If famed British naturalist David Attenborough ever dreamed up a pet shop, it might look something like Covet, an Exotic Emporium in Ventura.
Here, day geckos and jungle carpet pythons peer curiously from behind leaf and stone. Fiery sunsets and windswept seas adorn the shop’s surrounding wall; a vibrant fusion of color rivaling the psychedelic patterns on the panther chameleon perched nearby. Add to that the trickling sound of running water and lush, green vegetation, and the shop feels more like a nature sanctuary than a run-of-the-mill pet store.
But Covet’s role as a sanctuary for the community’s youth is what really sets it apart.
“We basically cater to the kids,” said Dee Williams, reptile enthusiast and co-owner of Covet along with 9-year-old son Justus. “[The store] creates a hunger for knowledge. When you see something really fantastic that you’ve never seen before, that you never knew existed, it makes you hunger for knowledge.”
And the people behind Covet aim to satisfy that hunger for knowledge. While some pet stores focus solely on making a sale, Covet strives to educate young minds on the natural history and habits of the animals in their possession.
“I wanted someplace that would allow [kids] to see an animal from Madagascar and to learn about this animal’s natural habitat,” said Williams, “and then learn how to re-create this habitat and learn the animal’s food, lighting and heating needs.”
Daron Johnson, an employee at Covet, echoes a similar sentiment.
“These days [schools] don’t focus much on wildlife from other parts of the world; I don’t think the education is really there,” said Johnson. “[Covet] helps people become aware of these animals and how they are becoming extinct from destruction of land.”
With knowledge of the reptiles and amphibians come responsibility and compassion, life skills Williams hopes to instill in every child who walks into Covet. Some kids even get hands-on experience.
“We accept volunteers regularly, giving them chores and responsibilities,” said Williams. “The animals teach responsibility, compassion and real life and death. These are important life lessons that need to be taught.”
Fifteen-year-old Rian Sloan picked up some of those very life lessons as a volunteer with Covet.
“I initially started to get involved with Covet by going there day after day, from opening until closing, hanging out and discussing reptiles,” said Sloan. “Working at Covet and with Dee has provided me with the skills and knowledge to help others who do not know how to care for and take responsibility for reptiles.”
Dee Williams’ love for exotic reptiles spills over into his home as well. Panther chameleons eyeball their surroundings from cages in his living room. A pair of green tree pythons bide their time from a terrarium on the kitchen countertop.
“This is my passion at this point,” said Williams. “This is about all I do.”
That passion started to really catch fire after an opportunity volunteering with reptiles at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, during Williams’ freshman year of high school.
“They had everything you could imagine: spitting cobras, snapping turtles, sidewinders, every kind of rattler, Gila monsters,” said Williams. “And it never left me; I stayed with the animals ever since then.”
William’s contagious enthusiasm for snakes and lizards has carried over to his son Justus.
“Reptiles relax me,” said Justus, who, at the tender age of 9 already co-owns Covet with his father. “If I get stressed out with homework or something, I’ll look at some of the reptiles in my room and it calms me down.”
But Covet doesn’t always wait for the kids to come to the reptiles; sometimes it brings the reptiles to the kids. By providing educational outreach in local schools, Williams hopes to turn attention away from the distractions of technology and embrace a renewed appreciation of animals.
Photo By Heber Pelayo
Kids enjoy handling and learning about reptiles at Covet in midtown Ventura.
“We do a bunch of presentations in the Ventura School District and a couple different birthday parties,” said Williams. “There is no better feeling than watching kids become immersed in this hobby. I’ve only ever seen positive growth from this. As opposed to the video game reality and television and cell phone generation, which lacks social skills, compassion and a sense of reality.”
Tim Hungerford sees the growth firsthand in his son.
“For [Dee], it was about sparking the interest in my son’s mind,” said Hungerford, friend and longtime customer. “When you have parents who don’t want to spend time with their kids, Dee is taking a lot of those kids and giving them another option.”
Ultimately, Williams just hopes people are positively affected by their experience in his shop.
“We want people to leave with a feeling of fascination, of being let into a private members-only club where they were embraced and taught,” said Williams. “We just want to promote a positive learning environment.”
Covet, an Exotic Emporium sells quality, captive-bred animals, supplies, fine art and more. Visit the website at covetee.com or call 653-1215