Sharing an affinity for animals
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 03:01
The Animal House, a pet store on 4th Street, will gladly help customers find that little fish tank, parrot or bunny they have always wanted. They will also be more than happy to take care of anyone’s giant man-eating sharks.
In business for 30 years this March, The Animal House specializes in a diverse field of expertise — ranging from common-household aquarium fish to reptiles and amphibians to tropical birds to caring for particularly large sharks.
“We take on a lot of projects,” said Dale Stepnicka, owner of The Animal House. “A big side project is maintaining a shark tank in a wealthy estate in Crescent Valley, the largest privately-owned tank in Oregon.”
One time while diving in the massive tank to maintain it, Stepnicka had an encounter. He was bitten by a shark, which practically stripped the flesh off two of his fingers.
“I got out of the tank pretty quickly after that,” Stepnicka said. “The blood soon would make the other sharks go into a frenzy, which I didn’t really want to be a part of. Let’s just say I learned to respect them quite a bit after that.”
The pets The Animal House actually sells, however, are more docile and a lot smaller than these sharks. Entering the main door of The Animal House, aquariums, flashes of color darting through them from the hundreds of small fish in the tanks fill the room from floor to ceiling.
Customers and visitors are free to look around at them without being pressured to buy anything, and Animal House staff aim for people to view the store as an educational experience if someone is interested in the hobby of pet owning.
“I enjoy interacting with the customers and answering or troubleshooting their questions and problems,” said Animal House employee Kyle Hansen. “Also, taking care of the animals themselves is definitely a hobby of mine.”
Many of the plants and animals present in the store were bred and grown by Stepnicka in his own home, where he personally owns more than 160 ponds and more than 80 aquariums. With the responsibility of that much life riding on him, he’s constantly busy and hasn’t had a vacation in 20 years.
“The store definitely is a never-ending job,” Stepnicka said. “If you didn’t love it, you couldn’t do it. For me personally though, I enjoy it so much that I haven’t even considered it to be work.”
This love for fish and other animals has been deeply rooted in Stepnicka’s life since childhood. At age nine, he received a job working at a wholesale tropical fish distributer in southern California. His own collection of fish soon followed.
“I made 75 cents an hour,” Stepnicka said. “I never took home a paycheck though. I traded it out in fish and aquarium supplies. I soon had over 40 fish tanks in my bedroom alone.”
Later in his life he co-owned his own pet store in California. However, the business partnership with the other owner ended up falling through, and Stepnicka ended up moving to Oregon. Here he first began a business of breeding and selling pet birds at wholesale, but later found that with wholesale he couldn’t make enough to support his children, which resulted in him opening up The Animal House for business.
Since then, The Animal House has been open for business for almost 30 years with a desire to kindle and grow the love of pet-ownership throughout the Corvallis community.
Ryan Dawes, news reporter