The customer’s happiness was our number one concern at the pet shop. I thought that was moronic, why wouldn’t the pet be our number one concern? But the owner repeated it whenever I was on shift, emphasizing each word. “And please don’t forget, here at the pet shop our number one concern is the customer’s happiness.”
Perhaps she said it like that because of the time I told an older customer, who had asked for a leash, that I was surprised he was able to walk his dog. Or it could have been because I hit a customer in the face while demonstrating the perfect way to throw a dog football. According to my coworker, if it wasn’t for the shortage of employees, I would’ve been sacked weeks ago. In fact, our boss was currently searching for someone, anyone, to replace me. But I couldn’t lose this job. I was desperate. Let’s be honest, there was a reason I was working in a pet shop and it wasn’t because I had a passion for animals. So from now on, I was really, really going to try my best.
Starting today. Starting right now.
As I stood at the cash register, pondering ways to make customers happier — perhaps by using my employee card to give them discounts or by offering them a massage on their way out — you strutted in wearing pristine white jeans and a black cashmere sweater. I eyed you suspiciously. You didn’t look like the kind of person who owned a pet. First of all, you were wearing white. Second of all, there were no hairs stuck to your black sweater. I supposed you could’ve been the owner of a hypoallergenic lapdog, but I didn’t think so. Yesterday, I would’ve told you to leave, but today, I saw everything in a whole new light. It was not about selling things for pets, it wasn’t even about pets — it was about you, the customer.
You were the customer and I was there to make you happy.
You were walking through the store like you knew what you wanted or maybe that was how you got away with shoplifting. The owner said to watch confident shoppers like a hawk as they were the thieves of the consumer world. So I watched you on the security cameras like a hawk, but you didn’t stop to touch anything, let alone steal.
Yesterday, I would’ve stayed at the register, watching you stride around the store, struggling to find whatever it was you were looking for. But not today. No, today I left my post to find you in case you had any questions.
You were standing in front of the dog collars and sweaters with your arms crossed. “Hey you!” you shouted and marched over to me waving your hand. “Where are all the puppies?”
You raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, you know, the inbred ones that poop all over the place.”
“We don’t sell puppies here.”
“No puppies? What about bunnies? Do you have any bunnies?”
I shook my head. “No puppies or bunnies or any mammals for that matter.”
“What kind of pet shop is this?” You leaned forward and poked me in the chest. “No puppies or bunnies? What do you even sell here?”
“Well, we mostly sell pet supplies.” I waved at the collars and sweaters beside us. “But we also sell fish.”
“Oh, pet supplies.” You waved at the collars and sweaters just as I had. “Pet supplies like these.”
“Yes.” I nodded. “Pet supplies like those.”
“What am I supposed to do with pet supplies without a pet?” You picked up one of the leather collars and clipped it around your neck. “Wear it myself?” You pulled an army-print sweater for large dogs over your head, your arms sticking straight out like a mummy’s. I stood in silence, my jaw falling open as you added more: a powder pink bow to your hair, a matching tutu to your waist, a red bandana to your neck. No human in the history of the pet shop had ever tried on the pet supplies, but I supposed it didn’t matter if they were for a dog or for you. You were the customer after all.
You picked up a second collar. “You look enough like a dog, standing there with your mouth hanging open.” You clipped it around my neck and attached a leash. “Let’s go for a walk.” You take me for a walk? I didn’t know what was going on. You yanked on the leash. “Let’s go, unless you want me to scream.”
The customer’s happiness was our number one concern at the pet shop, so I turned around and led you past the dog beds, by the cat towers, and down to the wall of fishtanks.
“Good dog.” You scratched behind my ear. “Good doggie. Now sit.”
Me, a respectable store clerk, sit on this dusty tile floor?
“Be a good dog and sit.” You tugged on the leash and the corners of your mouth turned down. If you hadn’t screamed before, I was certain you would now, so I sat.
Using one of the nets, you caught a herd of goldfish and dumped them in a plastic bag designed to hold one fish. They were so squished they couldn’t move.
“Use a bigger bag,” I begged. “Please.”
“Oh. You’re the expert pet keeper, are you?” You snatched up the leash and dragged me back to the front of the store. “Like you would know working in a pet shop without any pets.”
You dropped me off at the cash register and walked toward the exit. When the alarm went off at the front door, you shrugged and motioned to the unpaid for items on your body. “No puppies or bunnies. You understand.”
I was too distracted by the bag of squished fish to understand. “Wait,” I barked. I trotted to the fish aisle, picked up one of the larger fish tanks, and bounded out of the store. You, still wearing the pet accessories, were down the road staring up at the menu of an ice cream shop. I loped over, panting as I offered you the fish tank.
You stared at the fish tank, looking as though you might swat it out of my hand, but instead you hugged me. I froze. No customer in the history of the pet shop had ever hugged me. And then you were crying, making loud sniffling noises on my shoulder. I rubbed your back, resisting the urge to whine in response to your cry. When you finally let go of me, drips were coming off my sleeve.
“I’m sorry,” you said, wiping your nose. “It’s been a hard day, and well…” You took the fish tank and patted my head. “You really are a good dog. Thanks for this.” You bought me an ice cream as a treat, and I watched you walk down the street until I couldn’t see you anymore. Then I returned to my post at the pet shop, where I’ve been ever since, waiting for you to return.