It's inevitable: when you put kids, animals and 20-somethings together, mishaps are everywhere. All Pet World employees, from usually their very first day, start building a catalogue of mistakes, accidents and just straight bad news. I asked the managers to share a few of their cringe-worthy moments.
Ian: "Once upon a time in 2005, maybe 2006..."
Ian wasn't the beloved fish room manager just yet when this happened. One night while closing, young Ian, while vacuuming the fish room rugs, pulled around a corner a little farther than the vacuum cord would allow. Unfortunately, at this corner was a ladder.
"The cord pulled on the bottom of the ladder, straightening it up to the point it couldn’t stand up anymore. So it fell.
Into a 20 gallon fish tank.
"Water was everywhere, fish flopping on the floor. Water spilled all over the vacuum. Which I left on and running."
Ian's concern, bless his fish-loving soul, was the splattering of tetras on the tiles.
"I got them all into a different tank, but that vacuum cleaner was never the same."
Megan: "Is she still back there?"
This is a golden oldie for Pet World, but I had to include it here. Megan, former Education and Outreach Director, had to go do an offsite birthday party by herself. Usually this doesn’t happen, but scheduling was just hectic enough that Megan was all on her lonesome for this one.
The party was fine, until Megan decided to get out a Rose Hair Tarantula. "This is always fun, especially with a group full of rowdy boys and suddenly nervous parents. I showed her around without issue but as I'm going to put her back, she jumped onto my shoulder and promptly ran into the middle of my back."
Without employee backup, and in a room of parents and children that were at least mildly afraid of large arachnids, Megan had to carry on, checking with the birthday boy's mom periodically: "Is she still back there?"
"Once the party was done I asked if I could use their bathroom so I could remove my shirt to get the tarantula off of me. They agreed, as long as I promised to not to lose her in their house."
One of her most memorable parties, Megan had a good takeaway.
"PW employees have to learn to just roll with the punches."
Ande: “It smelled SO bad.”
Like Ian, Ande’s story happened well before she took over as the management role she’s best known for today- Kids’ Program Director. Usually once every couple months, Pet World’s Saturday morning program, Storytime Live, invites Goliath, our 12 foot Burmese Python, to come meet customers.
"The room was PACKED. There were so many people in there. Someone was reading I’m a Big Snake while I helped to hold Goliath."
Like many newer employees, Ande at the time was holding Goliath’s tail.
"And that’s when he peed on me. And I mean peed A LOT."
Which makes sense. If you’ve ever seen how much urine a 12-foot snake can produce, you already know that Ande was soaked.
"We stopped the story and had to clean it up because it just smelled so bad and the room was so hot with that many people in it."
They did finish the story and customers got to pet Goliath afterwards, but Ande had to do the rest of the presentation drenched in snake pee.
"My shorts were soaking. I had to change just to be able to finish my shift. I only hold his head now."
Faith: "It was a horrifying moment."
This story happened a little more recently. Reptile Manager Faith runs our store’s Instagram page, so she’s always looking for cool photo opportunities.
"I decided to put my phone in a fish bag and dip it into the Piranha tank to get a cool shot. The fish bags are water proof, obviously, so I thought this was foolproof."
As you can imagine, it wasn’t.
"The Piranhas started to get interested in the bag and coming up to it. I was getting some really cool photos with them so close. Until one of them bit the bag."
And in rushed plenty of tank water to ruin Faith’s smartphone.
"I took the case off immediately and watched the screen flicker and then just shut down."
The worst part of it all?
"I lost all the pictures." Of course, in addition to her contacts, customer information, and everything else you can name.
"Sometimes when I walk by their tank, I still give them the stink eye."
Xavier: "I had to scrub for so long."
Like many embarrassing stories, Fish Co-Manager Xavier’s moment came when he had just barely started working at Pet World.
"I had only been officially hired for a few days when I took my dog, Kyng, into Pet World with me while I bought some fish supplies."
