By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Rodney Pearson, owner of Gone Fishin’ pet store in Tupelo, has had a fondness for animals his entire life. Growing up on a farm at the outskirts of his native Meridian, he tried his hand at befriending all types of critters.
“If you could make it a pet, I did,” he said. “My mom’s only rule was that I kept it outside.”
From his first pet, a frog, he soon moved up to caring for dogs, chickens, you name it.
“I’d have to say my favorite was a dog, a mutt named Ralph,” he said. “Rats actually make great pets, if you can get over the fact that it’s, you know, a rat.
“Turns out fish are actually one of the more difficult animals to keep. In school, I didn’t think I’d ever use chemistry, but with monitoring pH levels and all, that’s exactly what a fish tank is.”
Eventually, Pearson found a career in the grocery business with Mississippi-based chain Jitney Jungle. It was during that time he opened his first pet store on the side in Starkville.
When he was transferred to a grocery store in Oxford, he took his pet store with him. When Pearson was relocated again, this time to New Albany, and at age 35, a near-death experience pushed him to rethink his priorities.
“I came down with Boerhaave syndrome, which basically means your esophagus has ruptured,” he said. “I spent 16 days in the intensive care unit. It was a really close call, the kind that makes you think, if you’re going to go out, better it be doing something you want to be doing.”
So Pearson put an end to his grocery store days and became a full-time pet store owner.
Over the years, he’s had everything from hedgehogs and sugar gliders to exotic lizards and fish.
To keep up to date with the best new practices, Pearson attends yearly seminars where the best in their field give talks about new findings on certain animals.
“I think what makes this store different is I’m not going to try to get a customer to buy something they don’t need. I feel like if I can teach pet owners, they’ll stay interested in their animal,” he said. “Otherwise, they’ll get frustrated and quit. And if I don’t know something, I’ll find it out.”