating for everyone but we will focus our efforts on the temporary location to get that up to speed as soon as possible.

Cleanup is almost complete. Except for the restricted backroom area, EmCon, Topeka, has cleared out nearly all of the contents from inside the building. Some of you may remember Tim’s brother, Cale, and how he took charge the day of the fire to coordinate rescue assistance outside. Cale and their brother, Tony, have a construction company with their father, Carl, and sister, Jill. On Monday they all teamed up with their brother-in-law, Mike, and brought a crew from Topeka to tackle the clean out. There are many Emersons, several in the construction business, and most of them are loud and kind of full of it on the outside. Tim, his dad, three brothers, and brother-in-law like to tease and joke around, seeming like they are rarely serious. But in times of crisis, as any of us Emerson wives will tell you, these boys really come together to make things happen. We had many bids for cleanout with varying approaches and, quite honestly, we weren’t sure what to do. But then Cale, Tony, and Mike told me they wanted to do it, to help their brother and his family, and Tim was visibly relieved at the suggestion. I closed my eyes and gave thanks they could handle it, knowing their vested interested would move things along quickly. Those boys have been driving me crazy for 30 years but when Tim is in trouble there is no one I’d rather see surrounding him. We always say Tim’s mama must have beat those kids just enough but not too much. They’re a good family.

As you can imagine, most of the PW employees struggle to even look at the building, let alone help clear it out. Watching the cleanout has been difficult. Pet World operates on a very tight budget so we are all careful not to waste or break anything. Watching those machines push out the contents and load them into dump trucks like garbage filled us with sorrow. And trying to comprehend what this loss means to Tim is unbearable for all of us. But seeing Tim working through it all, with his family by his side, supporting him and lifting his spirits, has provided something beautiful to witness amidst a very ugly scene. For that I am truly grateful.

So what’s next? We’ll continue to work quickly toward a fully functioning store, offering all your pet needs, and hope to once again provide you with the service you’ve come to enjoy. We hope to get confirmation soon that our building can be ready by September or October. If it turns out the building will not be ready until much later, we’ll consider upgrading the fire prevention system in this or another temporary location to something more appropriate for long term and then bring in live pets. Until then, we hope to see you at Pdub Express sometime soon!

June 13, 2015

pet-world-logoSuch a very different week. The week before last was brutal. I think we all hit our lowest points, struggling to let ourselves feel any joy amidst all that sorrow, feeling like moving on would somehow lessen the importance of what was lost. But a lot happened this past week to help us see a light at the end of a very long tunnel. We’ve learned more about fire safety, alarm systems, bureaucracy, codes, permits, and insurance than we ever cared to know but if nothing else, we feel enlightened and prepared to move forward.

For example, did you know that there are varying definitions of “monitored” alarm systems? And that a system monitored only via landline is only as good as the landline itself? If the landline is destroyed it can’t call for help. Also, many landline systems are automatically checked (or pinged) for loss of service but on an hourly or even daily basis. That is worthless in the event of a fire when communication must be instantaneous. How something so obvious never occurred to us is beyond me. Our new system will be primarily monitored via a wireless system – one that monitors constantly – and the land line will be secondary. How will we pay for this new system that could now exceed six figures? I have no idea. But I do have faith. I trust we will find a way.

We’ve also learned that the pace of a sole proprietor is much faster than the pace of a multilevel agency. Typically one of us has an idea, we share it with the staff, the management team narrows down the details, Tim and I discuss it, and that’s it. We are accustomed to making major decisions in one day – sometimes one hour. No board room, no corporate investors, no underwriters, no committee. To be completely honest, I don’t know how large organizations get anything done with so many parties involved. No wonder government moves slowly. Decisions are expected to be made by folks who aren’t experts who then must seek out and consult with experts which takes a lot of time and effort. This progression is slow but we’re learning to respect the process. Ironically, a hand painted sign bearing, “Enjoy the Process” hangs on our kitchen wall so I should have been more prepared, I guess. I can’t say we are enjoying this process but it is interesting, if nothing else, and it’s fair to say we are learning to be patient.

Let's talk about the Lawrence community. Tim and I are no different than anyone else. We live in a 50 year old house not far from Pet World, we shop at Checkers, Dillon's, Westlake, the Merc, like to eat downtown, and our kids go to public schools. We go to work every day just like everyone else. Our employees are typical young adults, mostly students, broke, passionate, and just trying to find their way. We all know Pet World is a special place to the Lawrence community but until something like this happens it’s difficult to appreciate just how special. So let me put this into perspective by giving you some examples of how you have lifted us and are currently carrying us.

On the day of the fire, and for the next 48 hours, my smartphone could barely function. It's still messed up. The notifications and messages poured in so heavily and nonstop that I literally could hardly operate my phone. It overheated, drained, and shut itself down several times. I had to wait until late at night and very early morning just to use it. My text messages could barely load because they were coming in by the hundreds. My email inbox went from about 35 to over 800 in two days. Our personal Facebook friend requests exploded and Pet World’s social media followers grew exponentially. Our web site has probably had more hits in the past few weeks than in the past few years. We go nowhere, absolutely nowhere, without people sharing their Pet World stories with us. Employees are getting heartfelt hugs from customers they see on the street. I have never seen anything like this in my life. Of the thousands of people reaching out to us, only one was negative. One. (Well, two if you count the extreme activist who drove up and screamed at us that evening saying humans should never have pets, suggesting the complete separation of humans and animals.) Every communication has been incredibly supportive. You guys have been amazing. Inspiring. With this level of support, there is no way we could give up. Even if we wanted to, I know y’all wouldn’t let us.