Kyng is a high-energy, adorable pit bull, but he isn’t always the best behaved.
"He decided to poop while I wasn’t looking. But he decided to do it on one of the fish room rugs."
Instead of the easy-to-clean tile- which, if your dog is going to make any kind of mess, we kindly ask you aim for the 90% of the store’s floor which is tile- Kyng chose one of our few, relatively irreplaceable rugs.
"I had just started working here, so I felt so bad. I had to get on my hands and knees to try and clean it. It wasn’t something you could just pick up. I had to scrub for so long."
Xavier cleaned it up well, so we didn't fire him.
"Kyng hasn't been in the store since."
Phill: "I just ate it."
This next story happened off of the Pet World premises, but remains one of Phill’s most embarrassing work-related moments. Phill, as one of the few Pet World employees with a big truck, sometimes has to help customers get larger purchases to their homes.
"It was this huge cat tree. Platforms, tubes, scratching posts. Like, gigantic. I don’t even know where she put that thing in her house."
But Phill was there to deliver it for her. Because, hey:
"No way it was fitting in her little 4-door Sedan."
Phill, in addition to being one of the most helpful Pet World employees, is also one of the more high-energy and goofy ones.
"I don’t know, I just climbed up into the truck bed and thought I could jump down with this cat tree. The lady was standing right there when I tried."
Jumping off of the truck bed backwards, holding a cat tree that was taller than he was?
"Didn’t end well. I lost my balance and instead of jumping just ended up like…falling off my truck into the street. And this stupid cat tree just fell right on top of me."
Phill was okay, the cat tree unharmed and the customer good-natured about it.
"She didn’t say anything, but I could totally tell she thought I was an idiot."
Rachel: "I don’t want to talk about it."
This story is the worst of all of these, because it happened to me. That and there’s some death involved.
One of my favorite animals has been the Peacock Mantis Shrimp for a long time. They have little punchers that can strike the water with the same velocity as a bullet leaving a twenty-two caliber rifle. They’re big, they’re colorful, they’re deadly. I don’t know how they aren’t everyone’s favorite animal.
So when Ian told me we were getting one in, I was ecstatic. I probably went on my five minute long “why-you-should-love-the-Peacock-Mantis-Shrimp” rant to half of the customer base at Pet World by the end of its short little life.
Which I ended myself.
One Friday night in the fish room, Ian told me to rebuild the Mantis Shrimp’s tank and to release him into his new home when I was finished. They had put him in a Styrofoam container as a holding cell. I was about half-done rebuilding the tank when I checked on him and saw he didn’t look like he was doing well, which was when I thought to myself that putting him in the tank and then finishing the rest of it would be the best course of action for my little buddy’s well-being.
I know that you know where this is going.
I netted him out of his box, took a moment to lovingly admire him in a specimen cup, and then released him into the new tank.
Almost the moment he hit the water, the glorious, colorful, magnificent shrimp’s legs started flurrying and one second later, he flipped over onto his back, completely still, and floated to the bottom of the tank.
I’m sure if you had a photo of my face in this moment, it would be this:
And then as I comprehended just how bad this could really be, maybe more like this:
I threw down the fish net and sprinted to find Ian. He looked at me blankly. "Did you test the salinity of the water before you put him in?"
Well, uh. Darn it.
Needless to say, this is a perfect example of the sensitivity of marine invertebrates that we now use at every single fish training which means I get to relive this moment over, and over, and over. It will probably continue to be used as an example so that future Pet World employees can shake their heads at the murder of the Mantis Shrimp.
Customers, I hope this is your take away: If you’re gonna make a mistake, make it so big that you want to cry at least twice when you write it up for your blog because, at the end of the day, you’re still the one who accidentally killed your favorite animal. Make it big because the best kinds of mistakes are the ones that you can really learn from. And that can make you cringe for years and years to come.
Signing off for today,
The Tortoise Shell