The owners of Northeast Mesa’s WildSide Pets have a partnership in business and in love. Their passion for animals is clear and they share it with everyone they meet.
The full-service small exotic animals and supplies shop at Brown and Higley roads could just be another pet store. However, the story behind owners James and Kirsten Badman is one of love.
James grew up in Tucson, where he raised animals from a young age. He now serves as the associate director of animal care facilities and operations at ASU.
“My parents have video of me from when I was 12 years old working with animals,” James said.
Kirsten added, “He had all his hamsters lined up and one male he’d rotate through the females. They would have their litters and then James would take them back to the pet stores where he got them from and sell them.”
She has a similar background, but wasn’t interested in breeding the animals she loved so much.
“I’ve always been fascinated with animals and my first word was ‘dog,’” she said.
The couple met while they were working at the Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park. They fell in love, married and the rest is wild history.
WildSide Pets opened in 2007 and sells small exotic animals such as hedgehogs, sugar gliders, snakes, bearded dragons, tortoises, degus, rabbits, chinchillas, birds and saltwater and freshwater fish, including koi. In all instances, the Badmans make sure they pair potential pet owners with the correct pet.
“We enjoy selling a little bit of everything here,” Kirsten said. “The animals we sell here do well in this kind of community and in people’s homes.”
The store also employs the couple’s daughters, Hunter and Maya Badman, who grew up helping to raise animals and are knowledgeable in assisting clients find what they need for their small exotic pets.
WildSide Pets is USDA licensed so it can sell hedgehogs and sugar gliders, small nocturnal gliding possums.
“It was really uncommon to have this license until hedgehogs were legalized in 2015,” James said. “Until then, you rarely saw a pet shop with a USDA license.”
The Badmans have breeders and dealer’s licenses in connection with their Mesa farm where they raise exotic animals.
“Kirsten is like the mother of everything,” James said of his wife, who hand feeds and raises many of their birds and animals.
“We want these pets to interact with us nicely and not be afraid of us,” she added.
“The tortoises and birds we will supply to the store, but most of the true exotic animals are going to zoos and educational programs and aren’t necessarily pets,” James explained.
There is a display case at the front of the store with nonpet items, such as fossils, minerals, rocks and shells. “Jim Palmer, a retired teacher whose parents owned a small pet store way back in the day, helped with the inspiration of the ‘Nature Grotto,’ the science- and educational-based corner,” James said.
“Nature Grotto” serves as a resource for teachers and home school programs to get artifact-type teaching tools for classrooms or educational programs. Additionally, Palmer developed handouts for the various artifacts in the cases.
In addition to WildSide Pets, the Badmans co-own the Phoenix Reptile Expo set for November 17 and November 18 at the Mesa Convention Center. It draws thousands of reptile fans Valleywide.