When I walked into the city office to apply for an occupancy permit for the temporary location, I was greeted with warmth and understanding. The folks there were kind and supportive, helping me through the process. They knew the situation, were connected to PW in varying ways, had experienced their own losses with our fire, and sincerely wanted to help. The same thing happened at our bank. I went in the 9th Street location 15 minutes before closing and, quite honestly, I was a wreck. They didn’t freak out and didn’t suggest I come back later; they rallied, instead, staying late to help. The tellers walked me through a few simple steps that I could normally do in my sleep but couldn’t do correctly that day. Carol, who managed the Malls branch years ago, put her hand on my shoulder and Anne, who actually now lives in our old house, sat me down, reached out her hand to mine, reminded me to breathe, and promised we’d figure out what needed to be done, together.

Local businesses are giving support without expecting anything in return. Anonymous customers have purchased supplies for us, picked up tabs at restaurants for our staff, dropped off gift cards, food and water at our house, sent notes, photographs, cards, letters, and done more than I can say. You guys were relentless with your requests to donate and raise funds. Even the utility companies have extended their condolences and worked quickly to restore services in our temporary location to expedite opening. It’s like everyone is experiencing the loss and needs Pet World to reopen quickly, for them as much as for us. Seriously, if we didn’t appreciate what Pet World meant to the Lawrence community before, we certainly do now. We understand that Pet World is your place, and we are merely stewards. Every time you walked through the door, investing money and time, you created Pet World with your presence. You are Pet World. We truly get that and feel humbled by your support.

Letting go has been difficult but we’re finally ready. Fair warning, I’m about to get emotional. You might want to skip the next five or six paragraphs.

As you might guess, Tim and I each have an insatiable need to protect and conserve. He champions for animals and nature; I champion for people and community. Our employees reflect our values. Since the fire, Tim has gone back in repeatedly searching for survivors. He just couldn’t stop himself. I, on the other hand, tried not to go back in. Each time something came up I avoided going in. But every day I have ached, feeling like I needed to save something. Not the animals, actually, but the entity. I have felt your loss perhaps greater than my own, or, maybe as my own. It’s possible your loss is my loss.

So yesterday Tim and I made one last pass through Pet World. We weighed the benefits verses risks of salvaging scrap metal and finalized a few decisions. Then Tim went outside. He said he was finally done and he meant it, no going back. I stayed and walked every aisle alone, shined my flashlight at all the merchandise, empty pens, dead plants, molding dog treats, and remembered setting up all those displays, crying over all the work from my staff to always make everything perfect. Pet World employees work really, really hard.

I marveled at the amount of products still hanging perfectly on the pegs like nothing ever happened and I mourned the waste of all these contaminated items that instead of helping someone’s pet will now merely end up in a landfill. I looked behind products to see secret notes we had written on the walls taking one last glimpse before all that sheetrock gets torn out. I stopped and wept at Tim’s pet shop museum with the metal frame, slate bottom tanks and classic old cages and books, now completely destroyed and irreplaceable. I nearly vomited when I looked carefully, for the first and last time, at the charred remains of what was once our back room, skeletons of electrical panels appearing to hang on by threads, still quarantined by caution tape next to the glaring absence of Tim’s breeder reptiles. Then I turned around the see the back entrance to what used to be our beautifully remodeled fishroom, Ian’s pride and joy, now completely melted by the heat of that inferno.

Next I ventured into the Education Room. That was the worst. Photos, drawings, name tags, camp shirts and backpacks we had just brought in from storage the day before the fire, scattered all over the floor, a giant, wet, soot covered mess. I sat down and stared at the mural, remembering all the time my gals put into it, the late nights after hours creating it, Erin explaining to me how she might never sign it because it might never actually be finished. As I sat there, I could feel every hug from a camp kid, see every smile from a party kid, and hear every giggle that ever happened in that room. I saw my employees enjoying weekly meals together, training on Sunday nights, and taking their breaks in there, thought about Tim sneaking naps in there, and remembered the moment I stood beside Megan when Tim gave us that space, believing that with that room, we could make a real difference in the lives of children. I read #petworldstrong written in the soot on the whiteboard and looked up on the wall to read “INSPIRE” spelled out in ten inch letters Ande painted by hand. It was all completely ruined. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever cried quite as hard as I did in that room yesterday.

I thought I'd walk out of there with baskets full of…something rescued. I don't know what. I assumed I would rescue it, whatever it is. But I left with only a single conch shell and an armload of grief. I sat beside Tim on the curb and wept one last time, sobbing how it was all gone. Like a rotting corpse, there was nothing left to save in there. No life whatsoever. Then he said, "It's just stuff, Sherry. It's just a building. It's where Pet World existed but it is not Pet World. Let it go."

