Local Pet Businesses Are Counting on You

Alicia Bailey

The pandemic has thrown a curveball into all our lives, serving many of our local businesses a year that has been full of challenges, worry, and continually changing strategies to meet their client’s needs and, most importantly, stay open. We spoke to small business owners and others on the front lines of the pet industry in the Coachella Valley to see how they’re adapting to our “new normal” and what they’re doing to continue bringing you the services and products that keep your pet healthy and enriched.

Veterinary Services

Visiting your vet’s office during the pandemic is a bit different, so if you haven’t yet visited your pet’s doctor, be sure to familiarize yourself with the new protocols that most veterinary offices are practicing these days. Prepare to wear your mask, call when you arrive, and don’t expect to go inside with your pet. Pets are picked up by vet staff curbside or at your vehicle, and you’ll be asked to wait in your vehicle during the appointment. You’ll have another phone call with your doctor to discuss the exam, diagnostic recommendations, and other items before your pet is brought back out. You will also need to process your payment over the phone, so prepare for that. Despite the change in how we visit our vet these days, the new procedures are very organized and still feel personal, even though you’re not able to physically accompany your pet.

Michael Hood, hospital manager at VCA Desert Animal Hospital in Palm Springs, shares that they are consistently monitoring policies and processes to provide better client service and continuing to educate clients on how these processes are functioning. Hood says, “The hospital is taking extra care to pay attention to both physical and mental well-being of their associates.” He adds, “We have created a ‘Zen Room’ that includes a massage chair, aromatherapy, and soft music for those on staff who need a quiet break among other perks to keep staff motivated, safe, and healthy.”

Retail

Shopping for food, supplies, and other items for your pet looks a little different these days, but rest assured that your local pet supply and pet retail shops have made changes to serve you, whether you want to shop in-store, curbside, or by delivery.

Michael McGaughey, co-owner of Earthwise Pet, says, “We are adapting as best we can and have implemented some procedures to make sure our customers can still feed their furry family members a high-quality diet—offering curbside pickup and home delivery for those who would rather not come into the store. Also, we maintain rigorous cleaning protocols and enforce responsible practices at the store for those who would prefer to come in to make their purchase.

We continue to get real joy out of helping people care for their furry family members, especially during this time when it can be more challenging than in the past. In addition, with all the recent adoptions, we have enjoyed meeting new people and their newest family members. This has been a exciting time for a lot of previously sheltered dogs and cats who have found their forever homes, and we love being able to make sure that they get the best food, treats, and toys possible.

We wish everyone health and happiness and want them to know that we appreciate their continued support during this difficult time. We are still here for all their pet food and pet supply needs, and we look forward to getting through this time together.”

Shana Holman, owner of The Pet Oasis, says that the health and safety of their clients and staff are paramount, and they have installed an ionizing system in the HVAC system of their store that kills viruses and bacteria in the air and on surfaces multiple times per hour. “We are grateful to be healthy and consider it a blessing to be an essential business, able to remain open at this time,” said Holman. The Pet Oasis is consistently updating their website with new products and offers free delivery within 25 miles of the store for orders over $25. For orders that don’t hit the $25 requirement, the delivery fee is just $6.99.

Businesses without a brick and mortar location are also having to adjust how they serve their clients. Spoiled Dog Designs owner Patt Savastano, who relies on the College of the Desert (COD) Street Fair for her storefront, had to refocus quickly when the first wave of the shutdown happened. With no storefront, she found herself reliant solely on online sales, and hers was one of the first businesses to start producing masks. That was a move that she says kept her staff working during the early days of the pandemic.

At press time, the COD Street Fair is closed until students returned for in-person classes, the date for which is unknown at this time. The vendors who rely on the COD Street Fair to serve their clients have come together and created a website called TheStreetFair. com, where you can connect with your favorite shops, including Spoiled Dog Designs. Patt says she’s open for business, fully stocked, taking custom orders via email, phone, and zoom—and she encourages everyone to shop small businesses when they can.

Training, Daycare, and Boarding

Let’s face it, some of us are back at work, required to travel for family or business, or simply need our pet to stay enriched. Doggie daycares, pet boarding, and training service locations are open and practicing new protocols to keep everyone safe.

Lori Carmen, owner of Dream Dogs Professional Dog Training, shared that masks and social distancing is required, as well as checking temperatures before entering the building. They are also doing drop-off service only. One-on-one training is done through Zoom, The Woof Pack is replacing group classes, and virtual classroom events are available so clients can safely work with trainers. As for existing and potential clients, Lori says, “We are open and doing our best to provide amazing services during this time— thank you for supporting us and trusting us with your training needs.”

Despite the uncertainties of the pandemic, new businesses are still opening. Manny Guerra, owner of K9 Pet Parent Training, opened the doors to his new facility, PLACE, on October 5, 2020. When asked how it felt to open a business during the pandemic, Guerra admitted, “It was a little terrifying, but we knew there were enough families who needed our services, and we had a lot of positive support from our existing clients, so we took the leap of faith.”

Guerra continued, “Over the last 7 years of private training in the Coachella Valley area, the main limit was not having regular access to social dogs in a controlled setting to work on the next step in training. The new facility allows us to facilitate a working environment that allows dogs to progress in their skill sets beyond what we can accomplish in private training, and still allows us to layer in owner training, resulting in a great resource for families.”

