2019 Spring

Lan Zhang

Week 6

Pet Store Visit

Big Idea: Find a local store or park to visit. Observe and document animal behavior and/or human-animal interaction at this location. Interview people at this location to understand such interactions if need be.

Location: Petco Union Square

Petco is the leading pet specialty retailer in the United States and delivers health and experiences for pets and their guardians. Petco’s mission is to provide products, services, advice and experiences that keep pets physically fit, mentally alert, socially engaged and emotionally happy.

We took a visit to Petco, wanting to learn and know more about the environment Petco is building for the store-kept animals as well as the products they are selling, which ideally are supposed to enhance the animal-human relationship. During our visit to the Petco branch at Union Square in NYC, we had the chance to get a tour by a Pet Specialist named Kaylah, who showed us around the shop and its facilities. We were introduced to different pets like fish, rodents, reptiles and to the utility tools that are used to handle or feed these pets.

1. What are the tools used to interact with animals at these places?

* General behaviors across all animals: offering food and refilling the food/water bowls/bottles Tools:
*Fish/Aquarium: Petco pet specialists use plastic cups to release the food like shrimps into the tanks
*Reptiles: Specialists would feed the snake frozen mice instead of living ones because live ones can potentially bite and hurt the snakes; They also give live insects and worms to the lizards.
Capturing / Holding
* Aquarium: specialists use fishnet to capture fish. They use plastic bags to bag or release the fish.
* Birds: bare-hand sometimes. Since birds bite, they use gloves too.
* Guinea pigs: bare hands
* Rodents: bare hands or sometimes with gloves
* Reptiles: hands except for the snake
Enrichment objects
* Hamster: running wheel
* Parakeet: modular branches, wooden ladders, stringy chain
*High use of plastics in the fish tanks (Microplastic, could cause harm to the animals)
*Neon colors/color varieties
*Human-centric design when it comes to the form of products used in the enclosures
*Environmental Artifacts
*Temperature and humidification monitoring
*Fiji rock in every single aquarium

2. Which products are human-centric vs animal-centric and why?

* The design of the Décor for the fish tanks is mainly human-centric. It might have a positive effect on the animals (offering an opportunity to rest/hide) but it’s mainly there to enrich the visual experience of humans.

* “Organic” “wild animal” Food products

* Animal outfits

Animal-centric/Human&Animal centric :
* Chewing toys increases the health of the animal (but very colorful)
* Ladder and branches for the parrots
* Running wheels for the hamsters
* basic shelters or shades for all pets

3. How would you reassess/redesign some of these products?

*When it comes to the color, I think it’s important to analyze how these animals would react to certain colors and how much they can see. Overall, the color assortment at Petco is purely for human-pleasure and potential buyers.
*We were told that often time the employees get bitten by the birds when they try to take them out. They’d use gloves, but it still wouldn’t fixe the issue fundamentally. Parrots bite out of their instinct–fear or distrust of the person who is holding them. It’d be nice if there is a better design for the transition between them being on a branch to a human hand. Maybe the glove material can be improved or a specific sensory stimulus can be applied in order to comfort the parrot and don’t get them as fearful.

4. How can some of the products in the stores, farms be relevant to animals in the urban wild?

* “Get wild” food – ironically it’s supposed to deliver a message that animals can be wilder if they eat the food. However, such a marketing strategy seems very unrealistic as a wild type of meat as food doesn’t really make a domestic animal change its behavior utterly.
* Guinea pigs chewing stuff – Guinea pigs like to chew things, so they are always given chewable objects like hay or wooden sticks they’d be able to find in the wild
* We saw in each of the aquarium tanks, there’s a big rock formation in the center. We asked the pet specialist at the store if it’s meant to imitate the real ocean environment where fish would have rocks and coral reefs to swim through, and we got an answer: “It’s for the look.” We noticed there are algae growing on the rock, which is a good sign as algae are very beneficial for the ecosystem that these fish are living in. However, the person at the store told us, even if these are good for the fish, the store employees would scrap them off because they don’t look visually pleasing.

Further Questions:

*For “chewing wooden blocks” we saw at the store, the colorful attribution and the printed human alphabets made no sense to the animals, but the chewing blocks themselves do enrich hamsters’ lives. We were wondering if products that have animal-centric functions but have human-centric aesthetics are good or bad?


I’ve gone to Petco a couple of times with my friend since his family has a parrot, a cat and now a couple of Kols. I remember when I visited there for the first time with him to get an aquarium, I was mesmerized by all these cute little fish houses that were taken shapes from Sponde Bob. I loved all the colorful toys and even wanted to purchase many at the spot for my dog. However, I visited the store again this time with my teammate Max. My feelings became different and my judgment standards got critical. I went in there with a mindset of looking for anthropo-centric problems and discovering vantage points for improving animals’ living conditions. I found out that I no longer enjoyed looking at the pineapple fish house because I realize it’s not doing any good to the fish. It is a problem because I, as a consumer, was the only one enjoying it between this human-animal relationship. And it will be given to my fish, by me, because, again, I enjoy the look of it. My fish didn’t watch Sponge Bob nor did it care if it’s resting in a pineapple resort house. A similar phenomenon can be seen in other aisles where you see “Wild”, “Organic”, “Vegan” food or pink ballet dress that has “Swag” on it. I think it makes sense from a perspective where the industry is trying to make it appealed to people, so they’d pour more care and money into their pets. But it is also wrong to assume that making things human-centric could not be a distraction to the animals. It makes me wonder where is the perfect middle-point between animal-centric and human-centric among these store-sold products, and whether or not the store is doing a good job. I do believe people who work there are true animal lovers, and they are giving them their best care, but tools and products they use while interacting with the animals there can definitely be improved.