"The builder of the house has greater honor than the house itself."
Hebrews 3:3

So I finished crying, took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and let it all go.

I reminded myself that Pet World was never about the building or the stuff; it was about the life inside and around it. It was about touching snakes for the first time and hamster bites, feeding catfish and tortoises, hearing Fletcher’s two syllable squawk that translated as hello, mama, papa, hola, Pet World, haha, and whatever else we heard it to be depending on the day. It was about employees working for passion instead of money, friends lending me their kids to try out new programs, Goliath visiting classrooms, setting up new aquariums, testing water, children holding animals, sharing knowledge, and learning. Pet World was humans and animals, connecting and bonding, fostering affinity and respect for every living thing. All those smiles weren't about the walls and shelves and stuff; the joy came from the people and pets. I knew that. But in my grief I had forgotten it. We lost some precious animals and all the stuff but the people and memories remain. Nothing can change that. And it was then I realized that the only way we can “save” what we are trying to "rescue" is to bring the Pet World experience back to the Lawrence community. Restoring Pet World will help us heal. I finally understood it is time to move on.

Last night I slept soundly for the first time since the fire.

So what's next? One final signature and the occupancy permit for the temporary location is ours, hopefully Monday. Shelving has been ordered and is on the way, along with crickets, frozen feeders, pet food and bedding. The R.O. machine is on the premises and will be hooked up Monday. The phone should be back on Tuesday. Special orders will be available starting Wednesday. Our register system should be ready but if it isn’t, we’ll use a good old fashioned cash register and set up shop with cardboard boxes if we have to. Unless the city tells us otherwise, if nothing else, we will at least be completely accessible to you by 10am this Wednesday, June 17, in the space across the parking lot between Lawrence Laundromat and Bikram Yoga. It won’t be the Pet World you once knew, but it’s a start and will get us by until we can rebuild.

The temporary location is very small and merchandise will arrive in phases. At first, there won’t be much of anything inside except crickets, aquarium water, a phone, and an area to place your orders. But each week more and more items will arrive and we’ll stock our shelves with as much product as possible to supply what you need most. Live feeders will also start to phase in little by little, a week at a time, starting with crickets, then fish, then rodents. Most orders will be filled within a week and then become part of the regular inventory as space allows. After a week or two, we’ll bring back a smaller scale Kitten Pit and resume onsite kitten adoptions.

As far as the old Pet World building, cleanout is scheduled for next week then rebuilding will be underway as soon as a permit can be pulled. Initial projections for reopening were six to eight months but current estimates are now less than five months. Of course, we’d like to reopen our doors tomorrow but the project goal is to reopen the original Pet World by the end of the year. We’ll see what happens but if I know this community, I wouldn’t be surprised if Pet World completely reopened in November, or maybe even sooner. Lawrence is such a special place; anything can happen.

Man, I love this town.

June 8, 2015

pet-world-logoWhat a week. I think it’s fair to say we all fell to our lowest points last week. The grieving process is not easy as so many of you know too well.

Currently, we are not allowed to do anything with the Pet World building since it does not belong to us and insurance companies apparently have many things to sort out. Seeing it just sit there, empty, with nothing happening, no life at all, is eating away at all of us – so much so that many of us can scarcely stand to drive by. I can’t fathom what takes so long to work through but I assure you, once we are given the green light, we’ll get that place back up and running as soon as humanly possible. There is a slight chance that the building will not be repaired in a reasonable enough time, which, to us, is 90 days but certainly no more than 180 days. In that case, it is possible Pet World will permanently relocate into a space that is ready now. We should have final word on that situation within a week.

The loss of the boarding pets continues to be the most difficult to deal with. It took days to retrieve records only to discover water damage to contact info, communication has been slow and painful since social media does not seem like the appropriate format and we couldn’t reach everyone in a timely fashion, and our management team – the sole caregivers of boarding pets - have struggled with what they want to say as much as I have. Five boarding families experienced pet loss from the fire. That’s only five letters to write, we realize, but it feels like five hundred. What do we say? I’m sorry for your loss, here is a refund for your boarding fees? Let us know what we can do? How in the world can we find adequate words? Nothing we can say or do will make these pet losses better and, quite frankly, we simply didn’t know what to do, and still don’t. The worst situation was a family who was still on vacation. We didn’t even know if they had heard about the fire and couldn’t imagine what they’d be coming home to. We felt like it would have been insensitive to post anything public until we had communicated with everyone privately through whatever channel we could use. Letters have been written and rewritten and I’ve watched our managers struggle with these particular losses more than anything else. I can’t imagine how awful this must be for our boarding families and I’m not sure we’ll ever have closure on this. Even though families have been unbelievably kind and understanding, most offering us condolences as if our loss was greater – which it was not – the boarding loss is the main reason we considered not reopening Pet World at all and the primary driving force behind our requests for increased fire safety for all animal facilities who house unattended pets at any time.

