This story is about pet resources, but put all that aside for a minute, and let's go on safari — in Jim Lavender's backyard.
Lavender is the senior pastor of Discovery United Methodist Church, and he's also the keeper of a wild kingdom, including big cats, camels, zebras and llamas. Sometimes he has bears, but not at the moment.
When WTVR TV6 needed a shot of a mountain lion for a story about another large cat allegedly stalking Bon Air, they came to Lavender. He doesn't have proper licensing to allow public tours, but if you go to Discovery UMC (13000 Gayton Road, 360-4442, discoverymethodist.org) for a Sunday service — at 8:30, 9:45 and 11 a.m. — one may appear.
Lavender likes to include animals during the children's part of the service as a surprise; he notes that if you use a tiger to drive home a point, kids won't forget. The church has "stables under the steeple" so the animals can make their appearance and then leave, he adds, but sometimes you can hear a lion roar during the sermon.
Moving on to more traditional pets, Betty Baugh's Animal Clinic (5322 Patterson Ave., 288-PETS, bettybaughsanimalclinic.com) offers alternative veterinary treatments, including botanical medicine and acupuncture. Horses (plus dogs and cats) can receive acupuncture and chiropractic treatment at Full Circle Veterinary Services (389-5929, fullcirclevet.net) in Mechanicsville. Cary Street Veterinary Hospital (3210 W. Cary St., 355-9144, carystreetvet.com) offers canine physical therapy, including an underwater treadmill. Owners may want to examine richmondveterinarians.com, which gives customer reviews.
When it comes to adopting animals, Cat's Cradle (282-3833, catscradle-richmond.org) provides homes for felines, including many (labeled "special needs") that might not have a good chance for adoption. Cat's Cradle co-director Tracy Bernabo, who fosters FIV-positive kitties, says volunteers go to pounds — most often in Henrico County and occasionally Richmond and Goochland — and choose the neediest felines, including some that were abused or neglected, and even black cats, which are subject to superstitions. Central Virginia Greyhounds (457-9509, cvgreys.org) and Misunderstood Pit Bull Rescue (866-493-3594, misunderstood.rescuegroups.org) specialize in particular breeds. For a broad spectrum of available pets, go to petfinder.com and search for your desired animal in Richmond.
If your tastes run toward scales and feathers, Louisa County has a parrot sanctuary, Project Perry Inc. (540-967-0447, projectperry.com). You must have a close bond with a bird to adopt one, but the sanctuary is open to visitors and volunteers. Virginia Reptile Rescue (vareptilerescue.org) is a clearinghouse for snakes, lizards and other reptiles.
Once you have your pet, what do you do with it? For dogs, obedience school may be the next step. Critter Cottage (7617 Staples Mill Road, 525-5777, thecrittercottage.com) has finishing school, puppy kindergarten and private lessons. Richmond Dog Obedience Club (2004 Tomlyn St., 278-9032, rdoc.org) handles all the basics but also prepares show dogs for the ring. All Dog Playskool (4800 Thalbro St., 355-7737, adpsrichmond.com) offers classes in manners, agility and tricks, while Dog Lovers Obedience School (1127 Gaskins Road, 741-3647, dogloversobedienceschool.com) trains dogs for the family environment.
Parks are fun free-for-alls for Fido. Bandy Field on Three Chopt and Bandy roads (bandyfield.rrpfoundation.org), which requires leashes, and the Church Hill Dog Park (Chimborazo Park, 447-6205, rrpfoundation.org/ChurchHillDogPark), which has an off-leash area, are popular sites. The city's first canine park was Barker Field (friendsofbarkerfield.org), in the south end of Byrd Park, an off-leash venue.
Richmond is full of pet salons, but here are a few favorites among our readers, who voted for the following groomers in 2008's Best & Worst survey: Dogma (3404 W. Cary St., 358-9267, dogmagrooming.com) — see the Web site's makeover page for before-and-after pictures; and Barking Lot (606 N. Belmont Ave., 358-4038). The Pet Spa Mobile Grooming (249-3000, thepetspamobilegrooming.com) caters to dogs who prefer to stay home for their haircuts.
Many vets board pets overnight, but if you are seeking a pet sitter to come to your home, you have some options: Angelic Pet Sitter Services (513-6479, angelicpetsitterservices.com), Pets at Play (343-7110, petsatplay.info) and Pet Pleasers (320-4395, pet-pleasers.com) can sit your pets whether you're out of town or simply have a long day at work. Also, vets are a good source for sitter recommendations.