Non-Profit Impact

The one thing all non-profit organizations depend on most is donations, and because of the pandemic, critical fundraising event—in the form of galas, fun-runs, and other in-person events—have been canceled. Many organizations have pivoted to hosting online virtual events to keep their donors and supporters engaged in their work and the animals and people they serve.

Fundraising is not the only area of the non-profit sector that is turning to innovation and flexibility. When it comes to pet adoptions, organizations have adapted by increasing their online and social media activity and creating protocols like appointments only and contactless adoption services to ensure everyone stays safe.

It’s recommended that you call or visit the website of the animal welfare organization you’re planning to visit before making the trip, so you can familiarize yourself with their health and safety protocols, animals available, clinic hours if applicable, adoption/ foster/volunteer application process and requirements, as well as updated operating hours.

We asked local businesses about how the pandemic has affected their businesses. Dr. Lillian Roberts of Country Club Animal Clinic responded:

What are the new normal procedures/protocols you have in place at the moment? Since March 2020, we have instituted “curbside” service, as have other practices in the Valley. We are fortunate in that our physical setup works well for this, even having a few shaded parking spots. Pet owners phone in from the parking lot and a technician retrieves the pet from their car, taking the history and explaining details of the protocols as needed. Depending on what they are here for, the owner may wait in their cars or head home, or to run a few errands while we take care of their pets’ needs.

How are you staying positive through this pandemic as a business owner? For one thing, I’m blessed with a wonderful staff who have adapted well to the new normal. Every one of them truly wants to help people and especially their pets. One unexpected feature of the pandemic is that lots of people took advantage of being stuck at home, to adopt new pets. And a surprisingly positive aspect of bringing the pets in without their parents is that all the dog activity takes place in out large treatment area. (We have a separate, smaller area for the cats—seeing lots of new cats and kittens too!) So we’ve had the pleasure of meeting lots of new pets—both puppies and kittens as well as grateful new shelter adoptees. Most are basically healthy, so the whole staff enjoys playing with them and offering treats. We call it “puppy therapy” and there’s nothing better! This has the double benefit of also encouraging the animals to look forward to their visits to the vet, which we hope will continue into the future!

What would you like your clients and potential new clients to know? Just that we’re still here, still open, and doing our best to keep up with the surprisingly high demand for veterinary services. We are accepting new clients, as our schedule allows. Above all, we are amazed at how resilient everyone is and we are so grateful for your patience as we all get through this weird time together!

How are you and your clients adapting to the new normal? We, VERY UNDERSTANDABLY, have seen a large decrease in customers during this time, most noticeably in our overnight boarding. Work, traveling, leisure time away has ceased, and the need for away from home care for their pups is, again understandably, not needed at this time.

BUT, I do have to say, we are so very fortunate there are Pet Parents that still love to bring their pups to Doggie Day Care—even if just to escape from one another due to being together TOO MUCH and need a break from one another! Though our numbers have decreased, we are still very fortunate to be able to care and play with the pups that do visit.

What would you like your clients and potential new clients to know? We at Doggie’s Day Out of Palm Springs THANK our clients SO MUCH for the continued support—whether their pups are able to continue to visit—or just by letting us know they may not be able to visit at this time but that they miss us (and we miss YOU), and plan on returning as soon as they are able to. And that we are doing our best to keep our staff, clients, and pups safe.

It is so important to support your community in any manner you are able to—which does not necessarily need to be monetary—follow the safety guidelines to upgrade the statewide tier system, reach out to neighbors and family via telephone or Zoom—we can all use a little uplifting and contact in whatever the safest manner we can provide—wear your mask, wash your hands, and just be safe.

Support local businesses if you are able to by ordering take out/ delivery/outdoor eating. Order your favorite local supplies online or for curb side pick-up. Just even reaching out to your favorite business to let you know you are thinking of them is so very uplifting —I know this from firsthand experience. The love we have in our small community is huge. It’s not a great time right now. Things are difficult in our busy world. We are not used to being restricted and that is hard in so many ways, but truly just try to do your best.

— Jennifer Guglielmo, Doggie’s Day Out of Palm Springs

How are you and your clients adapting to the new normal?

“We are fortunate to work in an industry with wonderful, caring customers who have been patient and understanding as we adjust to and cope with this new normal. The difficult part is not being able to interact personally… and we aren’t seeing as many of our four-legged customers as we’d like! Farrah misses showing all of her new toys to our friends and customers, and that’s been the hardest part.”

How are you staying positive through this pandemic as a business owner? Focusing on the important stuff: staying safe, helping others, and trying to make every day a great day. We know that the pandemic will end one day, and we don’t stop thinking about tomorrow!

— Gary Houser, Treat Buddy

What are the new normal procedures/protocols you have in place at the moment?

“We have closed our lobby to the public. We are coming out to the vehicles and taking pets from there to whichever service they are using. (We have remained open for all 3 services: daycare, boarding, and grooming during the pandemic.) We are all required to wear masks at all times when interacting with clients. We have a sanitation station set up in the parking lot with sanitizer and masks to ensure safety. We still offer tours and temperament tests; however, they are by appointment only. We have also asked clients to limit the amount of things coming into the facility. At this time we are providing all pets with bedding and blankets. All staff and any clients coming in for tours have to have their temperatures taken before they can come through.

What would you like your clients and potential new clients to know? We’d like to thank all of our clients for continuing to support us by bringing their fur babies for social play and spa treatments. We would not be able to stay open without the love and appreciation they have shown to all of us.

— Brian Strand, The Grand Paw