Robin's Nest Not Just for the Birds
Pet Lover's Paradise
Robin Shores operates 'Robins' Nest' in downtown Robbins. These are photos of some of the pets available at the store. The photos were taken by staff photographer Glenn M. Sides.
Looking for a lizard? A bunny rabbit? A talking bird? Look no further than what may be the most successful - and maybe the most popular - shop on Robbins' "L" of a downtown.
On Middleton Street the pet shop "Robin's Nest" is temporary residence for a Noah's ark of animal life waiting to be taken home.
The flower shop Robin Shores ran for 16 years on Maryland's Eastern Shore turned out not to be good for her asthma. She would need another line of work.
"My husband, James, and I did some research," Shores says. "It told me Robbins might be a good place to look into, because the downtown was great for buildings."
James and Robin Shores moved the family south to North Carolina looking for a place to breathe free, a good spot to run a little shop of some kind and a nice place to live. They found it in the foothills area of the state: a home in Seagrove and a retail space in Robbins.
Choosing a Business
Flowers were out. Not only did Robbins already have a popular florist midtown, Shores knew she'd have to find something to sell that wouldn't interfere with breathing. Animals had always been her love, and since she'd been around them all her life, they didn't excite any allergic reaction.
"I came down with asthma, but animals don't bother it the way flowers did," she says. "When you are around animals all the time, your body adjusts and the asthma doesn't bother you. My allergies are mold, dust and pollen; animal allergy was not one of them. My doctor says it is because I have been around them all my life."
She decided to turn her lifelong love into a new business, a pet shop she'd call Robin's Nest - and, yes, the pun was intended. The couple opened their pet (and pet supplies) store a year ago last July.
By the fall, they had so much business they needed larger quarters. The availability of retail space downtown meant they only had to move across the street.
"You couldn't ask for a better town," Shores says. "We pretty much have what people ask for, things they've been getting far away. When they come one time and find we can get whatever they need, they come back."
A step inside the Nest is all it takes for most visitors. To their right they find the home base of the shop's resident tortoise, Sulcata. He might seem a pretty good size now, but he's really only a baby.
"Full grown, he could reach 300 pounds," Shores says. "He's a pet. Not for sale."
She couldn't sell Sulcata if she wanted to. A regulation adopted years ago to prevent the spread of salmonella prohibits any retailer or wholesaler from offering any turtle for sale in the state of North Carolina. It is illegal in all 50 states for a pet store to sell small turtles, those under 4 inches long.
"We have two other turtles here, just for display," Shores says. "I can't sell them, but kids come in to see them."
Turtles aside, Robin's Nest offers a plenitude of other lovable creatures: cute furry degus, super-fast sugar gliders (a kind of possum), cuddly chinchillas, ferrets, rats, mice, hamsters, hairless mice, rabbits, birds, iguanas, bearded dragons, water dragons, painted chubby frogs, tiger-leg frogs, green basilisks, geckos, fish and - of course - dogs and cats.
"We will have prairie dogs in the spring," she says. "They are awesome."
The shop stocks food, clothes, cages, tanks, treats for all kinds of pets.
"People talked about grooming, so we do grooming," she says. "They asked about boarding, so we board. We listen to what they need."
She listens to the animals, too. Back in Maryland, people called her Dr. Doolittle (after the Hugh Lofting novels about a vet who could talk with the animals). She wanted to be a veterinarian.
"Always had animals, just loved animals all my life," she says. "Got married young and had children, so I never got to be a vet."
She got to be a mother instead, and now raises their three children, two of whom are adopted: Stella, 16, and Christy, 11, son Blake, who is 13, along with caring for two foster children, little girls 4 and 8 years old.
To make sure the children could be "with Mom" after school, she and her husband added two playrooms in the back of Robin's Nest for the kids.
"They can do their homework and play right here in the shop," she says. "They can learn how to operate a business, too. They would rather be here than at home. They already know how to run the store. The 8-year-old knows how to run the cash register and the credit card machine. We have it set up so our groomer can bring her 3-year-old and 2-year-old with her to work. They can be with her here, while she works. I think it is important for children to be with their moms, especially when they are young like that."
The back area of the shop is a biological classroom of sorts. That's where the Shores breed some of the animals they will later sell.
"We do it all," she says. "We raise some here - hamsters, mice, rats, chinchillas, finches, parakeets. We moved our rabbits to another location, so a little boy down the street from me is raising the rabbits for us."
She finds homes for a lot of animals, something she says is "kind of important" for her.
"People with puppies find it hard to find homes for them, but we don't," Shores says. "We have dogs, give them their shots. We don't do spay and neuter here. Vets help me with any problems, if any are sick. They appreciate our being here."
One local veterinarian assisted Shores in filling out the paperwork and meeting the requirements involved in being licensed to deal in exotic animals. That license means she can deal in parrots and other pets whose sale is carefully controlled.
Not all apparently exotic pets qualify as "exotic animals" for which a license is required.
Since March of last year, it has been legal to keep sugar gliders (normally native to Australia) as pets. These little possums are quickly becoming popular house pets because of their lively, inquisitive nature. They do need lots of attention, but with at least one or two hours daily of interaction they bond well with people.
Because of their small size, and natural friendliness, Sugar gliders are good "pocket pets" and are known to be especially intelligent. Sugar gliders are not exotic animals, though their breeding is regulated.
Shores says the key thing in her shop's popularity is its being open and her putting in the time to keep the shop going, doors open, lights on.
"I am open every day, just recently started closing on Sunday so we can go to church with the children, have a little time with them," she says. "A lot of customers tell me that bigger chain stores don't know their animals like I do. If you buy from me, my home number is here. Call me anytime. They can call me about anything. I will help them, not cost them a lot of money."
Shores can find herself walking customers through strange difficulties at strange times.
"A lady called me Halloween night. Her dog was having puppies. She was scared, didn't know what to do," she says. "I guided her over the phone. One was coming feet first, and that was important. The sac can break around the puppy and it can drown. You pull the puppy out, but you can only pull at the right time, not too hard. Once she got the puppy out, it wasn't breathing. I told her to open his mouth, blow in from a distance. She did that and brought it back. She started crying. She had never done that before, and it was scary. Then later she brought the puppies in to show me."
The front of the shop has the motorized rides for children that they used to have in front of the flower shop they ran for 16 years in Greensboro, Md. The rides came to Robbins and are a popular attraction for kids while parents shop for pet supplies.
Despite the long list of life at Robin's Nest, there's one creature not to be found.
"I don't have snakes, because I don't like 'em," Shores says. "I like things I think children could have, and I want parents to bring their kids here. I don't think they'd like snakes."
Contact John Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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