Little pets, big love

Smaller animals can make great pets for busy families

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published February 26, 2015

 This 4-month-old chameleon was bred in the Premier Pet Supply store in Beverly Hills.

This 4-month-old chameleon was bred in the Premier Pet Supply store in Beverly Hills.

Photo by Deb Jacques

You know, not all beloved pets let out a woof or a purr.

Some of the very best friends have scales, tails or even eight legs. The world of small pets is vast, and it can also be pretty darn convenient for on-the-go animal owners who don’t have tons of time to devote to a little pal.

Mike Palmer, owner of Premier Pet Supply in Beverly Hills, said there can be lots of benefits to owning a smaller animal like a hamster, a gerbil or — believe it or not — a rat.

“Rats make surprisingly great pets. They’re smart and really affectionate,” said Palmer. “They’ll hang out in the front pocket of your sweatshirt or right on your shoulder. You can train them, too, which is pretty neat.”

Premier Pet Supply also has hedgehogs, chinchillas, Brazilian short-tailed opossums and other small pets customers can adopt. And while you might not be able to leash your new possum up for a jog around the block like you might with a dog, there are lots of benefits to having a pint-sized pet.

“The care and maintenance is definitely easier,” Palmer explained. “They’re contained in a cage or some type of habitat, so if you have some type of space or time restraints, it’s a great option. It can be hard with after-school activities to be there to let the dog out or go for walks, especially in the winter.”

Keith Dzialak said he has 31 years of experience showing people that the smaller animals they might’ve thought of as pests are actually kind of precious.

“I try to debunk fear of people, because a lot of these animals are misunderstood by people,” said Dzialak, owner of Pets & Things Reptile Emporium in Utica. “A lot of people hear the word ‘snake,’ for instance, and would be creeped out. I can tell you story after story of kids who want that snake, but Mom won’t come in past the door. But after an hour, she wants one of her own. Oftentimes fears are not warranted, and I make people a lot more comfortable.”

Dzialak’s ready to make customers right at home in his shop of unusual pets, from reptiles and amphibians to arachnids and scorpions — you name it, he’s got it.

“Here’s the thing: It’s like keeping a tropical fish. A lot of people don’t consider those pets because you can’t reach in and pet them. But the people who have them get great enjoyment out of it,” said Dzialak. “It’s definitely a growing market.”

He’s also got a wealth of knowledge to match each customer with the right animal. Many of the pets in his shop aren’t the kind that can be interacted with, but rather are observed from day to day as you care for them. Tarantulas, for instance, aren’t meant to be handled.

“It stresses them out,” he explained. “What you’re doing for all intents and purposes is setting up a beautiful enclosure, taking good care of it and taking enjoyment in watching it do what it does in its own little chunk of the world that you’ve created for it.”

That hands-off or low-maintenance experience can be great for families that are busy, first-time pet owners and families that that need more flexibility, Dzialak said.

“Snakes can pretty much only eat once a week, because it takes a whole week to metabolize that food. So if you go out of town for a long weekend, that’s a great pet to have,” he said. “A lot of these animals are not in need of daily care; they’re very content to come out and enjoy your company, but they’re not craving it. They’re not sad if you don’t take it out for that day or two you’re gone.”

Palmer agreed. In fact, he said that smaller pets are also a great way for parents to gauge their child’s responsibility before they get a larger pet like a puppy or a kitten, since the maintenance is lower.

“We always want to talk to families because we want them to know the time and care and financial investment it takes to have a pet,” he said. “Especially the moms, because ultimately it’ll be down to them to take care of it and clean the cage if (their child) loses interest. That’s our responsibility as a pet store, to talk to kids and know that they did their research and know that they know what they’re getting themselves into.

“When I go to schools to talk about animals, we talk about the four basic things they need: food, water, exercise and a clean home. I relate that to what their parents have to provide for them at home and how, if they were to get a pet, that’s what they have to provide for an animal for them to have a happy and healthy life.”