Kudos to Dom Parisella
My first semester at college was tough. I remember getting sick and having no one really care much about it. What a lonely realization to have at age 18. I lived in the dorm and despite my dramatic recollection of the initial transition, I did start to make friends. This growing list of new partnerships consisted mostly of fellow students, mostly my basketball teammates at Rhode Island College in Providence. One particular friendship was especially influential in my growth as a young man.
As a successful student, I really appreciated the opportunity to learn, and my interest in exotic animals, particularly reptiles and turtles, had been a strong part of my personal history. When I learned about an exotic pet store just minutes from my college, I had to go. My new roommate, teammate and best friend John shared my affinity for reptiles and we visited Pure Paradise Pets in Johnston, Rhode Island often. The store owner, Dom Parisella would always chat with us, sharing his knowledge and expertise with us.
At this time, the internet was growing rapidly and information was becoming increasingly available, but niche topics like the care of specific turtle species was not yet readily available. Dom became my go-to for all things reptile knowledge. We would talk for hours about our favorite reptilian species, especially turtles. In addition to helping us breed our first reptiles, a group of Bearded Dragons and some Leopard Geckos, Dom helped me actualize a dream I hadn’t been able to shake since I was a nine-year-old boy at the Bronx Zoo.
He always had cool species, especially by frigid Northeast standards, like an adult American Alligator, a huge Anaconda, an Aldabra Tortoise and huge Sulcata Tortoises. For me, nothing was as cool as the Alligator Snapping Turtles he had, though. I would sit and watch them for hours. One day he received a shipment at the store that included a hatchling Alligator Snapper, and I had to have it. This was a big step for me and the purchase of that reptile and Dom’s unwavering patience and support, catapulted me toward a life spent in awe of and dedication to turtles and tortoises.
During our senior year, our basketball team was in the middle of the best season in school history. At one point during the middle of the season, John and I realized we had been visiting the pet shop before every win, so we never let a game day pass without spending time with Dom. Aside from just being a superstitious excuse to play with snakes and gators, I used this time to unwind. Basketball games made me very nervous, as the need to perform well consumed my brain and made it difficult to relax. The animals helped me. Dom and John helped me.
Dom proudly displayed photos of us from the college athletics program in the shop for all to see. He even came to our games with a loud blow horn – not that he would need it with his deep and bellowing voice. His support meant a lot to us back then. Today, I look back at this time with great appreciation. Dom was just being himself, but his being there for us and encouraging us and lending a listening ear probably didn’t seem like much, but it changed my life.