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Pet store's animals need place to call home

The tarantula, the geckos, even the Jurassic milk snake _ all stock must go.

Rainforest Pets, a Henderson Boulevard mainstay since 1995, is closing its doors Jan. 31, and owner Leigh Toborowsky is offering going-out-of-business bargains to ensure every animal gets a good home.

"The animals are the No. 1 thing that's freaking me out," Toborowsky said Tuesday.

Toborowsky's Seminole Heights home is already chock-full of critters, including three dogs, two cats, two rabbits and two prairie dogs. So, if no one buys or adopts the pets in the store, she said, "I really don't know what I'm going to do."

Her reasons for closing: a bad economy, a conscience and Petco.

Because the animals come first, Toborowsky said, she wouldn't sell to people she felt weren't ready to be pet owners. That cut into her bottom line. So did Petco, the pet supply superstore that opened at Kennedy and West Shore boulevards in October 2002.

Some of her customers told her they only cruise Petco to buy bones or toys, but "I'm a small independent," she said. "I rely on that bone or that toy."

Another thing that hurt: Toborowsky's penchant for pet rescue.

Over the years, she supplemented her traditional pet-store stock with cats, rabbits, birds and other animals she saved _ and must continue to feed and care for.

Once, she bought four rabbits from another Tampa pet store because they were "half abused, almost dead," she said. Another time, the sister of a Hyde Park homeowner called because the man had checked into drug rehab and abandoned his macaw and cockatiel.

Toborowsky took the birds in, but it cost her $500 to make sure they didn't have diseases that could infect other birds in the store.

The owners of another pet store plan to buy most of Toborowsky's inventory, but she won't sell them the stock that breathes, she said.

"It's not all about the bottom line," she said. "I can't be party to that."

Rainforest Pets is in Palma Ceia Plaza, 3401 Henderson Blvd., next to Outback Steakhouse. For information, call 871-3223.

_ Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matussptimes.com.

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