Educational presentations and school programs are nothing new to Donnie Cook, owner of Lou’s Pet Shop in Grosse Pointe Woods. He transported turtles, snakes and assorted reptiles across the Points for 10 of the 17 years he owned the beloved community pet store.
As part of the natural progression of his business, Cook recently expanded to a second location down the street. GP Zoology, 21151 Mack, allows Cook to have a private space to showcase animals he has acquired and plans to acquire, as well as to hold private parties and presentations.
The newest addition to his menagerie is Oliver, an 8-month-old Hoffman’s two-toed sloth who was orphaned in Central America.
“They are rescued when they become disconnected from their mother, either through predation or if they fall from the mother’s womb,” Cook explained, noting that tree-dwelling creatures will not risk their lives against predators to retrieve a baby. fell in the forest. stage. “Rescue groups go through them and find them, raise them, bottle feed them. But when they are humanized, they are not very successful in nature.
Oliver was one of two rescued sloths who found homes in the United States this summer. He is active a few hours a day, he is clean and adapting to the activity level of his new home.
“We’re super honored and excited to have him here,” Cook said. “We let him interact with the children. They feed it by hand. Now he has an enrichment perch outside his cage. Eventually, we’ll have a big tree in front of which he can hang out. …He does so well in captivity.
Oliver isn’t the only creature hanging around GP Zoology, which has a USDA federal license to keep exotic pets. A peek into the company’s back room reveals an incubator for reptile eggs, as well as jars and jars of reptiles, from crusty, micro and chameleon geckos to Rankins dragons.
A “wall of snakes” is also installed in the back room, with a family of green pythons, among other species.
“This space is hybrid,” Cook said. “It is an educational space and a sanctuary space. We will welcome more rescues and breeding animals. Part of our mantra is to be sustainable with raising pets. We want to produce as many animals as possible. Part of that is using the space here to produce pets for children in the community.
“…We love working with reptiles,” he added. “It’s rewarding to see eggs laid, to incubate them properly, to see them hatch and raise them.”
The rear area will also house a mammal room for raising hedgehogs and hamsters, including hairless hamsters for children with allergies.
Having animals on hand, Cook said, will allow kids to learn earth science or environmental science with something tangible, “so they can connect to it and see why we think to the things we do”.
He also hopes to help all ages become more comfortable and knowledgeable about certain animals.
“Part of my childhood, for me, I remember walking into pet stores and wanting to touch, smell and hold animals,” he said. “My goal is to get kids out of the mindset of being afraid of tarantulas and snakes. I want to open their minds a bit to what’s out there.
For the past year or so, Cook has worked hard to get GP Zoology up and running in a building that has remained vacant 30 years after its last tenant, a paint store, left. The open concept educational space provides plenty of space for private parties and presentations. During construction – and currently – the words “Dinosaur Research Center…” adorned the front window.
“Reptiles are a big thing we do at Lou,” Cook explained. “I like to incorporate information into children about the historical ancestry of certain reptiles and their resemblance to dinosaurs. Like how they care for their young. Some people think reptiles are cold-blooded killers, but the Research shows that reptiles take care of their young like dinosaurs take care of their young.
One of the ways Cook plans to “tie the dinosaur story to the living reptiles we have here” is to feature a life-size replica of a velociraptor skeleton in the main room. It’s one of many items on his checklist.
“We have so many different ideas forming, like a children’s reading night,” he added, “…and the Science Club, where once a month kids can do science projects. related to animals.”
He plans to dot a wall map with QR codes that kids can scan to learn on individual animals. He would also like to add a featured animal wall, as well as a stingray touch tank, and display an Argentine tegus and a Madagascar tree boa in the main room. Fiona, a tortoise, will also have a home at GP Zoology.
During a recent visit to GP Zoology, Cook introduced guests to Lou’s residents, including Bubba the toad, Arnold the black-throated monitor lizard and Skittles the panther chameleon, among other well-behaved creatures.
“When a human being meets the eyes of an animal, there is a chemical release of endorphins in the brain,” he continued. “There is a surge of energy, of excitement when you see an animal. Scientists believe there are two reasons for this.
The first reason, he said, is survival; when a person encounters a wild animal, they receive a burst of energy that allows them to run away. The second is hunting; the burst of energy needed to spear a salmon, for example.
“I believe there is also a third reason,” Cook said. “I believe you connect with a living soul when you look into an animal’s eyes. I am a faithful person. I see God in every creature.
Although the physical space is open by appointment only, Cook will continue to share his love and knowledge of various animals throughout the community.
It offers school programs that complement STEM programs, presentations to Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups, and is currently working with new zoology classes at Grosse Pointe North and Grosse Pointe South High Schools, “to see what their needs might be for provide them with a tangible experience. learning experience.”
The soft opening of GP Zoology has been praised by the community. Cook said he was already booking events in April. He plans to hold an open house at the end of February, for which tickets will be sold and part of the proceeds will go to charity.
In the meantime, to book an evening or find more information, visit gpzoologie.com.