Walking, drinking, poking, and BARFing -- tips, tricks, tales (and cocktails) for your best friend. Plus: local pet stores we love
Animal Connection isn't peddling short-lived hamsters or toilet-bound goldfish. The Sunset District store aims to provide customers with scaly roommates and feathered friendships that last. "We want to connect animals and people, and have them live happily and responsibly in a successful relationship," says store manager Jennifer Grafelman.
Originally specializing in general pet supplies and birds, the store has since gone exotic, carrying everything from blood-fin tetras to cockatoos to fire-bellied salamanders to chinchillas.
The place has that pet store smell, a mix between grocery store bulk grain aisle and greenhouse aviary. Behind the register desk, assistant manager Joe Taylor has a chirping, green-feathered handful. "Tatter," a rainbow lorikeet named for his fondness for sweet potatoes, is belly up in Taylor's palm enjoying a stomach rub. Although he's for sale, not just anybody can take the bird home; the staff discourages capricious purchases. "He's super-playful, but that bird is not for everybody," Taylor said. "He's messy, has a real specific diet, and is loud."
The employees at Animal Connection are specialists — something that sets the local business apart from chain stores. If your bearded dragon refuses to snap up crickets or your parakeet is losing plumage, they can provide advice or inform you a vet trip is necessary. 2550 Judah, (415) 564-6482 (Skyler Swezy)
George Lo is trimming a field of grass that carpets a gently rising hill until it meets a vertical rock face; he's using a pair of scissors. The picturesque landscape is submerged in an aquarium two feet long. A half dozen red-bee shrimp are scattered across the hill grazing on plankton in the grass. They resemble countryside cattle. Three cardinal tetras circle the rock like birds in flight.
At Aqua Forest Aquarium in lower Pacific Heights, Lo, 31, creates underwater gardens with imported aquatic plants. His was the first store in the United States to specialize in the "nature aquarium" style, which was invented by Japanese native Takashi Amano.
Aqua Forest sells souped up, hot-rod freshwater aquariums. A filtration system injects carbon dioxide into the water and specially designed fluorescent lights emit blue-spectrum light waves. The combination creates super-photosynthesis and a vivacious ecosystem.
Lo's business is the result of a hobby turned profession. While a student earning his cell and molecular biology degree, he discovered a book of Japanese nature style aquariums. He decided to make his own, but struggled to find aquatic plants and suitable equipment. "I didn't have the right kind of light required, so I had to build my own. I also built my own CO2 system using yeast and sugar," Lo says.
The wall behind Aqua Forest's cash register resembles a giant tray of surgical instruments. Stainless steel scissors and tweezers of various shapes and lengths hang in rows. A large-scale system can cost up to $20,000, but Lo can set you up with a basic starter tank for $200. He's also got a kickass Web site. 1718 Fillmore, (415) 929-8883, www.adana-usa.com  (Skyler Swezy)
The last time my dog got sick, she really got sick — all sorts of fluids coming out of every orifice, dribbling all over her fur and her bed. Even after I wiped her down with wet towels, she still stunk. Like nasty, I-can't-be-in-the-room-with-you stunk. The bed and the towels go in the washing machine, but the dog ... well, the dog needed a bath — badly. And like most dogs, she wasn't going to sit still in my bathtub, and I wasn't looking forward to fighting a smelly wet dog in a shower/tub with glass sides.
No problem.: At the foot of Potrero Hill, there's a great little pet store with a back room entirely set up for washing your stinky mutt. It's so perfect it makes a damp and ugly chore fun.
Pawtrero specializes in raw food for your pet, and owner Susie Yannes has become something of an expert on canine and feline dietary needs. But her store is also popular for its self-service doggie bathhouse. The room has two large, stainless steel elevated tubs. You extend a ramp for the dog to walk up, slide the ramp back, lock the side door and slip a short leash attached to the back of the tub around your dog's neck. Now poochie's not going anywhere. You put on a large rubber smock, grab the spray hose, and start soaking.
Yannes provides a wide selection of organic, skin-sensitive doggie shampoos, treats to get reluctant pups up the ramp, fresh dry towels, blow-driers, brushes, combs, and even nail clippers. You can leave the towels behind, and take your clean, dry pal home with you.
And while you're waiting, you get to watch all the other dogs get wet, get soapy, shake all over everything and look pathetic while their owners scrub away, chat, and laugh. And it's just $15 199 Mississippi St., (415) 863-7279, www.pawtrero.com  (Tim Redmond)