I’m in Animal House on 4th Street, watching two chameleons delicately, patiently climb the wire walls of their cage, when a woman approaches the register beside me. She’s here for crickets and wax worms. Considering the store’s wide variety of reptiles, the black rabbit with its trembling nose, and thousands of species of fresh and saltwater fish, I’m not surprised when she tells me Animal House carries the “most succulent” wax worms in Corvallis.
A wry, almost calculated cackling arises from the front room. It’s Tango, the resident macaw—a riot of red, yellow, and blue with a formidable beak and a vocabulary rivaling any toddler’s. Behind Tango’s cage another room houses lovebirds, finches, and rare-hued budgies. In the large enclosures outside, throngs of cockatiels and even more budgies sing and chatter. The air vibrates with their voices.
The store is dim, labyrinthine, a tad cramped, but I completely trust Dale Stepnicka, the owner. He’s worked with tropical fish nearly his whole life—since he was a precocious nine-year-old—and spent 15 years breeding chinchillas. He and his staff raise guinea pigs, rabbits, and most of their birds in-house. The other critters—the lizards and turtles, the koi, the tree frogs—come from all over the world. And Stepnicka’s work doesn’t end when he leaves the shop; at home, he cares not only for several saltwater and freshwater aquariums, but also over 30 parrots. “You have to have a passion to do it,” he said. Damn straight.
Forget the fluorescent lighting of big box stores like Petco with their shiny floors and employees lulled into a stupor by the Muzak. At Animal House, open for over 30 years, you’ll find a staff who cares about their animals and customers.
I pull myself away from the chameleons and drift toward the bird room, stop in front of Tango’s cage. He hangs upside down and eyes me curiously.
“Hey,” he squawks.
Staff, Source, and Selection at Animal Crackers
By Kelsi Villareal
Dedicated to pet well-being, Kate Lindburg and Jim Dagata opened Animal Crackers in 1994 in order to supply the best products for pet health and nutrition. They stock items primarily for cats and dogs, as well as birds, rabbits, chickens, and small rodents, although the strangest pet they’ve ever had in was a skunk, which one woman brought by to have fitted for a harness.
If customers come in looking for products they don’t carry, they send them to one of the other pet stores in town. “We try not to compete with other locals,” said Shannon Proctor, who has been with Animal Crackers for seven years. Proctor’s dog, Bailey May, who joins her at work, is chewing on a tendon that looks like a large piece of taffy.
“We’ve got a really big selection of body parts,” Proctor said. Besides pet food, bones, tendons, hoofs, and other treats for dogs and cats are Animal Cracker’s most popular items. The store sells a variety of food designed for pets with different needs. For instance, some is made from kangaroo meat for animals with allergies to more common proteins. Animal Crackers also offers a nail trimming service, asking for donations to animal shelters instead of payment.
Animal Crackers is a great place both to shop for healthy pet supplies and to indulge in silly pet accessory buying urges. Bailey May has her own doggy bike basket and doggy goggles, both items sold at the store. Animal Crackers also sells a box cake mix for dogs, which comes in peanut butter, pumpkin, and red velvet flavors.
Lindburgh said she mostly works with domestic family-held suppliers for foods, and is clearly proud of the store’s staff, many of whom have been there for quite awhile. She is also a past president of the Corvallis Independent Business Alliance, a group that advocates for local sourcing.