Little Beasties - the Ulverston shop with a resident iguana
- Credit: Emily Rothery
Lockdown meant animal magic was put on hold for an Ulverston woman who enjoys sharing her marvellous menagerie
Before the Coronavirus pandemic affected all our lives, the future looked rosy for Mandy Christopher’s pet business. Lockdown changed things overnight but she has continued to supply her customers with pet food, equipment and advice.
During lockdown, in many ways, life has been busier than ever for Mandy who has been working alone to meet customers’ needs, while following government guidelines.
‘I wanted to help out where I could, especially as many other outlets, such as supermarkets and online suppliers, quickly sold out,’ she said. ‘It has been quite difficult because they have been such long days.
‘I’ve been getting up at 5am to drive to the wholesaler and trying to meet specific needs and requirements. I’ve been putting deliveries in and continuing to look after the animals – feeding, watering and cleaning as well as preparing and delivering orders. Some orders I leave at the door and some I deliver, with strictly no contact.’
Since lockdown restrictions have eased, Mandy has started to make gradual changes to her Ulverston-based business, Little Beasties. ‘I’m allowing people into the shop but only if they really need to. There are signs and hand sanitiser but mainly I still serve at the door and deliver. I’m selling pets again but only after checking they are being bought for the right reasons.
Despite difficulties, Mandy is remaining upbeat. ‘You’ve got to sell an awful lot of Whiskas to make up the profit so I’m trying to build up the pet shop, hoping when staff do come back there will still be a job for them.’
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Coronavirus has meant the more unusual part of Mandy’s business has been put on hold – the animal encounters she stages at birthday parties and care homes.
‘Children are always interested and love to handle the animals,’ said Mandy. ‘They love the exotics like Annie the Royal Python or Beatrice the tarantula but also enjoy rats, frogs and rabbits. Young children love the giant land snails, but care home residents prefer pets that evoke memories, such as rabbits or mice and especially tortoises. It can be very rewarding.’
Mischievious Mooch, a green iguana who lives under the shop counter doesn’t take part in visits because he’s a bit naughty and liable to run off, climb up curtains and leave a mess on the carpet.
Mandy says she has always had a passion for animals and even as a youngster acquired rescue pets.
As Mandy handles Beatrice, Mexican Red Knee tarantula, she says: ‘Dad was always building things to put them in, but mum refused to let me have exotics until I was 16 when I got my first reptile. Things just grew from there.
‘I completed a two-year course on animal management at Lancaster and Morecambe college and did work experience at a variety of places – a horse riding centre, a veterinary centre and a pet shop which led to a job. I never planned to have my own business but when the pet shop moved to Penrith, I realised I didn’t want to travel and, at 18, I decided to open Little Beasties.
‘Being so young I don’t think I knew what I was l letting myself in for. It was difficult at the beginning as I couldn’t get funding because I was a typical teenager – I spent all my money so didn’t have any in the bank and had to borrow from mum and dad’.
She opened in March 2006 and has worked hard to build up her business. Her family are still involved but Mandy is very much at the helm. ‘Mum and dad pop in to help, sister Claire does two days a week and my other sister Katie helps with the merchandise. My boyfriend and his mum and dad help sometimes too.’
Mandy has had to diversify to pay the bills but clearly has strong ethics when it comes to caring for animals. ‘I’ve always wanted to work with rescue animals, and I take in a lot of pets that can be longer cared for, although not cats and dogs,’ she says.
‘If people want to adopt a pet, they make a donation. We fund the scheme for re-homing through fundraising events and donations or through selling donated second-hand equipment that is no longer needed.’