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NORTH SIDE – The coronavirus pandemic resulted in thousands of people adopting and caring for dogs and cats – but dog walkers and pet sitters have actually seen a decline in business.
With many people with pets being able to work from home or experiencing financial setbacks due to the pandemic, businesses that walk dogs and look after pets on the North Side are struggling. Some pet services – with no obvious panning option – do 25 to 50 percent of the work they did before COVID.
Carla Pastorelli, who owns Snappy Paws dog walking company and works in the far northwest, said the company’s business has declined about 50 percent since July – better than it did while ordering at home at the start of the pandemic, but not by much, she said.
“For the first few months of 2020, business was 25 percent of normal business,” said Pastorelli, who lives in Portage Park. “It’s devastating, it’s like your worst nightmare. So far it’s been difficult to work with 50 percent. “
Pastorelli, a single mother of three, enjoyed the flexibility of her job and the close relationships she had built with clients. But now she’s lost a third of her clients; Of the remaining people, she has minimal interaction with them due to the pandemic.
Pastorelli’s 11 dog walkers went from about 12 dogs a day to about two, giving or taking a few routes that still required walks.
“Each of our dog walkers saw a massive blow to what they were used to,” she said.
“It knocked my little sand castle down”
Joe Killeen, an independent dog walker who works in Roscoe Village, Lincoln Park, Lakeview and Rogers Park, said he walked seven to twelve dogs a day before the pandemic. Now he goes five at most because people are home and run their own dogs.
Even before the coronavirus, life as an independent dog walker was difficult, Killeen said, but he made steady cash and established regular customers.
“Without the pandemic, I’d take a dozen walks a day,” said Killeen, who lives in Rogers Park and has been walking the dog on his own since 2019. It knocked my little sand castle down. “
Last year, Killeen depended on Lakeview Pantry for about four months because he wasn’t making enough money to fill the gap with all of his bills. He said his income has been “touch and go” since the summer.
But Killeen is grateful to some customers who use it every day even when they are at home, he said. They sometimes send him away with a hot meal and extra money.
“It’s little things like this that have been an absolute godsend,” he said. “As far as my work is concerned, I felt more taken into account and cared for by the people who look after me [needed resources] as corporate people. “
Killeen said he has two clients starting this spring and hopes the pandemic dog adoption trend will help him and the industry make a comeback even if remote working continues.
Tony Schreck, a certified dog trainer who founded Windy City Dog Walkers in 2007, said his company is about 40 percent active and has grown from 450 daily customers to about 250. He used to have 46 dog walkers and now has around 38, but most employees only have one to three walks a day. He said a Paycheck Protection Program loan helped the company, but there wasn’t enough work to get around.
“The pandemic hit us extremely hard. It was tough, ”said Schreck, who lives in Lincoln Square. “We are still seen as an essential business to serve our healthcare workers [customers]but there’s not much to shoot … Nobody [in the industry] came up with a magical sauce. “
Chicago Urban Pets, who works downtown, also received a loan for the Paycheck Protection Program. However, owner Stephanie Fumanelli, who is also a professor at the School of Art Institute, said the financial loss was just one of the problems caused by the pandemic.
The Lakeview resident juggled her mother’s duties for her toddler, taught virtual classes, and balanced employee safety with a sharp decline in business. In November, she decided to temporarily close Chicago Urban Pets.
“There were so many factors stacked against me that it didn’t make sense to stay open,” said Fumanelli, who founded the company in 2013 [Paycheck Protection Program] Money, once we close, we barely break even. The last paycheck I did on my own paycheck from school. “
Fumanelli decided to reopen in April and is hoping their seven pet carers and managers will be back at work for the company, but there are no guarantees.
The closing “was scary because you want to keep these people, but you know you might lose them all and have to start over,” she said.
Parents who work and help kids with virtual learning who don’t have time to take the dog out, as well as key employees who still need pet care, have helped Windy City Dog Walkers and Snappy Paws keep a smaller but steady trickle of business running.
Pastorelli said she was grateful to customers who supported her with donations and tips, including those who canceled walks but still pay for visits.
Pet service owners are confident that with warmer weather and more people vaccinated, the pet care industry can return to some sort of normalcy.
“The dog walking industry is not going away,” said Schreck. “The training business is booming right now [because of new adoptions]. I am confident that the more vacation care will get better. We used to have a waiting list in every neighborhood, and now I do free training reviews. “
Another silver lining Fumanelli is hoping for is the close-knit pet services community. She has received business practice guidance from Schreck and others, and plans to start a marketing blog full of tips and hacks for owning a pet in a city.
“Pet sitting companies come together to support and support one another,” she said. “The closer relationships I am building now that we are all struggling have been beneficial even for the future of the pet care industry in Chicago.”
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