When you live in Alaska, particularly off-the-road-system parts of Alaska where the weather is especially harsh and dismal, you need to make the best of what's around.
The best aquarium in Juneau is the Douglas Island Pinks & Chums (DIPAC) fish hatchery, and the best zoo by far is Petco at Nugget Mall in the Mendenhall Valley. It's also the only zoo. Ok, fine. It's not actually a zoo at all. It's just a giant pet store chain with more than 1,200 locations nationwide and signs everywhere telling you that even though you've heard pet stores are bad, this one is really careful and humane. Ok, fine. Juneau doesn't have a zoo. But Isaac doesn't know that. He thinks Petco is a zoo, and he can quite literally spend hours staring into the cages of the reptiles, rodents, birds, and fish at Petco.
Let me say right upfront that my track record in pet ownership is dubious at best. As a kid we had cats, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, fish, and turtles. All of these animals (except perhaps the cats and one of the gerbils) met an untimely demise owing to a combination of negligence, neglect, and--I'd like to think--bad luck. (The death of Wilbur the amphibious turtle on Halloween night 1986 was particularly traumatic, but that's a story for another time).
I'm hoping that my own children--or at least the one who's riveted by animals--will do a better job of caring for a pet. I told Isaac he can have one when he's older and can deal with it completely by himself. We fostered a leopard gecko named Peblo for several weeks last year. Feeding Peblo live, refrigerated "meal worms" and keeping his cage at a toasty 80 degrees using two different colored heat lamps was too much for me to handle. I spent a good portion of every day making sure Peblo wasn't dead, and that's just too much pressure. It's all I can do to put on my pants in the morning and ensure that the two humans who came out of my own body live to see another sunrise.
The employees at Juneau Petco really seem to love their jobs. Unlike a clerk at a Borders Books, say--who generally won't know The Great Gastby from Kim Kardashian's coffee table book of selfies--the Petco dudes seem genuinely invested in their charges. Isaac found a soul mate in one such young man, who kept taking out frogs, spiders, iguanas, birds, and snakes to show me, Isaac, and my mom, who was with us last weekend during an especially torrential Juneau downpour.
This guy knew the difference between constrictors and venomous snakes, and that these two "defense mechanisms are mutually exclusive." He knew that chameleons (cute as they are, what with their little bulging eyes and capacity to change color) are bad "beginner" reptiles, as they will drink only from running water and are very sensitive to variations in light and temperature. A tarantula is low maintenance and a good intro pet. Iguanas can distinguish between multiple human handlers, will grow to be six feet long, can be litter-box trained (he had a litter-box trained iguana at home), and the toughest thing about them is that they are enormous and outgrow their cages and pretty soon you will have a free range iguana roaming around your house.
Best of all, he was no less attentive even as it became increasingly obvious that we didn't intend to spend a single penny at Petco that day. (I didn't have the heart to tell him that the "50%" off tag on the tarantula cage was not exactly a ringing endorsement of tarantula ownership).
Basically, I learned more about animals in two hours at Petco than I was expecting to, and so I kind of think Petco needs to be placed on the field trip rotation for the Juneau School District. At the very least, it needs a new slogan: Juneau Petco: Your go-to-destination for rainy day desperation.