Beware of the Customers

29 Nov

My friend Jackie McLean is a fellow writer, who also used to run a pet shop. She had told me plenty of hilarious anecdotes about her workplace, so when we decided to do a blog swap (my question and answer post will appear on Jackie’s blog soon), I asked her to tell me some of the best stories from her shop:

You’d think running a pet shop was all about the animals, but often as not, during our six years of running our shop, it was the owners who took us aback.

Sometimes it was heart-breaking, like the old lady who was desperately ill but refused to go into hospital because there was nobody to look after her cat. A neighbour came to the shop for help, and we managed to arrange foster care for the cat.

Sometimes it was shocking, like the woman who ran into the shop with a cat under each arm, looking for pet carriers. She was fleeing domestic violence.

Sometimes amazing, like the builder who was sitting on scaffolding high up on a building, eating his lunch, when a cockatiel flew over to him. It sat beside him, turned its head towards him, and said, “Hello.” The builder said he almost fell off the scaffolding, but the bird stayed with him from then on.

We soon got used to some of the things people would say, such as:

“Do you have fat balls?”
“Have you got pigs’ ears?”

Or, the one we got the most frequently (upon picking up a bag of dog food), “What does this taste like?”

Sometimes, however, it just wasn’t possible to keep a straight face. When the wee old lady walked into the shop, and asked our assistant, “Where’s your nuts, son?” there was a pile-up on the floor as we laughed until it hurt.

One of my favourites was an older man who came in, telling us that his male pigeon was laying eggs. Breaking all the rules, I answered back, “No, he isn’t.” The man was insistent – his male pigeon was laying eggs. I tried to explain the basics of the underlying biology, but to no avail. His male pigeon was laying eggs. Definitely wasn’t a female. Couldn’t be – the breeder had said it was a male!

The pet shop was often a focal point for reporting strays and injuries. One day a group of schoolchildren piled in, traumatised to have seen a seagull knocked down by a taxi. The gull was badly injured and in its distress was flapping around all over the road, causing traffic mayhem. Word about the gull spread quickly, and I’ll never forget the sight of Allison charging out of the shop, armed with a box and a big net, and followed by the schoolchildren and several customers. Off they went, following the gull’s progress along the road (lots of squawking and yelling, and crowds began to gather), until it flew over a garden fence and managed to get inside a shed. Undaunted, our heroes…er…broke into the shed and retrieved the bird. Fortunately the shed owner was pleased to have unexpectedly helped in the rescue.

It’s the animals, however, who must have the last word. They constantly surprised us:

We bought in a group of piranha, and fascinated by their fearsome reputation, we were astonished when they all fainted! So shy are these creatures, that the appearance of a human face in front of their tank scared the living daylights out of them.

Sometimes they caused us panic:
We were cleaning out the rats’ cage, when a customer came in and asked us for some advice on fish food. We realised we hadn’t closed the cage properly, when we saw one of the rats casually climb out and drop onto the floor directly behind the customer’s feet. Helpless, we distracted the customer while the rat plodded by and into the back office. As soon as the customer left the shop, oblivious to the goings-on behind her, we locked up and raced through to the office to search for the rat. Fortunately it quickly gave away its whereabouts by noisily munching on the business accounts.

And sometimes we were left awestruck:
Frances the leopard gecko was a young lizard with particularly beautiful markings. But only days after arriving in the shop, she was missing from her vivarium. We hunted high and low, but there was no sign of her. The viv doors were properly locked, and when the rep from the reptile supplier showed us how easily the doors could be removed and that theft of reptiles was rife, we accepted that she had probably been stolen. Fast forward one full year. I was opening the shop one morning, and was reaching for the light switch, when I became aware of something long and stripey hurrying past my feet. Alarmed, we began a detailed search, and there behind the heated tropical fish tanks, was Frances the leopard gecko! She had kept herself fit and well on the loose in the shop for a year – hats off!

Jackie’s novel Toxic has recently been released by Thunderpoint Publishing. Just to warn you, though, it’s not about charming but poisonous geckos 800px-Juvenile-leopard-geckoor something. Instead it’s a gritty crime thriller, with a very nasty villain who does some very nasty things. In Jackie’s words, it’s “at least a 15 certificate”. Suitably warned, please feel free to buy the book from your bookshop of choice, or on Kindle, or pop across to Jackie’s blog to find out more about the Bhopal Disaster that inspired Toxic. A proportion of the profits will go to the Bhopal Medical Appeal.

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One Response to “Beware of the Customers”

  1. The Hopeful Herbalist November 29, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

    Well you two! 👏👏👏😃

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