The St.Petersburg (Russia) Pet Market
The St. Petersburg Pet Market
OPEN AIR MARKET SELLS CRITTERS FOR PETS, FOOD, AND FUR.
The center of pet retailing in St. Petersburg, Russia is anexotic experience not generally seen by the foreign tourist. While visitors to Russiaoften see the amateur pet vendors selling puppies and kittens out of baskets around Metrostations, generally foreigners don't know that there is a large thriving professionalgroup of pet dealers. These business people gather in the Polyustrovskiy Market onSaturdays and Sundays, when the market undergoes a transformation into the Ptichiy Rynokor "Bird Market". Birds aren't the only thing sold there. If you prefer animalsas pets, food, or fashion accessories, the "Bird Market" has something tointerest you. In fact, it would be difficult to think of basic pet supplies or animalsthat weren't sold there. Despite being outdoors throughout St. Petersburg's snowy winters,the Market sells tropical fish, canaries, parrots, turtles, Chihuahuas, and gerbils, allcreatures better suited to warmer environments than frozen St. Petersburg.
How do they do it? Well, for one, fish are kept in smalluniquely designed tanks with huge metal heating units beneath them. These units keep thefish living at the tropical temperature they need despite the surrounding snow. Nearby youcan buy the kind of large home tanks they need to be happy fish, but for the weekendsuntil they are sold they are displayed in these little temperature controlledfish-phone-booths. The birds live in similarly heated boxes, crowded enough that you canhear them saying nasty things in bird to perch-mates who flap or shove. Birds beingterritorial creatures, they seem to be more irritated by the crowding than more gregariousanimals like puppies and kittens, who just happily snooze piled on top of each other inPlexiglas boxes. The puppy boxes are more low-tech than the bird and fish receptacles,however. Each group of thoroughbred cats and dogs is in it's own crystal container, heatedwith hot water bottles made of old Stolichnaya and Pepsi containers. The thoroughbreds inthe boxes look comfortable and contented, and seem to know that they are in a moreprivileged position than the dogs and cats stuffed into coat breasts.
The market actually has stages. Outside the main gate is a lineof ordinary citizens hoping to turn a small profit from their pets' amorous indiscretions.People stand about talking, each with the head of a tiny cat or dog protruding from theirlapels. Animals range from lethargic, to complaining to simply cold. Thoroughbreds andmutts intermix, but papers are rare, and this is the cheapest section of the market.Inside are professional dealers in thoroughbred dogs and cats, mostly displayed in theirheated Plexiglas containers. This section also includes various rodents like mice, rats,gerbils and hamsters. You can buy rainbow colored plastic exercise wheels for your rodenthere, and view their optically interesting effect when in motion courtesy of an obliginglyactive demonstration gerbil.
The market then splits off into two rows: One for pet food,bird-cages and birds, the other with the fish, snails, frogs, and assorted accoutrements.One old gentleman hand makes dipping nets for fish, another has made a specialty of handcrafted wire mesh filters. There are tanks and pumps from every place from Japan toPoland, live worms, and a great selection of aquatic plants. The bird section also hasit's handicraftsmen who make simple beautiful function-as-form cages for only $1. For moremoney you can get imported Asian pagoda style cages, as well as an assortment of smallbirds to go in them. This section too has a wide selection of imported animal feeds, pettoys, and other supplies.
Ironically, both rows peter out into fur departments. The othermain function of the market is as the main fur-hat market in town, selling as much or morethan the two main department stores in town do combined. Also in this section is a largeamount of tanned furs of all kinds, including hard to find hides like Persian lamb andweasel. For people who prefer to make their own fur clothing it's the best source formaterials. There are also a few coats, but not enough to merit a trip to the market.
At the tail end of the fur market is the fur/food animal market.This is where you will find rabbits, chickens, weasels, and (of all things) nutrias.Nobody bothers to give hot water bottles to the rabbits, but despite this (and despitetheir probable impending fate as Sunday dinner) the rabbits do not shiver, but simply sitcalmly awaiting their fates as either pets or dinner with seeming indifference. Theroosters, on the other hand, stand proudly on top of their boxes, daring anybody to eatthem with intimidating beady eyed scorn. The nutrias, smelling the untanned hides of theirbrethren next to their cages, have to be kept contained to stop their escape. Intelligentas the beavers they much resemble, they know nobody is out to do them good. The weasels,similarly in tune with their fate, struggle in blind panic to hide behind each other in acorner of their cage, a writhing heap of fur.
Here too is a big dealer in dog harnesses, collars and variousleashes, from the simple, to massive spiked B&D collars imported from Germany. You canget a delicate little poodle collar and retractable lead, or outfit your sled dog team, asyour situation warrants. The animal market ends here, but after this, a very small butgood flea market begins. After the flea market, the final section is for fishermen. Hereyou can buy hundreds of different new fishing flies, as well as the necessary drills forice-fishing. Also sold are the distinctive Russian made metal tackle box/seats that yousee local fishermen hauling to and fro on the Metro each weekend. So whether your ideaabout fish is to eat them or keep them as pets, the market has what you need to do it.
TO GET THERE IF YOU'RE IN ST. PETERSBURG: Take the Metro toPloschad Lenina, then catch either T-Bus 3, 38, 43, Tram 6, 23, 51, or Bus 138. The Marketis at 45 Polyustrovskiy Pr. opposite a small park. If you take the Tram get off at thepark. It will be recognizable from the rows of puppy-in-the-coat sellers in the distance.---Tara Maginnis.