In this age of million-dollar industries devoted to dog and cat care, it’s easy to forget the other subspecies of pets that people stake out when looking for a companion. One may not walk their snakes at the park or take their chameleons to a beachfront cabin, but these exotic pets have distinct personalities of their own and can provide kinship with devoted owners.
Jennifer Perdue, the owner of Patriot Farms Gallery of Pets in Centralia, advocates pets of the exotic variety. Her love of animals came at an early age. “I grew up in Arizona on a farm where we grew everything from cotton to watermelon,” says Jennifer. “I grew up with snakes, including rattlesnakes, and we would hunt rattlesnakes because they would hurt the migrant workers.” Jennifer’s aunt also owned several acres of land and loved animals that one doesn’t usually see grazing near a barn.
“My aunt raised parrots for zoos, bred ostriches, and had deer, llamas, chickens, swans, and a zebra — I mean, there was everything,” says Jennifer. “I worked a lot with raising parrots, hyacinth macaws, and blue and gold macaws with my aunt for the local pet stores. I did that for a few years, and it was a fun adventure.” These life experiences proved invaluable for Jennifer and helped shape her career path. “I was just naturally drawn to being an animal caretaker, and it just kind of found me,” she says.
After living around various spots in the United States, Jennifer and her fiancé, Rob, settled in Cinebar and set up Patriot Farms on their property. While the farm continues to be a hub for raising and fostering animals, Jennifer wanted to create another venture that would get her connected with like-minded animal lovers in the area. Initially setting up shop on North Tower Avenue in downtown Centralia, Patriot Farms Gallery of Pets moved to its current location on West Main Street in the summer of 2020.
Brutus, a bearded dragon, and Cleopatra, a leopard gecko, greet customers through the front windows. Alexander, a chameleon, basks in its heat lamp next to a pen of bunnies. The main wall is configured to display the fish aquariums and lizard terrariums in a way that’s equal parts vintage pet shop and zoo exhibit, thanks to Rob’s experience in construction. In the back corner, lounging in another custom-designed habitat, is the sulcata tortoise, one of Patriot Farms’ biggest sellers.
“These are the third-largest land tortoises in the world. They originate from Africa, so they don’t need a lot of humidity,” says Jennifer. “With sulcata tortoises, you want to do higher heat, lower humidity. Otherwise, they can get respiratory infections. And they’re definitely not for beginners. Not only do they get large, but they live a very long time. These are pets that you need to will to your children and your children’s children. My grandma has one that’s over 100 years old, and she’s got five to 10 acres of grass in Arizona for her to wander around. They’re very docile and sweet, but you just need a lot of space.”
The local community helped Jennifer and Rob immensely when their farm suffered a severe fire in February 2021. Through donations and a GoFundMe campaign, they rebuilt the pens and habitats for their animals.
“We had a lot of donations, not just for us personally, but for the pets,” says Jennifer. “Tractor Supply ended up donating big bags of cat and dog food, as well as birdseed. I received veggie donations, too, for the guinea pigs and rabbits. It was more than what I was expecting, so that’s great, and it makes me feel more at home, to have that kind of support in our community.”
Jennifer also uses her animal care knowledge, community connections, and farm space to help rescue pets find good homes. “That’s my way of helping out,” she says. “I don’t charge anybody for services, just give me your information, and I put it out there within the Lewis County community. I have a couple of Facebook pages that I try to post the information there as well. If someone is moving and they’re unable to take their pet and can’t find somebody who will take care of them, we are more than happy to help.”
In addition to witnessing a diverse collection of exotic animals, customers leave Patriot Farms Gallery of Pets with knowledge of the living environments and ever-changing care needed to raise these unique breeds. While raising any pet takes a significant amount of commitment, Jennifer reiterates that raising an exotic pet will be a rewarding experience.
“Do your research, make sure that you have a good amount of money saved up, and just see what your interests are,” Jennifer states. “If you’re a beginner, a gecko or a tree frog would be a good choice. The reptiles need heat right away, that’s how they live, and you have to make sure that if you do get an animal like this, you’re going to have it for 15-20 years. This is something that’s going to be a part of your family.”
Patriot Farms Gallery of Pets is located at 608 West Main Street in Centralia. For shop hours, special events, and pet rescue notifications, visit their Facebook page.