Some good news for reptile owners

It’s still going to be possible to get live rodents for your snakes and lizards.

Roxanne provided our live mice and, I believe, frozen ones too, for the last few years. You can contact her at:



She’s working at increasing her stock to meet demand, and is adding rats to the – um – menu. Support your local rodent raiser!

Bunnies! Bunnies!

We have three five-week-old bunnies in the store. They’re fairly calm and easy to handle, and, of course, cute as a button.

It’s also close to the end of pond season. David will be taking down the pond section out at the back of the store. Some of the larger fish will be coming in. The Tiger Shovelnose, Dr. Wellfish, has had a happy summer out in the large pool. There are a few other large fish still available.

One of our guests

Dudley is back at the Hotel Animalia. He’s a blue-fronted Amazon, and a regular boarder at the store. He gets along well with Jack, and really loves Jack’s outdoor cage.

Dudley’s a gorgeous bird, friendly with Jack, but not so friendly with people. He’s bitten David once or twice; if customers are interested in petting him, he warns them off in no uncertain terms.

So why have a bird like this? Well, because most of the time a bird like Dudley is with his family, the people he’s bonded to. In his home he’s probably quite different, in part because he’s much more relaxed. When he’s boarding with us, he’s in a new place, surrounded by unfamiliar people. Some of those people have no experience with birds and don’t know how to approach them. He’s on his guard.

Dudley is a very good boarder; he doesn’t kick up a fuss about everything, he doesn’t attack strangers or pine for his people. He eats and takes an interest in his surroundings, and while he’s not the easiest bird for a stranger to deal with, he lets David put him away at night in his cage.

A few years ago we boarded an African Grey named Cato. We liked Cato, and he seemed all right with us. One day, however, he did something that made me think he was probably smarter than I gave him credit for. We had a customer in the store who was afraid of birds. She was at the cash register paying for her purchase when she noticed Cato sitting on Jack’s perch in the middle of the store.

“Oh, I’m afraid of birds,” she said. “Will he fly at me?”
“No, he’s never flown at anyone,” I said. In fact, I’d never seen Cato take wing at all.

You can guess what happened, of course. Cato immediately did a perfect flight right over her head, just brushing her hair, and slid to a stop on the counter. I thought I was going to have to call 911 for the poor woman.

I bet people hotels don’t have to put up with stuff like that!

Lights! Camera! Action!…

…is exactly what they don’t shout on a movie set. Yes, we heard “action!”, but mostly the warning was “Picture’s up!”, then “Rolling!”

Tuesday the crew of Foxfire, the movie being shot in Sault Ste Marie, came around with a cube van to pick up the hamsters, rats, fish and birds to be installed in the 1950s pet store set. Tuesday evening after work David and I went down to make sure everyone was set up, fed and watered for the night. Wednesday David took the iguana down. (Jack, unfortunately, was going to be way too noisy. No stardom for him!) Here, however, is David next to Tim Hewitt, a Sault Ste Marie actor playing the pet store owner. (Originally Hewitt’s character was going to wear suspenders!)

David was slated to spend the whole day on set, on call to do anything that needed to be done with the animals. I went along because – well, partly because if I hadn’t, this blog post would consist of “It was interesting”.

And it was interesting. As well as our animals, there were dogs, brought in by T.A.A.G.. Whatever the animal was – hamster, puppy, bird, iguana, there was oooohing and aaaahing over it. I was greatly amused to see Katrina Saville taking pictures of the hamsters with her cell phone. Here’s a script supervisor working with an award-winning director, and she’s getting all mushy over some admittedly quite cute little rodents! It just goes to show you – most people love animals.

The animals were well looked after. The crew might be sweltering, the actors might be sweltering, but the animals had air conditioning all day. The dogs were moved into the set for a shoot and moved right back out when the scene was done. If the way the critters were treated on this set is any indication of the industry standard, then the standard is good.

It was a long day for everyone, and by the time we were able to take the animals back to the store it was almost seven o’clock. They were none the worse for wear except that one or two fish died. Even with the air conditioning on in the “store” set, I’m astonished we lost no more than that.

So there’s show business for you. “Foxfire” will be coming out in 2012. We have two budgies and a bunch of finches, hamsters and rats who are now experienced in looking cute for the camera. Wait a minute – they knew how to do that before!

Pop goes the weasel!

We have an adorable, friendly, pettable young ferret who has just come in to the store. This is a sable ferret, the dark-coated, dark-eyed variety rather than the albino or any of the more obscure colours. He’s obviously been gently handled because he’s very sweet and tame.

Almost all ferrets in the pet trade are neutered within a few weeks of birth. A ferret can live as long as 12-13 years with good care. They’re a hardy, friendly pet, sleeping about 19 hours a day and fitting an entire twenty-four hours’ worth of energy into the remaining five. A ferret should have a secure sleeping place, such as a cage, so that he doesn’t take off and find his own corner in which to hide and drive you crazy trying to find him. An adult ferret can fit through a 1″ x 2″ hole, so that corner could be just about anywhere!

There are specially formulated ferret foods for these critters, and a high-quality kitten food is also an option.

Baby hamsters

These baby Roborovsky (robo) hamsters were born this afternoon. Robo hamsters are the smallest hamsters in the world.

They’ll be ready for new homes in the first week of July.

