Purrrrfectly smitten

Courtney Cook

Valerie Peat, 2, of Columbia, Mo., looks to her mother while playing with a kitten at the Hutch Pet Store. She and her brothers were visiting their grandmother, Carolyn Jarrette, and considered purchasing a pet for their home. Tracy Tucholski | KentNewsN

Credit: DKS Editors

Before the door to the homey downtown pet shop even opens, the sound of the playful meows of baby cats waiting to be taken home to a new family welcomes customers.

Pre-communications studies major Beth Sadowski holds a charcoal black kitten in her arms and coos while the happy kitten purrs from the attention.

“I got my first kitten here,” Sadowski said. “His name was Jack.”

Hutch Pet Shop, located on the corner of Crain Avenue and Lake Street in Kent, has been owned and operated by Patrick and Danita Flaningan for 36 years. The store sells pocket pets such as hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice and rats, tropical fish and various species of birds. Hutch Pet Shop, however, specializes in the placement of kittens.

“We place about 300 kittens per year,” Pat said.

The store usually has over a dozen kittens for sale that are either ready to go or waiting to be stable enough to leave their litter.

For Pat, owning and operating Hutch Pet Shop with his wife is more than just a profession – it’s a hobby and a passion.

“I was a professional arts major at Kent State, but had been keeping fish since age 7, so about 50 years,” he said of his fish-keeping hobby.

Pat’s passion for animals is apparent as he chimes, “We ask that you please use the hand sanitizer on the counter if you wish to handle the kittens,” as someone walks in the door.

“We don’t accept kittens here until they are about 8 weeks old,” Pat said.

He also said there are certain criteria that the kittens must meet before the Flaningans allow them to leave the store, including the kitten weighing at least a pound, gaining weight and eating well and also being playful.

“Kittens are very fragile,” he said. “They can go from fantastic to trouble in three days.”

The Flaningans are dedicated to the health of their kittens, both before the animal leaves their care and also after the kittens are taken home.

“If the kitten is not happy, not eating, we want a call right away,” Pat said. “We don’t want a call when the kitten is on its last breath. We might not be able to do anything by then.”

Pat said the store’s phone is on and answered both during and after store hours, in case customers have questions or emergencies regarding the care of their new pets.

Every kitten purchased from Hutch Pet Shop comes treated for eye infections and ear mites, and they are dewormed and given a flea bath. For $61, the kitten comes with the previously listed care, first general vaccinations and also litter, a litter box and scoop, two dishes and the food the kitten has been eating.

The Flaningans have a close relationship with the community and local veterinarians at Graham Road Animal Hospital, where the kittens are vaccinated.

At the very front of the store is a cage with a mild-tempered black and white cat with piercing green eyes.

“That’s Rowina,” Danita said. “Someone left her on our back porch in a box with a note that said, ‘I can’t afford to feed my kitty.’ We’ve had her for about 60 days or so now.”

Shortly after Rowina became a “shop cat” at Hutch Pet Shop, the Flaningans found that she was pregnant and is due any day now.

“She is very delicate and awkward right now,” Danita said. “When she first came she was very suspicious of people, but she’s been coming out and wanting attention.”

The store has other “shop cats” including a Siamese mix named Lily and a friendly black and white long-haired named Petunia.

“People ask me if it’s hard to give away all the kittens,” Danita said. “And it is. You get attached, more to some than others. But when you see someone really happy walk out with the kitties it makes you happy.”

When it comes to deciding if the potential customer is going to make a safe home for the kittens, Danita said it’s just a feeling you get from the person.

“After all these years you just know,” Danita said. “It’s fun to watch people enjoy buying animals because that animal becomes part of a family.”

Pat has become a sort of pet “guru” in Kent and also around other parts of Ohio. He has helped with the keeping of animals at multiple universities, including work with catfish and bluegills at Kent State.

The pet industry has a lot of issues that deserve attention, Pat said. There are issues involving the care of animals in large, chain pet stores and also the reliability of products on the market.

“There are many junk products out there that don’t work,” Pat said. “And there are many that harm.”

Hutch Pet Shop sells an organic flea wash manufactured in California that Pat said works better than any flea bath product he has ever had. It is effective, but gentle enough to use on the smallest kitten. He also said he has never seen it on another shelf in Ohio other than his own.

Pat said they give information to the customers about the care of the animals, and also receive feedback from customers, which helps the pet shop continue to provide the best pet care they possibly can.

“When you don’t know what you’re doing with the care of an animal, it’s a form of cruelty,” Pat said. “It’s always a process of learning, and we haven’ t stopped yet.”

Contact features reporter Courtney Cook at [email protected].