By Katie Harrington
Old Town Times Staff Writer
Rick Preuss has a dream, a dream for our planet, our oceans, our wildlife and for our community. His vision is to inspire others to save our earth, and since he opened Preuss Pets in 1982, he has worked to make this dream a reality.
“To have a reef tank in a classroom or in a living room where a child is growing up so they can identify what coral is, what a clown fish is, what an anemone is … that’s the value of this business,” said Preuss, the owner of Preuss Pets in Old Town Lansing. “The best we can do is to hope that these bright, young minds witnessing these reef tanks will be inspired to protect the resources that are out there.”
In the Lansing community, saltwater aquariums are gaining popularity, thanks to Preuss, who says that anyone can establish an aquarium at home. Since the opening of Preuss Pets, Preuss has inspired hobbyists, students and school children alike to take up an interest in these fascinating underwater microcosms.
“Every customer can be successful and every costumer can grow their own coral to a full size coral,” Preuss said. “You’re really just providing consistency and as long as you provide that, your corals grow on their own.”
Janet Riefer, an East Lansing resident who was introduced to indoor reef-keeping by Preuss, started her own saltwater aquarium eight years ago. She said that having her own aquarium is like having a little piece of the beach at her home.
“I love everything about it,” said Riefer. “I love looking at it, I love cleaning it, I love rearranging it, I love sharing it with people. It’s like indoor gardening!”
As for the upkeep of the aquarium, Riefer insists that it’s really not much work.
“People say that it’s expensive and hard to keep and all those excuses, but I disagree,” said Riefer. “I started with a tank we had at home and everything else I’ve bought, I’ve bought from a used equipment room that Rick has.”
And the myth that saltwater aquariums are expensive is also false. Preuss Pets sells coral fragments which grow relatively quickly (about an inch a month) for about $15.
But the fact that saltwater aquariums are easy to maintain and relatively inexpensive is not what makes them so important to the Lansing community.
“I grew up in the middle of Pennsylvania, so I was never exposed to anything like a saltwater aquarium,” said Preuss. “And if I didn’t get into the industry, I would have never been exposed to it. My thinking is, the more people who are exposed, the better off we are.”
Preuss’s hope is that if kids are able to see and learn about the beauty of the planet in everyday life, they might be moved to help change it.
Jake Billhorn, a zoology major at Michigan State University and employee at Preuss Pets, said it has been a great experience to work at Preuss Pets. He says that being involved with the saltwater department has helped him prepare for his career. He agrees that Preuss Pets does a good job of exposing marine biology to the community.
“It gives people the ability to enjoy nature and when they learn about it, they want to save it because they think it’s cool,” said Billhorn.
Jessie Hughes, another Preuss Pets employee, started her own aquarium in 2008 and said she never would have done it if not for Preuss Pets.
“Working here completely introduced me to the whole saltwater area,” Hughes said. “It allowed me to take that first big jump.”
Hughes said that the best part about owning an aquarium is that it’s always a new experience.
“So much life goes into salt water aquarium,” said Hughes. “Almost everything in there is alive and people don’t realize that until they really sit and look at it.”
But perhaps the most valuable impact Preuss Pet’s saltwater aquariums have had is on local schools. The fish tank at Marble Elementary School in East Lansing was started as a memorial for a student who passed away in 2004. Every day, the students passing through the library, where the aquarium is located, can enjoy the bright pink coral and the clown fish they’ve named Nemo.
“I like it that there are coral, rocks, all different plants, shrimp and fish in the tank,” said Selena Zeineh, a second-grader at Marble Elementary.
“When you’re reading, it’s cool to look at the fish swimming,” said second-grader Finni Padgitt. “And it’s cool how everything is alive. Even the plants move.”
That energy and excitement is exactly what Preuss hopes will one day be the catalyst for future marine biologists or environmentalists.
“I think sometimes we miss our connections to nature,” said Preuss. “But if there’s something you can do to pay homage to these creatures in the way that you do your work, there’s value in that. It’s about paying respect to life itself.”