So the question is whether or not we will board animals again. On the one hand, we know that you need us. Dogs and cats can board almost anywhere but the less than typical pets have few options. You are telling us that after we rebuild we will be the safest place in town to board exotics since most places do not have sprinkler systems and we will. I even received one email from a mom explaining that since her house does not have a high tech fire safety system she feels like her pets would be safer with us than in her own home while she is away. We know better than anyone how to care for exotics and have a specialized team in place to handle it. For all these reasons the answer should be yes. But to be completely honest it is just too soon to decide. I’m sorry. We will work hard toward a yes decision but for now I can’t say for sure. In the meantime, all I can recommend is to find a friend you trust or check with a professional and ask the necessary questions that will give you the assurance you need.

Birthday parties and summer camps have been the next most difficult step. Laugh Out Loud Family Zone immediately stepped up and offered use of their facility to relocate pending birthday parties. That was a huge relief. Since then we’ve sent cancellation letter after cancellation letter, hoping the refund checks don’t somehow cheapen our apologies. We all know this has nothing to do with money but insurance covers those refunds and the truth is, families need those funds to make other arrangements. While we appreciate parents’ offers to not cash refund checks, I promise we would all feel much better if they did.

Because four of our five camps take place primarily on site, we had to cancel everything but Wilderness Camp. Kids wear their Pet World shirts and spend an hour before we open taking care of the animals much like employees. Free time is spent with pets of choice. Even though we take field trips, the Critter Camp & Animal Camp experience just can’t be duplicated without Pet World. One very good thing, though, is that each Friday these camps take field trips to the tortoise farm. This past Friday, we extended an open invitation to last week’s Critter Camp families to join us for the field trip their kids would have taken. For two beautiful hours we got to share the tortoise farm, feed the tortoises, and even watch some kids complete their first crossing of the locally famous tree bridge. We are looking forward to the next two Fridays more than we can say.

More good news - we’ve confirmed our temporary location. The former Hume Music space did not work out, however, this morning we got the keys to what used to be CPS, Copy-Print-Ship, between Bikram Yoga and the laundromat. It is only 25% of the space we need so we can’t relocate there long-term but for a temporary location it will work just fine. In this space we will offer exotic nail trims, wing trims, feeder fish, feeder crickets, water tests, aquarium water, basic food and supplies, and weekly special orders for anything you need. You will also be able to consult with Pet World management staff seven days a week. Our hours will be the same, Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 11am-6pm. StoryTime Live and Feature Creature will resume on Saturdays and Sundays.

Except for a very limited selection of fish, we will not have daily pets for sale in this temporary location. The fire prevention system in place is the same old out of date system most places have and, as you can imagine, we can never again even think about operating a real pet store with live pets unless we have the latest in fire safety – especially sprinklers. That said, there will be some animals available on a regular basis to play with and adopt and we can special order some specific pets as they become available. Most orders should be filled within a week. Also, employees will bring pets to work for you to enjoy when you visit then they’ll take them home each night. It will not be the Pet World you are accustomed to, but we’ll do our best to take good care of you and make your shopping experience special.

The best news of the day is the return of the Kitten Pit. There is a large, open space in the front of this temporary location near the windows and the front door. We are working with the shelter right now to set up the kitten adoption schedule. Hours may be slightly limited because the kittens will only stay at Pet World while we are open but you’ll have plenty of access to them. We apologize if our current "no unattended animals while we're closed" policy seems too over the top protective but we ask you to please bear with us and understand our personal need to work our way back one step at a time.

The city commission assured us they will do anything they can to expedite our reopening process and I am heading there today to request our occupancy permit for the temporary location. They have been kind and concerned, keeping up on our progress, offering a much needed feeling of support on a local government level. If all goes well, we could open the temporary location as soon as June 17. Fingers crossed.

We'll keep you all updated and thank you for your patience and continued support.

June 3, 2015

pet-world-logoThis might be the longest update yet. Brace yourself. Our final word on fire prevention.

Retail businesses are considered the safest of all commercial occupancies. When we moved into that building the city came in, inspected everything, advised us on safety standards, and made sure we were up to code and met all current standards before we opened. 54 times the fire inspectors have inspected us and confirmed that our building was, in fact, safe. For 27 years it did prove to be safe so their assessments were essentially accurate. Based on current standards, nothing we should have done or could have done would have prevented this fire. It was an accident that could not have been foreseen and that is the final official word. It seems like the entire city has assured us this fire was not our fault. Yet we are wracked with grief and guilt – Tim, of course, more than anyone because of who he is – because maybe it wasn’t technically our fault, but ultimately we are the ones who failed and for that, we are truly sorry.

Pet World has never been the kind of place to only do the minimum to get by. We lead the pet industry in always finding ways to improve. For example, when we suspected something was wrong with chameleons in the pet trade we went to Florida unannounced to visit the wholesale suppliers. We discovered that chameleons were being imported and commercially raised in unacceptable conditions. Consequently, Pet World stopped selling chameleons for years until we could responsibly raise our own. Did we lose sales? Sure. But it’s not about the money. More than once the state standards for pet stores have been raised because of the standards set by Pet World. In everything we’ve ever done we've exceeded the minimum - except one.

Fire safety.

