Edith Cook Warsaw's Dedicated "Pet Shop Lady"

By Jo Ann Merkle, Staff Writer

For years, Warsaw residents have dubbed her "The Pet Store Lady". And that's who Edith Cook is. What she lives is who she is: the kind owner of Tru-Pal Pet Shop, South Buffalo St., Warsaw and a person who loves living things.

Inside her pet store, a green and red front parrot named Carmen squawks and babbles "Hello" and "Hurry Up". Danny, a gray and yellow cockatoo with rosy cheeks, whistles "Yankee Doodle". Fish swim with little concern about what's outside their safe, glass ponds. Curling, furry hamsters sleep. Poodle puppies bark and wag their tails. And four chee-cheeing monkeys climb their cages and sing and squeal, completing the menagerie.

"I've always been surrounded by pets, I've just had to be". Explains Mrs. Cook, who has affectionately raised and sold animals here for 54 years. A native of Warsaw area, Mrs. Cook began her thriving pet business when she was 19 years old, two years after she married George Rife, who died in the 1960's. During those early years, she primarily bred and raised fox terriors and German shepherds. Her pet business began to grow concurrently with the natural instincts of the animals she loved.

"How did I begin my pet store?" She laughs, throws back her head. Blue eyes twinkle. Her red curls bob. "Well I had a little canary hen and she wanted to nest. And then my goldfish spawned and I traded some goldfish for guppies and . . . It's something you just can't fight; you might as well give in to it," she smiles, shrugs, smiles.

"The pet business has to be a hobby as well as a business. It was just cut out for me," explains Mrs. Cook. "It was work I could do at home and still be near my family".

Mrs. Cook is not a person who loves pets solely; her love extends farther than that. She is the mother of four children (two adopted) and has partly reared two other youngsters. Her four children are Merl, Hauth, George Rife and Louise Hayden, all of Warsaw and Leonard Rife, of Florida.

In the 50's as the pet store grew, Mrs. Cook moved her menagerie to what was once a dairy, but what is presently her remodeled pet shop. Love and concern for harmless creatures prompted Mrs. Cook, with Robert Stafford, Beulah Cook and Dr. Frank Tucker, to found the Lakeland Humane Society for Kosciusko County in 1951.

She relates that 23 years ago police here were capturing stray dogs and locking them in tiny houses without food or water. Some of the animals died. Some were sold to laboratories for vivisection. While attempting to establish the shelter, Mrs. Cook and Stafford collected scraps from local restaurants and bought food with money from their own pockets to feed the strays impounded by the city.

She and Stafford also conducted food sales and "Wag Day" to siphon donations for building the animal shelter. Two other fund raising programs for the shelter were a square dance at the Eagles Lodge, assisted by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Hoops and a style show in the Westminster building, Winona Lake, where Ruth Rodeheaver Thomas contributed singing entertainment.

The ground where the humane shelter now stands, off East Winona Ave., Warsaw, was donated by William Bibler, Warsaw, and with the help of Mayor Paul (Mike) Hodges, who volunteered manpower for the construction, a home for Kosciusko County's strays was established.

Mrs. Cook, currently vice-president of the Human Society, is known for her unusual rapport with animals and stresses the importance of decency and respect toward all creatures. This attitude is reflected in her views concerning ownership of exotic pets, different natures of animal breeds and training dogs.

Mrs. Cook believes exotic animals are poor choices for pets because people don't know how to care for them and they die. "Also wild animals should not be pets because they revert to their natural ways when they're older and become torn between you (the owner) and their wild instincts," she states.

As Mrs. Cook began to expound about different natures of animal breeds, Marigold, a three-year-old apricot poodle began giving birth to squeaking orange puppies. Keeping an eye on Marigold, Mrs. Cook explained, "You can't mold an animal to be exactly what you want. They have certain natures that you can't train out of them.

"For example, if you raised a collie, a dalmatian, a fox terrier and a beagle in town and exactly the same way, and if you then took them to a farm in the country and turned them loose, the collie would naturally go to the barn, the dalmatian would run with the horses, and the fox terrior would be hunting rats around buildings and the beagle would hunt in the woods."

Mrs. Cook paused to assist with the delivery of Marigold's puppy, then continued the conversation. In some ways animals have it over us. Many of their senses are more developed than humans."

"I say, if humans are supposed to be smarter than dogs, then we should learn to think like dogs. Much of dog obedience training is teaching the "master" to communicate with his dog. "Dogs don't reason and think as quickly as people their thinking is much simpler," described Mrs. Cook.

Mrs. Cook contends, because a dog reasons simply, the best way to train him is by positive reward, rather than a complicated, negative conditioning process which often confuses the animal.

