He’s a blind, toothless, albino runt that eats Gerber baby food because of his condition. If he were human, he might be shuffling along, stirring the gravel with his shoes along the fence at recess. For now, his name is Alby. But if he gets sold, that may change.
Mikaela Adams–Lasater, 11, can’t help but hold him. She lifts the frail guinea pig out of his cage with maternal gentleness inside Mom and Pop’s Pet Shop in Ashland.
“He’s just sweet, and he’s funny and he’s different than the other animals,” said Beth Fitzgerald, who owns the shop with her husband, Ross.
A light snow canceled classes, and Mikaela volunteered to help Fitzgerald at the pet shop, performing such duties as cleaning hamster cages, handling cockatiels and feeding the fish. For Mikaela, the fun is in handling the animals.
“I like the mice because I have a mouse, and she’s my companion,” she says. “She’s my baby.” Mikaela’s mouse’s name is Lucy. “Her middle name is Jane.”
From the outside, the shop’s modest sign belies the bustle inside. The hum of fish tank filters mixed with the sharp chirps of parakeets, cockatiels and lovebirds and the occasional croak of the tree frogs create the shop’s soundtrack. The squeak of the mouse wheel gets lost among the howls of Apollo, Fitzgerald’s playful black lab who is the first to greet customers. It’s one big cacophony that eventually fades into the background like elevator music as visitors browse the store.
Mom and Pop’s Pet Shop, which opened in April 2006, is the only pet store in Ashland. It’s nice not to have to drive to Columbia, customers say.
“The after-school crowd, they kind of browse around. They just kind of kill time and tell me about their day,” Fitzgerald said. “I do have several people who like to come in on a regular basis and just tell me how their pets are doing and ask questions.”
Regardless, Mikaela makes sure every-one gets a tour of the newest animal additions.
The spiny, black-and-white hedgehog lies curled in a miniature wooden house. “Her face just reminds me of the rainforest and like an anteater or something,” Mikaela says. “When you pet her, she feels like a hairbrush.”
She’ll make sure you see the “funky fins” of the angel fish, the neon glow of the violet tetras and the other “Finding Nemo” lookalikes.
“(At home) I have seven mice, two rats, one hamster, five birds and another dwarf hamster which is my brother’s. I have a gecko, five dogs, three cats and a bunch of fish,” Mikaela says.
If she’s not tending to her own collection, she’s volunteering at the pet shop.
“Any free time that I don’t have to do homework or something, then I’ll come here. I just like animals, I guess.”