When our pipes burst we call a plumber. When we have cavities we go to the dentist. Regarding fire safety we deferred to the city safety codes for a retail business. That was not adequate. Especially when a pet store is not like just any business. We should have asked the experts. Lawrence has fire prevention specialists we could have asked but we didn’t. We let 20 years go by and never thought to ask an expert if the building we were leasing was still safe. In this way, we feel responsible for not making our business as safe as possible. As far as the codes go, yes, they are considered safe and we were in compliance but what if the codes are too minimal and fire prevention has improved since we first rented that building? Our personal guilt exists because we never thought to ask the right questions of the right people.

So now we are championing for fire prevention reform and asking the city to raise the safety standards for animal facilities in particular. Why? Because, quite honestly, we are diligent and responsible folks. If we never thought to question codes it is my opinion that other people would make the same mistake. We should have had ongoing risk evaluations by trained professionals regardless of safety codes but we didn’t. I think our failure is proof that fire prevention is too important to leave to building and business owners. It’s not enough to simply hope that some property owners and some business owners will take extra measures. Most won't. Some won't do it because of money; others won't do it because they will accept the city's guidelines as sufficient. Therefore, we believe the standards need to be elevated so no one falls into the complacency trap again.

The new city commission had already put a team in place to look into safety codes after the animal facility fire last November. They were already considering changes and had begun the process of interviewing stakeholders and looking into adopting higher standards but as Commissioner Herbert said last night, “Government is slow.” Along with Kate Meghji, the Executive Director of the Lawrence Humane Society, we attended last night’s meeting to offer our input as major stakeholders who had yet to be consulted. The mayor, vice mayor, and commissioners were open, interested, and genuinely kind. Mayor Farmer even took the time to offer his personal condolences to our staff. I promise you, we felt respected and heard and we believe this commission will not let this issue rest until it is resolved.

Regarding the changes we said that we are supportive but recommended additional changes above and beyond what was being proposed. We believe that monitored detection AND sprinklers should be mandated in ALL animal facilities, regardless of size, as soon as possible. No exceptions.

Mandatory monitored fire and smoke detection is a good beginning but detection and warnings don’t put out fires – water does. There was a time when many people were opposed to sprinklers and I fully admit, I was a little scared of them, too. There is a reason almost no animal facilities have sprinklers - people don’t trust them. Not just in Lawrence, but all over the country. But after thoughtful, sincere counsel from a few of our local experts we have completely changed our minds and wish we would have acted sooner. Sprinkler systems have evolved. Modern, strategically placed sprinklers that react one at a time, only in response to heat, are very useful in extinguishing or at least reducing the quick spread of a fire while firefighters are en route. Birds, small mammals, cats, and dogs die from fumes and smoke so quickly that sprinklers keeping the fire under control may be their only hope as they await rescue.

In the case of the Pet World fire, properly monitored detection might have brought firefighters to the scene in 20 minutes instead of 30 but the animals who perished all died within five minutes. Early warning would have reduced the extent of building damage but it would not have saved many lives, if any. Also, due to the nature of the fire, had there been people in the building, running to save animals through doors opened in haste, dangerous drafts could have been created that could have worsened the fire with everyone still inside. In that scenario, sprinklers are the only thing that could have actually helped.

The absolute greatest losses in our fire were not the animals who died on our 8000 square foot sales floor. The most unbearable losses were the personal pets who were boarding in our boarding room. One reptile, one bird, and eight small mammals died from fumes and smoke in a 120 square foot space, located 90 feet from the fire, with a solid, closed door, separated by four walls. The boarding room was three rooms away from the fire and never experienced heat, therefore, modern sprinklers would not have been tripped in that room. The only thing that could have saved the boarding pets is if sprinklers could have minimized the fire itself which would have minimized the fumes and smoke before they had a chance to spread. We mourn the loss of all animals who died, but the lives of these pets were the most heartbreaking because they were not awaiting homes. These pets already had homes - loving homes whose owners adored them. Our management team has shed countless tears in our attempts to adequately reach out and offer condolence to the families who lost pets in the fire - one of which who is still on vacation and likely has no idea. As sad as it was to lose the animals for sale, no one will go home at night and miss them in the way they miss family pets.

The proposed safety changes only require sprinklers in large facilities, over 3000 square feet, like Pet World and the shelter – both of which house mostly animals awaiting homes. Nearly all other facilities in Lawrence – the ones that house people’s pets – are exempt from the sprinkler requirement. This makes no sense. All animal lives are equal but if there must be a value distinction with regard to fire safety it would have to be pets above non pets, not the other way around. The two pet facilities affected by the new sprinkler requirement are already planning to install sprinklers anyway and fully recognize that all animals need to be protected yet these changes don’t protect pets. If we can recognize the value of a non-pet's life by requiring sprinklers, surely we should acknowledge the value of pets' lives. I realize the expenses for sprinkler systems will cause financial hardship to small business owners but no amount of money is worth what just happened to this town. The community is rocked. People are gutted. My staff feels lost and tortured. I am sickened and ashamed. And Tim is wracked with pain and grief. This can't happen again.

Currently we are closed with no revenue whatsoever. Our labor is higher than any facility in town. Our store makes barely enough to operate in the black and is currently destroyed. Yet we stood before the commission, at more financial risk than any pet facility in this city, proposing that money should not be the deciding factor in the health and protection of animals - especially pets. Exempting small facilities does not protect the vast majority of boarding pets. And, quite honestly, after receiving expert counsel on the merits of modern day fire sprinklers, I can’t believe any pet professional in town would oppose mandating sprinkler systems. We would have much rather been required to make these changes before the fire than come to learn what needed to be done the hard way after so much loss.

