The Wild Side | By Nicollette Niles

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In a small shopping center in Hewitt you can purchase coatimundis (members of the raccoon family,) micro mini pigs, chinchillas, sugar gliders, leopard geckos and many more exotic animals. Established in 2012, Critters Exotic Pets brings an animal experience to the region unlike any other. Owner Tierny Krueger wanted to open an exotic pet shop because nothing like it had ever been built before in the Waco area. Manager Jessica Saenz helps open and run the shop. The shop also offers small animal boarding, “critters cutz” grooming, parties and educational events.

Krueger and Saenz share their insights on Critters Exotic Pets.

Why did you decide to open this store?
Krueger: I’ve always had a love for animals. I’ve had several of these animals throughout my life. I actually worked in [human resources] for 10, 15 years and my job transferred to Dallas, so I just decided to take the plunge.

Photo by Derek Byrne

Why exotic pets?
Krueger: There’s so much controversy over dogs and cats since there’s so many out there for adoption, so I didn’t want to make it tough for the adoption clinics. So I decided to just focus on the exotic type pets.

Have you come across any special challenges?
Saenz: Unexpected challenges to me — that’s coming in and finding a litter of babies, and finding time to accommodate their needs.

Do you have any crazy or funny stories about anything that’s happened with the animals?
Saenz: When I came in one day and the kinkajou had gotten out, he had climbed all over the store, tore everything down, ate through all the packages of food. You would’ve thought the place had been robbed, just because of all the cages that had been on the floor. He didn’t really damage, he just made a mess, basically. Our decorations were all hanging on the floor cause he thought he could swing on them. The hardest part was trying to find him, cause he’s nocturnal. We spent maybe three hours trying to find him. He was asleep in the trash bag box in the cabinet in the kitchen.

How do you monitor the health of the animals?
Saenz: We have a vet that we take them to and we have inspections, and just knowledge of the animals. You can kind of tell when one of them is lethargic and just the experience of having animals and researching it. We’re always doing anything we can to learn about different things so it’s not we just buy the animals, turn around and sell them. We actually research them, see what their needs are, and see what their health care requires. It’s our responsibility to make sure they are kept healthy.
What’s the process like to raise and sell exotic pets?
Saenz: We try to socialize all our animals at early ages, that way they’re good with customers and when you get them home you don’t have to worry about wild behaviors and them not being friendly and not being able to pet or interact with them. So we try to socialize our animals at early ages and any of our exotic pets we sell, we always sell as babies. We don’t sell anything that’s full grown or preowned, just because if you’re going to buy an exotic pet you need to know that you’re the one raising it and you can raise it how you want to be raised.

Which animals do you take to your birthday parties and educational events?
Saenz: We take anywhere from the hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets to the chinchillas, hedgehogs, the boxed turtles, the tortoise, a python and then if you have any special requests we consider those. We take the kinkajou and the marmoset as well. You get about 10 to 15 animals.

Do they get to interact with the animals?
Saenz: Yes, the birthday kid gets to hold mostly all of the animals and the other kids can pet and touch some. Depending on the animals’ temperament that day will also depend on how long we let them hold the animals as well. Educational events are somewhat the same. Sometimes we put certain animals in pens, like a petting area. The monkeys and the kinkajou we leash up so that way we can control their behaviors, in case they get scared.