Florida Keys Business
Sunday, September 23, 2012
Animal attraction
Longtime pet shop pampers all types of Keys critters

Jennifer Wolf knows her customers and all their little quirks. Some are watching their weight, while others are losing their hair. Some come in seeking relief from flea bites, while others just need to sink their teeth into something other than shoes and furniture.

The customers come in all shapes and sizes, but even the tiniest and most timid get the same compassionate attention as the most obnoxious squawkers.

Wolf and her husband, Mike, own The Pampered Pet, a full-service pet store that has been catering to Key West's furry, feathered and finned residents for more than 30 years.

The shop first opened in 1976, when it was located in Key Plaza at the site of the current Radio Shack, but it has been tucked into Conch Plaza, next to GFS, for more than two decades.

"There no reason to go anywhere else," Mike Wolf said last week while lamenting the hardship brought on by the North Roosevelt Boulevard construction project. "We're down about 30 percent. I knew the construction was coming, but I drastically underestimated its impact."

The couple is hoping for continued support from the local community to help them during the dust-up out front that has kept the parking lot of Conch Plaza all but empty for the past few months.

The Pampered Pet is now offering free delivery of pet supplies during the construction nightmare, and Jennifer emphasized that their shopping center remains easily accessible from Flagler Avenue via Seventh Street.

"One of the things that sets us apart from others is our customer service," Jennifer Wolf said. "Mike and I bought this place because of my love for animals. We didn't come down here to put others out of business or to make millions by overcharging people."

The couple moved to Key West in 2002 from St. Louis, where Mike worked as a police officer and Jennifer worked for and volunteered with various animal rescue agencies. Jennifer started working at The Pampered Pet under the former owners, and then bought the business in 2005.

"Things were going great until the construction," she said, adding that even the opening of a "big box pet store" down the street hadn't hampered them much. "People have what I call the Wal-mart mentality that makes them assume everything will be cheaper in a chain store. But that's not the case."

The Pampered Pet will match any competitors' prices, Jennifer said.

"I'll even show my customers [the human ones] the invoices I get from a company, so they see how much I'm paying for a product," Jennifer said. "And I always pass on any deals or discounts I get to my customers. We bought this business because we love animals."

The shop offers a full line of food for everything from fish and ferrets to cats and chameleons, rabbit and reptiles. It also sells fish, birds, small animals like hedgehogs, ferrets and bearded dragons, the reptile that's known as "the dog of the reptile world" for their personality and ease of care.

"I won't sell something that's going to be too difficult for someone to care for, so it will end up being released or given to an animal shelter," Jennifer said, adding that the former owner sold iguanas that are now such a nuisance in yards throughout the Keys. "I want to be part of the solution, not the problem."

The shop is in the process of expanding its marine fish selection, and already offers a huge variety of tropical and other fish.

Manager Angela Riley will test the water of customer's fish tank to ensure the salinity and other levels are correct.

"And she knows exactly which fish can live with other fish, and how much room they need," Mike Wolf said. "We're also going to start growing our own corals."

The re-release of the 3-D version of the movie "Finding Nemo" has prompted Riley to dream up a "Finding Nemo" tank at The Pampered Pet featuring clownfish like Nemo and blue tangs like Dory.

The shop used to sell puppies, but the Wolfs had an ethical problem with it, knowing how many dogs end up unwanted, neglected or abused in animal shelters and need good homes.

"We're here for the good of the animals," Jennifer said, adding that the shop also boards animals for vacationing owners and offers grooming services.

"I also try to have something to accommodate everyone's budget," Jennifer said. "We don't only carry the most expensive, top-of-the-line dog foods, because there are always less expensive, high-quality options available, and we sell high-quality items for less than people expect. I do my homework, and I won't carry something I wouldn't give to our own animals.:

"If people have a problem with anything, we just make it right," Mike said. "And we're really hoping the local community will continue to support a longtime, locally owned store during this rough patch of the construction."

Four-legged friends are always welcome in The Pampered Pet, where two resident cats lazily demonstrate the display models of climbing posts.

"There's just no reason for people to go anyplace else," Mike Wolf said before he was interrupted by one of the shop's most vocal guests -- a chatty macaw that cheerfully adds his two cents to any conversation while keeping a wary eye out for any cats around his spacious cage.


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