Our hope is that the city will make code changes that will truly protect animals, all animals, and especially pets. If dedicated business owners like us can slip into complacency with minimal fire safety then it can happen to anyone. We are holding ourselves accountable and expect that all of us should be held to a higher standard. We know the odds. 10,000 days we never had a fire. Chances are it will never happen again. But the only day that matters now is the one day that happened against all odds.

Our city’s fire experts should be free to request the code changes they truly believe are best, with no concern of opposition due to financial hardship. If these mandated changes are too much of a financial burden and shut us down then so be it. We are willing to take that chance to ensure nothing like this happens again.

Our staff is very close. We communicate all the time and have held on to each other pretty tight since the fire. Last night, when I was allowed to address the commission, the Pet World staff stood behind me in quiet but commanding support. They, too, are embarrassed that they didn’t think to ask the right questions and all of them are hurting. I told the employees that any of them could join me if they wanted to but it was up to them. They all came. You should have seen them, filing in, respectfully silent, grieving, in their matching camo Pet World shirts that so aptly state, “Not afraid to get dirty.” It was a true testament of their character and dedication.

Today, Tim and I had two fire fighters in our living room. I shared with them how when Tim was growing up he would frequently call home from school and make his mom check on his pets, ensuring they had food and water. He can recall exact scenarios from any time in his life he felt that an animal may have suffered in any way due to his negligence. The concept of animal suffering is debilitating to Tim and he is internalizing guilt over every single life that was lost. Right now he is dying inside with guilt and grief over letting everyone down, but the animals more than anyone else.

Initial estimates for installing a sprinkler system are around $60,000.00. Our insurance is good but we do not have coverage for sprinklers. The building owners still have not confirmed that they will assist us in any way with installing sprinklers and they probably won't be required to. It looks like we’re on our own with this one but that’s okay; it’s our responsibility. We were asked if the expense is too much and the new safety codes don’t pass, would we consider operating another pet store in a building without fire sprinklers. Tim is now so sickened by that idea that he can barely respond. I hope no one from the press ever asks such a question again. The answer is no. Never. When you know better, you do better. If we can’t do this right, we won’t do it at all.

May 28, 2015

pet-world-logoAt the scene, one of the firefighters told us, "One step at a time. Don't worry about the next step until it's time to take the next step." That was perhaps the best advice anyone could have given us for handling a crisis.

The first thing was to rescue any surviving animal. This happened in phases. The initial round made by firefighters, the next round by Tim and I after the scene was deemed safe, then another round by employees after the building was released, and now the final round as we clean up. Surprisingly, a few more fish and reptiles have been discovered alive under the debris, including a red foot tortoise that Jeremy found today on the sales floor! Mariah named her Hope and she is now living in our backyard with the rest of the small tortoises.

We feel like the next step was to face the reality of what happened and accept it. During this phase we internalized unbearable self-blame that we had failed our community. The biggest issue is regarding the use of automatic sprinkler systems. This is a widely controversial subject and quite complicated. Most city codes do not require sprinkler systems in businesses so it is very difficult to convince property owners to install them for their tenants. Accidental caged pet drownings caused by faulty sprinklers (in homes, animal housing facilities, etc.) only add to the controversy. And the fact that decades go by with no incident merely reinforces the rationale behind not having sprinkler systems in place. It reminds me of a school bus with no seatbelts – which seems perfectly fine until it’s not – but yet they still have no seatbelts.

After extensive conversation with the experts we decided that when we rebuild, we’ll be using a more comprehensive fire prevention system, regardless of code and regardless of expense. Our compassionate fire chief even assured me that he would help with the design. We were told, quite frankly, that a better system is a great idea but that we need to accept the fact than even the best system available will not prevent every fire but it would certainly help. To be completely honest, even if no system would have prevented this particular fire, we feel like we let 27 years of no incident lull us into some sort of complacency regarding due diligence of fire prevention. In fact, we really hadn’t checked into the latest in fire prevention in a long time. Even when recent animal deaths in a local facility fire renewed our conversations regarding fire prevention we still did not take action. Every day I say things like do it now, carpe diem, later never comes yet we didn’t push forward. We let all those years of uneventful fire inspections serve as affirmation that our system was adequate when in reality, we should have dug a little deeper.

Maybe we can’t prevent every fire and perhaps even the best new system won’t prevent the kind of electrical inferno we just had but Pet World is no ordinary business nor should we follow ordinary standards. We exceed industry standards in everything we do and fire prevention should be no different. When the fire was ruled an accident many people asked if we were relieved to know it wasn’t our fault. The hard answer? No. Because maybe this fire wasn't our fault but another fire could have been. People trust us and this tragic loss of life has exposed an area in which we did not meet our own standards of exceeding the minimum standards in every way. The truth we must now face is that it’s not enough to meet the minimum requirements in fire prevention; we must exceed the standard. That’s the Pet World way – the key to our success. It’s not about the city code; it’s about our code. We have a building full of animals and children, the most precious lives in this world. Every possible safety measure must be put in place, whether it is required or not, so that’s what we plan to do. Maybe it wouldn’t have changed this outcome, but it could certainly change one in the future.

