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Small business animals of Cranbrook

Step inside a number of local stores and you’ll meet some interesting characters – the pets who really run the shop
Clockwise from top: Titten lies in a sunny spot at Kathy’s Kitchen; at Total Pet

A bunny that likes to dress up, a cat that dreams of foreign escapes, a pig named Gordon Hamsey and a parrot who's a little too fond of a drink... you will find each of these animals and more at work in Cranbrook stores.

Many local businesses have pets that live in the store 24/7, and each has an important job to do. What they all have in common, though, is that they are the real brains of the operation and like to call the shots.

The matriarch of the Cranbrook store feline alumni is Rosie at Lotus Books on 10th Avenue. Owner Erin Dalton said the 15-year-old cat was already running the store when she bought it last year.

"She decided I would do," Erin laughs. "She is definitely the boss."

Rosie spends most of the day sleeping on her perch by the front door, demanding at least two brushes a day.

But the senior feline gets her rock on when the book store hosts musical guests. Erin tells of the time a bluegrass band performed an intimate concert at Lotus Books. Thinking Rosie would make herself scarce, Erin was surprised when the cat strolled onto the stage mid-performance and began weaving around the legs of the musicians, especially the drummer who had trouble reaching the drums.

Across the street at The Paw Shop, cat Banjo has been resident for the past three years. Owner Stephanie McGregor adopted Banjo – then known as Patches – from the SPCA after she was brought in covered in paint and paint thinner.

Banjo quickly recovered at The Paw Shop and learnt to get over her distrust of dogs, preferring to pretend they are not there.

She does not ignore customers, though – just the opposite. Banjo likes to sit on shelves as customers are perusing the goods and reach out with a paw to bat at the human until they oblige her desire for pets. She even launches herself onto their shoulders if she really likes the look of them.

Banjo is also an excellent foster mother, caring for a batch of kittens at the store on a rotating basis. Right now, there are half a dozen kittens at The Paw Shop, fostered from the SPCA, waiting for their forever homes.

In her spare time – if she is in an obliging mood – Banjo will even sit, high five and play dead on demand.

Just around the corner on Baker Street, cat Titten has an entire block of stores wrapped around her finger. Titten's permanent home is at natural food store Kathy's Kitchen, but she likes to visit the neighbouring stores.

Titten often perches on the back step of Sakura, sniffing the alluring scent of tuna but frustrated that she is not allowed inside. She stops by Maritime Travel to dream about warm vacations in faraway places. She slips through the door of Pages Book Emporium to inspect new additions to the collection. Yet Titten always knows when Kathy’s Kitchen is about to close, and staff find her at the door when they are ready to lock up. Many days you will spot her lying in the window display, soaking up the sun.

Owner Kathy Simon said Titten was born under her bed and was a companion for her granddaughter for a while. But when Titten was brought to Kathy’s Kitchen, as Kathy tells it, “she looked around the store and said, ‘Holy geez, I’m home!’”

At the other end of town, Buddy “the brat cat” rules the roost at Top Crop Garden, Farm and Pet, says staff member Kerstin Renner. Buddy, who has a weakness for cat nip that is bordering on a problem, considers himself the official taste tester in Top Crop’s pet department. He has a refined palate, but generally gives a big tick of approval to anything containing cat nip.

Buddy generally avoids dogs or looks down his nose at their sycophant behaviour. Baby chickens are another matter: their chirping gets on Buddy’s nerves and he has to leave the building.

Buddy arrived at Top Crop during the big windstorm of July 2012. He was dripping wet and malnourished when he wandered into the nursery. But after declaring himself the shop mascot, Buddy quickly recovered.

As well as the cats of Cranbrook stores, there are other unique animals that make their home around town.

At AABCO Pawnbrokers, Merlin the cockatoo chats with customers every day. He’ll say hello, point out that he is a bird, then ask for a cracker. If he doesn’t get one, Merlin will dismiss the customer with, “Whatever.” If he spots a pretty lady, he’ll let out a wolf whistle to get her attention.

Owner Neil Hemming says Merlin came along about 18 years ago when a customer couldn’t pay. Neil accepted Merlin as payment.

“We used to take him to the bar,” Neil recalls. “But he had a problem with alcohol – he enjoyed it too much. So we put him in rehab.”

Merlin is in his mid 20s and will live to as old as 85.

There’s also a parrot a block away from AABCO at Total Pet. Sambo the macaw likes to chat to customers,  too, greeting them with a cheery hello but telling them to go home if he isn’t impressed.

It seems parrots have addictive personalities, because Sambo has a touch of kleptomania. He likes to steal things like glasses, car keys and hats from customers, then take them back to his perch to play with them.

In August, Sambo got the surprise of his life when a new resident made himself at home at Total Pet. Gordon Hamsey is a young micro mini pig who will grow to about 25 pounds.

The friendly pig likes getting to know visitors to the store, but he already knows Sambo is his competition. The two animals will yell back and forth at each other, with Gordon letting out a squeal that Sambo will copy, then Gordon will respond, and so on. “It gets pretty loud,” said staff member Scotty Jacobson.

A rather more demure animal lives at Just 4 Pets on the strip. Bunny Humphrey, who is two years old, likes to lie as still as possible on his perch as customers approach, then lunge at them for pets just as soon as they have decided the rabbit must be fake.

Humphrey likes to dress up, and this past Halloween he was a pumpkin.

In the morning while staff are feeding and cleaning pens, Humphrey hops around to visit his neighbours.

He has been known to hop into an open cupboard and lie very still – his speciality – when staff come back to close the door. It will take some time before they notice he’s missing, said staff member Alana Mallard, but Humphrey will be sleeping happily.

Whether cat or bird, pig or bunny, Cranbrook’s store pets make shopping more fun.