Having no friends Haley asked her mother if she could volunteer at the SPCA on the weekends and hang around the pet store after school. With the store manager’s permission she’d spend hours helping feed the animals and cleaning their cages. Despite being a girl she was by no means girly, in fact she was a bit of a tomboy and was immediately attracted to the creepy and unique appearance of snakes, spiders, and lizards but despite feeding them live mice or crickets they were pretty boring as far as being a pet. The snakes slept a lot, spiders hid under the fake log, and lizards although they could change color didn’t move much in their cages. The lizards had stiff postures like a living statue performer on the street or protracted calculating movements almost like they were moving in slow motion although the chameleons bulging eyes and long extrudable tongue that reminded Haley of Gene Simmons and Gekos lack of eyelids and consent eyeball licking made her smile.

In regards to fish Haley was memorized by their playful or combative darting motion and she found the tropical fish so much more interesting then fresh water fish because of the variety of sizes, crazy shapes, and  brilliant colors like clown fish, long slinky eels, flat, stingrays that flap their sides like wings, puffer fish bloating in a show of strength, tightly curled seahorses, and the king of the tank, sharks. Haley hated seeing every last customer tap on the fish tanks disturbing and confusing them when they sensed the vibration.

The birds could be ear-shattering at times and their shitty cages disgusting to clean but Haley found the feathery pets had an attraction of their own. She thought the pretty little finches made such soothing sounds while the yellow and red canaries who were famous for their beautiful warbling lived up to their acclaim. The birds’ renditions were music to her ears. But the Parakeets were in a class of their own the most colorful by a long shot, equal to the energizer bunny in its vigor, and although the other birds interacted by whistling and singing Parakeets were very social with people and could be trained to say a lot of words. The very least she could do for them was clean out their shitty cages. It irked Haley when customers shook the cage literally ruffling the poor bird’s feathers.

Not to be undervalued were the bunnies, puppies, and kittens whose fluffy or furry coats had an immediate calming effect the moment you pet them. And their yelps or mews for attention just broke your heart so you couldn’t help but want to pick one up at which point you were hooked because either their eyes sucked you in or their tiny tongue licked your hand or face. Every time she was there which had become almost a daily occurrence Haley received the affection she was missing at home from the cute and cuddly.

The day she graduated high school Haley’s father was killed when he was hit by a young driver talking on his cell phone. The early-twenty driver lost his license for ten years and was given a sentence of five years in jail which seemed too lenient of a sentence as far as Haley and her mom was concerned. With no life insurance they had to move and the pet store manager offered for them to rent an old house he owned for $500 a month but warned it was really run down but beggars couldn’t be picky and they were thankful and took him up on his offer.

Haley now worked full-time at the pet store and she took ownership, felt responsible for all the critters like their big sister in a way so when one was sold it upset her greatly when she felt that the new owner was unworthy and unreliable. She grimaced the time a man brought his daughter some fish and the little girl was shaking them in the bag of water in order to make them more active. Or when a teenage boy came into the store almost every week and bought a new pet he quickly got bored of them and threw them out like trash. She couldn’t count the number of times people traded one pet for another disposing of the unwanted animal in unconsciously brutal ways not caring what was in store for the discarded pet. There was a horrific phenomenon of flushing fish down the toilet and setting free reptiles, rodents, and birds outside regardless of the terrain or climate, not to mention the abundance of dogs and cats that were turned into the Humane Society. A contributing factor to this growing phenomenon was caused by customers who bought a pet for a friend or family member as a gift only to find out they didn’t have the time, interest, or money to sustain the unwanted gift.

Her mother was secretly relieved that Haley spent so much time at her workplace where she could keep an eye on her but she didn’t realize how little she talked to people and the effect that had on her personality. Haley was much more comfortable spending time with the animals then she was interacting with people; the irritating politeness, rules of social behavior, and extreme effort it took to talk to humans wasn’t worth it. Pets were loyal companions who never judged you, were always around when you needed them, and never expected you to be something you weren’t. The pets at the store gave Haley things she didn’t get anywhere else. It was a perfect friendship where they needed her as much as she needed them ironically the same sentiment that old Ms. Kitty Kat had about her cats.

Illustrated by: Jason Hendrickson