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How I’ve Worked My Pet Business Through This Challenging Time

Keep calm and clean on …

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IN THE PETS+ Brain Squad survey on the impact of COVID-19, 55 percent of pet business owners and managers who responded said they’d seen a spike in revenues. Yikes!

Reading that statistic, I was happy for my peers, yet knew that my business was not among that 55 percent. Wag Central is a 15,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Stratford, CT. We offer dog daycare, boarding, training, grooming, swimming, parties and boutique retail, and have a bakery cafe.

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Like many, I had seen coverage of a virus spreading through China, but I was riding a wave of business success: a Retailer Excellence Award at Global Pet Expo, shopping for two new locations, lots of new puppy clients in our nursery program, a cohesive staff, an upcoming busy boarding season, and, yes, a modest but growing profit in my 2-½-year-old business. I was feeling great about my business, to say the least.

And then our booking staff reported a few cancellations on Thursday, March 12, due to uncertainty about travel overseas. By Monday, March 16, after a weekend of headline news, almost all of our boarding clients had canceled or postponed their travel. Followed by the onslaught of people staying home, my usually high daycare numbers dropped to about half. Boom!

I pulled out the “Outbreak Cleaning List” and got the staff moving. It’s the exhaustive checklist we use here at Wag when pups are coughing or there are cases of giardia. The cleaning protocols at Wag are already stringent, but this list is even more labor-intensive and combines the regular protocols followed by a bleach solution wipe-down 20 minutes later. It spares no detail: We even wipe down pens and the bottoms of our shoes. I spent time online learning about additional procedures.

Thankfully dogs cannot contract COVID-19, but as I delved into the mixed opinions on whether or not fur and pup’s feet can pass it on, I read about social distancing, and I thought about the possible transference of the virus via leashes, collars and cash, my head was spinning.

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I added a hand-washing and sanitizing protocol to our usual standards, and constantly reminded staff about social distancing. Washing dogs or spraying them with antiseptic before sending them home seemed excessive, but we offered. I wrote a simple email to all of our clients that we would stay open as long as we could, that our facility is beyond clean and our staff is healthy.

I’m not an alarmist. I’ve often jokingly said that I’m a great person to have around in a crisis because I can keep a clear head, stay calm and problem solve without letting emotions get in the way. But that said, you’re of no good use in an emergency unless you recognize it is, in fact, an emergency. By early evening on Monday, March 16, I called it an emergency and reached out individually to my 32 employees to tell them that we were paring down to a skeleton staff and that I would be in touch. By Tuesday, March 17, I was making multiple calls to lay people off and tell them to file for unemployment. You know that tornado emoji? It belongs right here.

Currently, the skeleton crew is working out. I’ve humbly gone from running my business to working it, which has brought on a lot of positivity for me. I’m face to face (well, at least more than 6 feet apart) with the two-legged clients, hearing what their needs are and figuring out what will keep this jam going. The State of Connecticut has deemed pet sitting and boarding essential, so the tennis ball is in my court to keep clients coming in and services running as normally as possible.

Unfortunately, I can’t project more than a few days at a time, but I’ve consulted with my financial team and attorney to make sure I’m not getting in over my head. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman once said, “An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.” My fingers are crossed tightly that my baby doesn’t crash.

Angela Pantalone is owner and “chief tail wager” at Wag Central in Stratford, CT, a 15,000-square-foot, all-in-one dog-care facility. Email her at angela@wagcentralct.com.

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