Savannah monitor

Recently one of our customers had to give up his savannah monitor. He brought in in to us. Currently the lizard is about two feet long, but he’ll grow.

A full-grown savannah is an impressive lizard, up to five feet in length. At the same time, savannahs are very calm and docile, if well-handled. We had another customer whose small daughter used to carry the savannah draped over her shoulder like a doll, and the lizard seemed quite content.

They’re also a handsome lizard, in varying shades of reddish tan to bluish grey. As far as I can tell, “lounge lizard” definitely applies to them, although they can move very fast when they’re warm and motivated. They’re native to Africa, although almost any savannah you get in the pet trade will have been bred in captivity.

Because they get large, they need a lot of food – not as much as a comparably-sized dog, because savannahs are, after all, cold-blooded. Because of that, though, they do need a lot of heat. The ambient temperature needs to be in the 75-80 F (24-27 C)  degree range, and the basking spot should be about 100  F (38 C).

You’ll also need a lot of space for the savannah. A lizard that gets five feet long is probably going to need his own room eventually. The good news is he won’t expect it equipped with cable and internet.

At this

The outdoor ponds

The outdoor ponds have been set up, and the koi, pond fish and turtles moved out. We’re expecting a small order of new koi – kohaku and sanke – this afternoon. Plants will be coming in a week or so – water lettuce and water hyacinth, and probably lilies as well.

Plants serve many functions in a pond. Some, like hornwort, are active oxygenators. Surface plants such as water lilies and water lettuce cast shade and provide shelter and hiding places for fish. Fish who have somewhere to hide are more likely to come out. They feel secure knowing they can hide when they’re threatened.

Plants also cut algae growth two ways. They reduce light, and they take up nutrition. Algicides are illegal in Canada, so any help you can get to keep algae down in your pond is good.

The showpiece of the outdoor section is the big pool, 1400 gallons. Currently the large koi from inside the store, as well as a large ID shark and our own Dr Wellfish, the tiger shovelnose catfish, have been moved outside. Fish do better in sunshine, and koi with hi (pronounced “hee” – the red colour) become very much brighter with exposure to sunlight. Algae helps their colour, too.

Budgies? We don’t need no steenkin’ budgies!

But we have them!

When David worked at Menagerie in Toronto, they used to order from Fish and Bird. Now Fish and Bird is making biweekly deliveries to Sault Ste Marie. They come on the off-week for Straits, which means that we get a fish order every week. We’re getting different things from the two different suppliers. Straits doesn’t carry birds – unless they’ve recently hired Monty Python to staple fins to finches – but Fish and Bird does.

We have some lovely young budgies available . People always ask “Are they hand raised?” Chances are, no. But more important than that is that they’re young birds and will be easier to tame.

Here’s a little secret: paying a premium for a hand-raised bird in a pet store is probably a waste of money. Yes, a hand-raised bird is tamer than a parent-raised one, but only if it is consistently handled. If you leave that hand-raised baby in a cage, it will lose its special tameness. Most pet stores don’t have the time and personnel to keep handling the birds.

If you get those hand-raised babies fast enough, yes, they’ll still be more handleable and tamer than their parent-raised fellows. If you don’t, you’re starting again. The good news is that young birds can be tamed quickly with a little effort and patience.

Another good bet is an older bird that’s come in from a home where it had lots of attention. We’ve placed birds that people have brought to us because they had to give them up, and some of those birds have bonded beautifully to their new owners. If you can give a bird enough attention, you can win its little feathered heart.

Koi coming

At the end of May I’ll be driving down to Southern Ontario to choose the koi for the year. It’s one of my favourite things to do for the pet store. While I like to get some of the popular patterns like kohaku (red and white) and sanke (white with red and black spots), I also look for some unusual patterns, like karasu (black) or chagoi (brown or bronze or greenish, tea-coloured fish).

Recently we got some large koi from someone who was no longer keeping a backyard pond. These fish are beautiful and in excellent condition, with smooth, healthy skin and good body conformation. One sanke (bottom left) has lots of shiro (white) with a branching pattern of sumi (black) along the spine and several large spots of hi (red). The other (top right)  has a rather cloudy sumi overlying the hi. The large koi is doitsu (scaleless) with large mirror scales along the spine. Finally, there’s a lovely darker fish, possibly a goromo (robed), with black markings over what appears to be hi (red).

Bear in mind that all the koi you find in the pet trade are lower-grade koi, not the high standard show koi. The prices reflect this. While a large koi in the pet trade might cost you as much as $200-$300, that wouldn’t begin to cover the cost of a top-grade show fish.

All the same, the only reason to buy a koi is that you like the way the fish looks. Try to see it from the top, as that is how you’ll be seeing it in the pond. Koi are bred to be viewed from above, so the side view of the fish doesn’t matter that much.

Most of these new koi are about 12″ in length, as you can see by the ruler included in the picture. (We put that in for scale – snicker!) The white doitsu is about 14″ long. We have some 5-8″ koi which will be coming into the store in a couple of weeks.

The fish I’ll be choosing at the end of May will be considerably smaller and less expensive. We buy some small koi every year, in spite of the saying that “Only a fool would buy a three-inch koi, and only a fool would sell one.” This is because the colour changes a lot as the fish grows and matures. A promising three-inch fish can turn muddy or lose most of its red colour. Alternately, an uninspiring-looking three-incher might turn into a lovely adult. You never can tell.

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