About those Dog Wash tiles...
Did you know only three of our three dozen employees worked at the "old" Pet World? It's kinda sad to think about how many people didn't know "Pre-fire" Pet World but lemme tell ya, if you never visited before 2015, it was a pretty great place. Not fancy or modern -- not by any means. The building was old and in bad shape but it was full of love and history and incredibly unique.
Mourning the loss of life was understandably debilitating after the fire. We all felt that. But there was more loss that went unspoken. Art. There was so much art. Some messy but meaningful, some silly, some professional, and all of it with its own life. It didn't breathe. It didn't suffer. But it was just as lost. 27 years of drawings, paintings, letters, photos, painted ceiling tiles, summer camp rites of passage charts, thank you notes, murals, love notes behind doors written on walls, hidden behind posters... Gone. Just like that. All destroyed in mere minutes. Seeing it all completely ruined just ripped my heart out.
When we reopened, local artist and former PW manager, Erin Bratzler, painted a new mural for us. That eased some of the pain, for sure. Then, along with Sunfire Ceramics, our customer family gave us a big jump on rebuilding our art collection. They rallied and organized and hand painted tiles for our Dog Wash. Every tile in this room was a gift, to restore some of the joy that can only come from art. Each one has a story that we may never know. And now that we've finally opened the Dog Wash, you can walk in anytime, see this museum for yourself, and feel the love we feel every time we enter the room.
The reflections here are mostly as told by Sherry Emerson unless signed otherwise.
This is Today's Tile.
We'll call it Tile #1: Mosaic Inspiration (artist unknown)
I love all of them, of course, but this is one of my favorites.
We know nothing about this tile but it was pretty much my inspiration for the Dog Wash. At first the colors spoke to me. I wanted more secondary colors for the new Pet World instead of the primary colors of the original. The first PW could not be replaced, anyway, so I didn't even want to try. Because I enjoy mosaics I noticed this tile right away. I truly love everything about it. The patterns are random and whimsical while the eyes are focused, sad, yet comforting. The craziness screams carefree youth while the facial expression warns of wisdom and age. Right down to the last detail I can find something symbolic on this hand-painted masterpiece.
I may never know who painted Tile #1 for us or what it meant to them but, like all great mosaics, each individual section stands alone, independent, like a moment in life with seemingly no relevance to other moments. And yet, when you step back and see the whole picture, you can't help but appreciate how all the pieces fit together after all, making the entire image complete. It becomes obvious that without all those exact parts, there could not be this exact whole. It reminds me of the entire Pet World Experience and all of its parts and pets and people. It reminds me of life.
To the artist, whoever you are, thank you for giving us something beautiful to inspire this wonderful Dog Wash.
Tile #2: Message on Existing (artist unknown)
Look carefully at this artwork and you'll learn everything you need to know about existing. Water, sand, love, and three unique living things, completely different from each other, yet walking along, side by side, as one unit.
What a message.
Tile #3: Memories of Jesse (artist unknown)
There's gotta be a great story here. I mean, look in those eyes. And the ears... If anyone recognizes Jesse, or knows who painted this tile for us, please fill us in on the back story.
Tile #4: Pet World Strong by Miles R.
Today’s been a tough day. The jury trial regarding the 2015 fire starts in two weeks and some days we feel just as discouraged as we did right after the fire. Another day, another deposition, and we wish it would all go away. For something that destroys a place so quickly, this legal stuff sure seems to drag on forever. But when I need a little encouragement, I just step into our dog wash and pick a tile, any tile, and immediately feel better. One good thing that came from that Godforsaken fire was the community love we received as commemorated with these tiles.
I know today’s tile quite well. Miles. I can see the artist’s face simply by closing my eyes.
We were at Pet World Animal Camp the day Miles wandered a little too far away from the group. Not this Miles, though; the other Miles. No wait, not the other Miles, his brother, Colton. It’s complicated.
Every time I see this tile I can see Miles R.’s little face but then I immediately remember the story of when another Miles got lost at camp, except it wasn’t a Miles; it was a Colton. I always mix up the names. I say, “Aww, look at that tile from Miles. Remember that day he got lost?” And my kids roll their eyes and remind me that was Colton, not Miles R., not a different Miles, not any Miles for that matter. Colton. I’ve just gotten the names wrong too many times to remember now. But here’s the story anyway.
We never want to stifle an adventurous spirit and we’ve found the best way to learn and grow is from real life experience so the day Miles – I mean, Colton – wandered too far from the group for the tenth time we just let it happen. I know. How irresponsible. We were at the tortoise farm feeding the tortoises and Colton was restless. A counselor-in-training lost track of him and when an experienced counselor noticed the total head count was off she looked to me but I whispered, “Shhh,” then pointed to Colton, off in the distance. “Just let him go,” I said. “Let it happen so we can all learn.”
The PW Nature Preserve is huge, 80 acres, and very private. No stranger danger in the over ten years we’ve owned it, and camp parents never disclose the location, but that doesn’t mean getting lost out there isn’t scary, especially to a child. Our experienced counselors know the trails and while Colton was never in any real danger, he didn’t know that. And neither did the counselor who let him slip away. The trail we were on was a loop so the group moved on without Colton and after a few minutes he wandered back and noticed everyone was gone. We had a counselor secretly follow him from a safe distance as he considered his options then backtracked half a mile through the woods and found the group on his own. I’m not sure whose face had more expression when he suddenly appeared all alone – his or the counselor who lost track of him. But, wow, what a teachable moment it was for all.
That day Colton learned the importance of staying with the group but he also learned that faced with a crisis, it’s best not to panic. He stayed calm, figured out what to do, and did it. The counselor learned that loss can happen in the blink of an eye. How fortunate this was only a few minutes of stress for such a valuable life lesson. I learned a lot, too, all of which I still use on stressful days like today. Stay with your people. If you wander too far, find your way back. Don't panic.
Back to the Miles who painted this tile (and did not wander away from the group no matter how many times I tell the story incorrectly). We had both Miles and his sister in camps for years. One summer she broke her arm and insisted on a waterproof cast so she wouldn’t miss camp. He was ready to go without her. They’re both incredible kids from a wonderful family, one of many who really lifted us up during the aftermath of the fire, (hence the hashtag #PetWorldStrong). That was a time of community movement with a life of its own and this family was right there with the best of them. I may mix up the stories but I will never forget this Miles. He was always one of the most charming kids in camp and, my goodness, the adventures he had! (Even if getting lost was not one of them.)
Tiles #5 & 6: Gotta Catch 'em All™ (artist unknown) reflection by Anne-Marie
Gengar and Pikachu! The fact that these tiles are of pokemon give them a bit of whimsy, a childlike view of what this place means to them. I love that they painted what are presumably their favorite pokemon, and I love the taglines "Buy me" and "Buy here" that gives an implication of somehow being able to obtain these magical creatures at Pet World, because, of course! Why wouldnt you be able to get them here? Pet World is such a magical place, after all.