The second half of this next step was accepting that the fire really happened and nothing could change that. No amount of denial, pointing fingers, or what if scenarios could change what happened. That’s where the vigil came into play.

We feared that a vigil would be too dramatic, somehow creating more pain, but the public insisted. You all needed it and, little did we realize, so did we. We needed to say goodbye, pay our respects and let you pay yours. We needed to see your faces – all of your hundreds of faces – to fully appreciate how much Pet World means to this community. Our employees needed to see how much their work really matters. We needed to cry and release and I sincerely believe we couldn’t have done it without the community lifting us up. After the vigil we were finally able to let go. For that we are all very grateful.

This morning we woke up changed. Not healed, but with a new resolve. Over the course of 12 hours today we were able to clear out parts of the building, begin a tedious loss inventory, find another survivor (which is why we are doing this ourselves), decide on how to handle the pending donations (more on that tomorrow), secure a temporary location in the same shopping center to set up headquarters and a mini Pet World with basic, hard to find pet needs, and launch an online contact center so you regain easy access to us. You are telling us you feel lost and we want to be there for you. Very soon we’ll launch a contact page on our web site for all your pet needs and hard to ask questions. Within two weeks we will open a temporary location in the former Hume Music space between WheatState Pizza and Bikram Yoga. All of this happened from a collaborative effort inspired by our community.

You know what else? While I wrote this, some kind soul left flowers and the perfect sympathy card on our porch. Wow.

Only in Lawrence, Kansas. Seriously. This place is magic.

Official Statement Regarding the Fire

The Pet World staff would like to thank the community for the help during this very difficult time. The outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming. The picture to the right shows staff members after firefighters rescued Goliath, the store's locally famous burmese python.

Pet World is now reopen in our originl location.

To donate to fire relief efforts:

Visit any branch of Central Bank of the Midwest (formally Douglas County Bank) in Lawrence, Kansas
Mail to:
Central Bank of the Midwest
Pet World Relief Fund
300 W. 9th St.
Lawrence, Kansas 66044

Please scroll through all the posts for more UPDATES.


Our official statement:
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
(updated May 28, 2015)

Yesterday Pet World was closed for Memorial Day. At 8am, a team of staff members worked to care for the animals. Even when we are closed for a holiday, we always take care of the animals. Holidays are actually a beautiful time when the animals get a break from all the human activity and our employees get to spend uninterrupted time with the animals. Shortly after 9am the team locked up the store and headed to the tortoise farm (Pet World’s private, 80 acre nature preserve) for an annual staff event that started at 10am.

As far as we know, sometime after noon, an accidental fire broke out in the backroom of the store, in the electrical panels where electrical service enters the building. We have been informed that the fire was very intense and grew quickly, spreading up the wall and across the ceiling, between the ceiling tiles and the roof. It apparently reached the flashover stage in probably less than five minutes, when the seemingly safe, plastic and synthetic materials in the backroom area all became combustibles and simultaneously ignited, fuelng the fire beyond the point of reasonable rescue expectations. The front of the store – the parts all of you see – did not burn. The most tragic losses were all of Tim’s breeder snakes in the back who perished immediately as they were nearest to the heart of the fire. The one thing above all else that Tim cannot take is animal suffering. Most of the females were gravid (pregnant with eggs) which made this even harder to take. With the help and support of compassionate firefighters, the snakes were removed from the premises (in order to assist with their investigation of that backroom area) and were buried at the tortoise farm. This loss was a devastating blow. Tim will not be available for comment so please do not ask. He just needs space right now.

None of the pets in the rest of the store burned. The fire never reached the boarding room, the Education Room, nor the sales floor – only the backroom and the ceiling - but the heat was so intense it cracked the exterior concrete wall of the building and melted part of the fishroom 15 feet away from the flames. Many of the fish, reptiles, and arachnids survived but all of the mammals and birds died except for the feeder rodents and some litters of gerbils and hamsters in a separate structure. Firefighters allowed Tim to personally check every single cage in the store to recover all surviving animals and he did not stop until every living thing, down to the last goldfish, was recovered. I personally inspected every small mammal and bird enclosure. The pets all looked as if they had been sleeping in the rain. The pet loss was horrible but they were not burned. I don’t know why but for some reason we find this comforting to know. We’ve been assured that all the warm blooded animals died quickly from fumes and smoke. With the birds, who die from non-stick Teflon fumes, it was probably within minutes. In fact, we were told that it is very likely that had we been open when this happened, human lives would have been lost because there were no fire sprinklers in the building to keep the fire from growing while help was on the way.

Many of you know Bob, who always hangs out at PW in the mornings, introduces himself as Tim’s father-in-law, the token old guy, who is married to my mom. The gals at Westlake hardware had Bob’s number on file and called him immediately, while the gals at Lasting Impressions called us. The landline was immediately destroyed by the fire, unable to send a distress call, power was immediately lost, and we did not have monitored smoke detection with wireless or cellular capability. Firefighters were on the scene within minutes of th smoke reports, prying open the back door, and Bob, who lives nearby, unlocked the front door for them. The response time was impressive but it was already too late to save many lives because, without sprinklers or someoe there to use a fire extingisher, flashover occured quickly after the fire began.

