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RVC pet store owner back in spotlight after viral video

Critics call conditions on his 1990s television show ‘animal cruelty’

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An online video featuring Marc Morrone, owner of Parrots of the World, a pet store in Rockville Centre, and former host of several educational television programs about pet keeping, has recently gone viral, and many commenters on the Internet have expressed their displeasure.

Morrone’s call-in show, titled the Extra Help Pet Show and later renamed Metro Pets, started in 1995, and featured dozens of animals, including exotic birds, ferrets, cats, small dogs, and sometimes, a monkey, interacting in close quarters on an open table. Under these conditions, the animals sometimes fought with one another, or fell off the table.

Rob Lichter, the television studio director at South Side High School, who formerly worked as a crew member on the Cablevision series, created a compilation video of such incidents, and had given it to Marrone as a gift when the show moved to a new studio. Other YouTube accounts picked up and re-posted the video years after Lichter had posted it online, and it has since been featured on truTV and Tosh.0,. He never intended it to go viral, and said he was distressed by the reactions that his video began receiving.

On a version of the video titled “World’s Worst Pet Show,” shared on Facebook by a page called Sciencegasm, one viewer wrote, “I seriously hope NOBODY ever buys an animal from this dude. He’s extraordinarily careless.” Another of the 11,000 comments read: “This is messed up, pretty much just animal cruelty.”

“You take any species [of] dogs, cats, monkeys, lizards,” Morrone said, responding to his critics in a voice that many of his store’s visitors have likened to that of the birds he keeps, “15 percent of them are going to be knuckleheads. Humans too.

“They like to hide behind the anonymity of the Internet,” he added. “It promotes a culture of cruelty, and lack of kindness and respect.”

Morrone asked rhetorically whether television executives would have allowed him on the air, or whether his five books about pets would have been published if he was as irresponsible as critics claimed. He has also appeared as a pet expert for Martha Stewart, whose company gave him a half-hour show in 2003 called “Petkeeping with Marc Morrone,” which taped in Rockville Centre until 2013. He questioned aloud whether his store, which has been in the village since 1978, would still be open if he didn’t know how to care for animals.

He called his critics “Neanderthals,” and “Internet nerds” with too much time on their hands, and said it was ironic that he, “a man who has no Facebook page, who doesn’t own an iPhone, who has no use at all for the Internet, is trending online.”

Lichter said that he understood why some people might be angry after seeing the video, but added that incidents like those shown in the compilation were rare.

“Don’t forget,” Lichter cautioned, “we were doing three shows a week, so what you see in the video is just a small sampling. Most of the time, everything was fine, the animals got along. They weren’t just falling off the table all the time. There would be a week’s worth of shooting, and an animal would fall maybe twice.”

He recalled only one time that an animal got seriously hurt. A glass enclosure got knocked over, killing the small bird inside. The audio of this incident is included in the original video. Over a black screen that indicates a cut-to-commercial, the voice of a crew member can be heard saying “Yeah, he’s dead.” Morrone’s voice followed: “Aw… he’s dead, Jim,” a reference to a common trope in the 1970s sci-fi classic, Star Trek, of which Morrone says he is a huge fan.

Most of the time, Lichter said, incidents involving animals were more benign. Birds would get loose and fly into the studio’s rafters, where crew members would have to retrieve them after the show. Once, according to Morrone, a ferret got lost, but was recovered and returned safely by a crew member a few hours later.

Morrone’s show was a welcome break from the relatively predictable work that the studio’s other programs entailed, according to Lichter. “Among the crew,” he said, “it was everybody’s favorite show.”

In 2014, someone discovered Lichter’s video, and posted it to Reddit, a social media site. “I got a huge bunch of subscriptions,” Lichter said, “and then it started getting [negative] comments. I felt terrible, because I love Marc. I was doing this because it was funny, not because I had anything bad to say about him at all. So I deleted and blocked the comments.”

More recently, the original video, taken from Lichter's "Petpourri" YouTube account, has been posted by other YouTubers without attribution. “I have about 700,000 views on the original,” Lichter said, “but there’s at least one other that has three million or something like that.”

He said it upsets him that “Someone who did nothing, did no work,” could so easily take credit for something he did. “I’m not trying to make money, it’s just nice to be recognized.”

On the other hand, Lichter said, “The idea that I made it, and it’s out there, and I have no control over it, is weird to me,“ Lichter said, adding, “This makes me realize that I could never be famous.”

When he started reading the comments, he said, “I got this sinking feeling, because I imagined [Morrone], at home, with his wife saying, ‘Look what they’re saying about you!’”

He was even more concerned about the effect it might have on Morrone’s livelihood. He said, “The idea that I could take him down like that, just devastated me.”

But Morrone’s bigger concerns are with the ebbs and flows of the pet market. He had to stop carrying puppies, for example, because they were too expensive.

Regarding his recent Internet fame and ridicule, he said, “None of this stuff bothers me,” adding, with a bit of a squawk, “I don’t care about anything!”