"When a dog wets, some people say to spank him and say "no-no." I don't agree. When you see the dog is going to do something wrong, say "Wait! Wait! Wait!" (she squeals); rush to the animal; pick him up; and put him outside. Then brag on him," she instructs.

After delivering puppy after puppy, staying up many a night with an expectant mother dog. Then working all day in the shop without a wink of sleep, for 54 years, the petite Mrs. Cook has revealed intentions to sell her pet shop. She explained she is 73, and it is time to leave the business.

However, Mrs. Cook added, she will only sell her shop to a person who feels loyalty and love for the animals who live there. "I won't sell it to just anybody, she states flatly. "Selling the pets hurt me up to a point," she agrees, "but when I sell them to people who care for them and love them, I know they'll be happy," she brightens.

Behind the main room of the pet shop there is a trimming parlor where Mrs. Cool and assistants groom between five and six dogs per day. Adjoining the grooming parlor is a bird room where more than 50 parakeets and canaries nest, warming their tiny eggs. Also living in the bird room are gerbils, tiny kangaroo-like mice creatures that mate for life, yawning longhaired hamsters, mother mice with naked-pink babies and guinea pigs of all colors.

In another back room, Mrs. Cook's monkey quartet plays and screeches. There is a Titi monkey named Toko who is 14 years old, unusual for a Titi, which normally lives only five years in captivity, He loves to hear people sing and will join in concert to "On Top Of Old Smokey." Other members of the foursome are a nine-year-old Woolley monkey named Petula, and Bimbo, a scalawaggy male Capuchin notorious for sneaking from his cage and releasing his Capuchin friend, Maggie, from her cage.

Maggie is a fuzzy, black, 14 year old primate with dark, round eyes. She likes to read, write, and most of all, kiss. Holding Maggie on her lap and handing the monkey paper and pencil, Mrs. Cook urged: "Write a little, Maggie." To which Maggie replied with a kiss. "Please, Maggie write a little" persistently pleaded Mrs. Cook, as she received another quick, wet smack-on-the-lips and a grin from the happy disobedient individual.

Though Maggie finally scribbled a brief note to Mrs. Cook, she was more interested in thumbing through magazines and catching up on the latest pet news. For about five minutes, Maggie intently leafed through a pair of magazines, then mischievously dialed a series of digits on the telephone, and abruptly left Mrs. Cook's study, presumably on a mission to converse with Toko, who was sleeping back at the cage.

Maggie and her primate playmates often accompany the Cooks on short trips. However, the quartet was omitted from the honeymoon vacation when Mrs. Cook and her husband, Raymond, were married five years ago. "That's one time the monkeys didn't get to go along," twinkled Mrs. Cook. However, Maggie did take a tour through the Ford Museum, in Dearborn, Mich., where she "liked everything but the stuffed horses."

The monkeys eat practically anything, monkey biscuits, meal worms, eggs and meat, including chicken and hot dogs. Petula is the only one of the bunch who likes bananas, but all four are lovers of grapes and peanuts. The primates delight to lick cake batter from beaters. "They get excited about as much as any children do," laughs Mrs. Cook.

Mrs. Cook says she'll probably never sell the ring-tails because: "People don't know how to take care of monkeys and they often get tired of them. Another personality in the shop is Pierre, a 12-year-old registered white poodle who has fathered most of the white toy poodles in Warsaw and reputedly sachets in proud fashion before a mirror, admiring his fluffy coat after a groom and clean.

Carmen, the three-year-old parrot is leaning to sing "How Great Thou Art" Mrs. Cook remembers buying Carmen "when she was just in pin feathers." Constant companions of the Cooks are Mimi and Herschey, two tiny poodles, And in a bowl in the shop swims a strange phantom catfish. The fish's body is transparent permitting the view to watch it internal body functioning.

Though surrounded by celebrities such as Maggie and Pierre, Mrs. Cook is also known for her 15-minute WRSW radio talk show which was on the air for seven and one-half years, beginning in 1951. She also wrote a column in The Times-Union during 1964 and 1965, called "Let's Talk About Pets."

The column contained tips about pet care and anecdotes and histories of animals. One history included in her column was the tale of the little Chihuahua dog. As Mrs. Cook concluded describing the items, the chocolate poodle, Herschey, wagged his tail and looked at her, Carman called "Hurry up, hurry up," and Mrs. Cook wondered out-loud where Maggie went.

Then "The Pet Shop Lady" looked around her at the menagerie and, smiling, said, "The pets are my life." She paused, then concluded, "They're everything to me."

Warsaw Times-Union Spotlight March 16-23, 1975
Transcription by Jane Leedy

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