Employees were in various stages of the staff 5K trail run when phones started ringing. Some were in the middle of the run, deep in the woods, and some had just finished, already en route back to Lawrence. Tim was actually about 50 yards from the finish line when we heard the news. His brother, Cale, told him and Tim literally kept running, right through the finish line, straight to Cale’s truck. Employees began arriving on the scene within about 15 minutes. Friends and family waited until everyone was safely back from the run and took care of everything there. A few non-employees ended up stuck briefly in the mud but even they came to Pet World afterward to help. All the surviving animals have either been temporarily rehomed or are in the process of being rehomed.

Emergency personnel, veterinarians, current and former employees, family, friends, and customers swarmed the pet store property helping in any way they could. The scene was poignantly tragic and beautiful at the same time. We are all incredibly grateful for the love and support of this community. When my eyes opened this morning, my first thought was of being surrounded by our staff who were surrounded by family who were surrounded by the community. My heart is truly overflowing.

The non-local press is asking us for numbers. We will not be announcing an official death toll any time soon. We don’t yet know exactly and at this point cannot see the significance of releasing this information. All of our actual customers know how many animals were in Pet World at any given time and are not interested in shock value or ratings. Regarding the lives lost, all animals who perished died quickly from fumes and smoke, except for Tim’s breeder snakes who died in the actual fire in the backroom. None of the other animals were exposed to the fire.

There were no dogs in the building. One adoptable kitten, Mindy, perished from the fumes and smoke. Fletcher, the store bird, did not survive and Queen Latifah, the store Crested Gecko, also did not survive. Haiku, our Taiwan Beauty, and our new chicken snake (Tiger Rat Snake) also perished. Many reptiles survived, including Carlita, Mushu, and Goliath. The large rescue tortoises were already at the tortoise farm for the summer.

The large catfish did not survive but a surprising number of fish did and have been transported to other pet stores. Friends who also own pet stores came to our rescue. Miles of Exotics in north K.C. and Olathe Pets are temporarily housing some of our surviving reptiles and fish, Safari Pets in Topeka is housing our feeder rodents, and PW employees are caring for the rest in their homes while the Mata Mata turtle recovers at Gentle Care animal clinic.

We would like to thank the Lawrence Humane Society staff and everyone else who joined forces to help. So many people want to help! At this time, we would like to ask that NO public funding be opened on our behalf. We have not authorized any GoFundMe accounts and respectfully request that no one contribute financially to any relief efforts on our behalf as none of them are officially linked to Pet World. We are currently evaluating the situation and if a relief fund is created it will be announced on this site. Until then, please do not be fooled into donating to an unauthorized fund. UPDATE: Please see above for official Relief Fund information.

I also must recognize the unbelievable compassion and effort of the firefighters. I have never witnessed such a high level of kind, respectful professionalism. I can’t fathom how they do it but I am truly in awe.

Everyone wants to know if this has been too much for Tim and if we will reopen. I will admit, this business is very hard. Setting the standards, constantly seeking the best possible ways to promote responsible pet ownership, employees working twice as hard as most for half of what they should get paid – it’s not easy. Our staff is the most dedicated you will ever meet. I wondered, last night, if this would break Tim. 27 years is a long time to keep up this pace. But when we were finally alone and it all sank in, Tim and I were able to discuss our options. I thought the hardest part of all this would be the loss of his life’s work – 20 years of breeder snakes. I was wrong. All he cared about were the kids and what they would do without Pet World in their lives.

Tim can never forget how he felt as a child when he and his young friends were refused entry to their local pet store and not allowed to hold the animals. He knows that the total separation of humans and animals will ultimately lead to the disconnection of humans and nature. We truly believe in our mission. I told him about the children who hugged me yesterday and assured me they would help us rebuild. So finally, this morning, I asked Tim what he wanted to do. He told me, without a doubt, we will rebuild and bring Pet World back to the Lawrence community as soon as possible.

"From he whom much is given, much is expected." Luke 12:48

We have been blessed with the ability to connect children to nature. That’s what matters most to us. We feel, as responsible stewards, that this is our calling and we will continue to answer it. We have two choices in life: surrender or fight. For us, surrender is not an option. We thank you for your patience, kindness, and support, and look forward to seeing you again soon.

Sherry Emerson
on behalf of the Pet World staff

Employment Opportunities

Voted BEST PLACE TO WORK in Lawrence, Pet World has long been known as an amazing work experience. We offer highly sought after internships and paid apprenticeships that can turn into flexible short and long term paid positions. After your time at PW, which is usually about 4-5 years for most, we'll help you complete an expert resume to launch a great career! Interested in joining the Pet World team? Check out our Employment Opportunities page for more info.

Location & Hours

Pet World
711 W 23rd Street
Lawrence, KS 66046

Phone: 785-841-7476

Mon - Fri: 10:00 am - 8:00 pm
Sat: 10:00 am - 7:00 pm
Sun: 11:00 am - 6:00 pm

Please see Contact Us page for exceptions to these store hours.

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