With summer break mere days away, many parents will be confronted with the challenge of keeping their children entertained. Some of those children will undoubtedly pose the idea of purchasing or adopting a pet as a means to learn or prove a new level of maturity.

While the Laramie Animal Shelter has several options for dogs, cats and the occasional rabbit, Windy City Pet Store, 1660 N. Fourth St. Suite M, offers Laramigos a selection of beginner pets, which could be a good compromise for people who aren’t ready to leap into puppy parenthood.

Founded in 2016 by Colter Unwin and her mother, Robin, the store specializes in indoor pets.

“We have small guys like hamsters, gerbils and Guinea pigs as well as several reptiles and fish,” Windy City Co-owner Colter Unwin said.

“We have a good relationship with the animal shelter, and they have plenty of cats and dogs for adoption. So, when customers come in looking for that, we just refer them to the shelter.”

In addition to pet-store staples, the Unwins also bring a number of unusual animals such as axolotl salamanders or hairless rats.

“We like the weird stuff,” Robin Unwin said. “We try to carry some oddballs.”

Those oddballs might just be the perfect starter pet.

Hedgehog

Though primarily nocturnal, some hedgehog species can be active during the day and are prized by some pet owners, because they prey on common garden pests, National Geographic reported.

“They’re one of the easier little guys to take care of, though they are somewhat exotic and can be a little pricey,” Colter Unwin said. “But maintenance for them is pretty low.”

The tea-cup-sized, spiny-backed mammal can live up to seven years on a daily diet of specially formulated pellets.

“They are insectivores, so all the hedgehog-diet pellets contain the exoskeletons of those insects, which helps keep the hedgehog healthy,” she said. “And you can also feed them all sorts of live insects — crickets, meal worms, super worms — but those are more of a treat. They’re more like a candy for them.”

Pet hedgehog habitats can be as simple as a kiddie pool or plastic tote, and they don’t require a heat lamp or other habitat extras.

“Most of the time, room temperature is just right for them,” Colter Unwin said.

Leopard geckos

Native to Pakistan, Afghanistan and India, the leopard gecko is one of the most commonly kept pet lizards in the U.S. and are known for their hardiness, according to Reptiles Magazine.

“(Leopard geckos) are really easy to take care of,” Colter Unwin said. “But they can live up to 20 years, so they do require some maintenance over time.”

Growing up to 10 inches, the colorful saurian can be kept in a 20-gallon tank throughout its entire life, she said.

“There is a concern, as with all reptiles, about possibly transferring salmonella to your hands after handling the geckos,” Colter Unwin said. “So, we suggest all pet owners wash their hands after handling their pets.”

Subsisting on a diet of live insects every couple days, Robin Unwin said the gecko’s habitat does not require a food dish, but owners will need to provide a place to hide, such as a log cave, and a bit of damp moss.

“The moss helps with shedding, but otherwise, you don’t need to worry about misting them or keeping a large body of water in for them,” Colter Unwin said.

Rats

Plagued by stereotypes and labeled as vermin, these rodents are given a bad name but have swarmed the hearts of Laramigos since Windy City opened, Robin Unwin said.

“People love their rats,” she said. “We sell more rats as pets than we do as feeders. They are very intelligent. They can learn their names, and people can teach them tricks. It’s really like having a small dog.”

A metal chew-proof cage is essential to owning a rat as the creatures love to chew through anything they can, Robin Unwin said. Adult rats’ average body length is 9-11 inches with a 7- to 9-inch tail for a total length of up to 20 inches long, living 1-3 years. In rare instances, an adult male pet rat might weigh up to 2 pounds, the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association reported.

“They feed on a rodent block, veggies, fruit,” Robin Unwin said, adding with a chuckle, “they eat anything really. Sometimes, they even get a bite of my sandwich.”

No matter what animal a person decides to purchase or where they acquire it, she said the most important thing a future pet owner can do is hit the books.

“Whatever animal you get, please research it,” Robin Unwin said. “We see so many animals returned or released into the environment, because people just didn’t know what they were getting into.”

Call 742-7387 for more information about pet care or needs.

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