CHESHIRE — As the world began changing in rapid fashion in late March, and shutdowns began to spread across the country like wildfire in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Robin and Joe Whitright were anxious to hear what their immediate future held.
Gov. Ned Lamont had begun ordering businesses to be closed to slow the spread of the disease, with only those deemed “essential” allowed to stay open.
“We haven’t missed a day since opening in 2007,” explained Robin Whitright. “I just distinctly remember waiting and wondering, ‘Will we be deemed an essential business?’”
The Whitrights are the owners and operators of Paws Pet Resort & Spa, at 312 East Johnson Ave., a pet boarding and grooming facility that caters to all manner of dogs, cats, and other domestic pets.
Eventually, the word came down from the state: Pet care facilities, like Paws, would be allowed to remain open. The news came as a relief to the couple, but it also meant that changes had to be made immediately.
“Our business changed quite a bit,” said Joe Whitright. “We had to rethink everything.”
Several conference calls were scheduled with industry professionals, during which trends were discussed and adaptations were recommended.
The first big change came in how the way in which pets would be dropped off and picked up at Paws. Under normal circumstances, pets are brought into the facility’s lobby by the owner and handed to a Paws staff member. However, because of the pandemic, Paws decided to go completely contactless.
Customers now are asked to take their pets into the vestibule, remove the leash when appropriate, and then leave the pet there. A staff member then enters the vestibule from the lobby and takes the pet back into the facility, avoiding all direct contact with the owner.
The process is similar for pickups, as, when the owner arrives, the pet is left in the vestibule by staff to be retrieved moments later.
“We wanted to go no hands-on so the customers feel safe and the staff feels safe,” said Robin Whitright.“We are doing everything over the phone (arranging for drop-offs, pick-ups, billing) and everyone is really getting it. They are really good with everything. It’s been good, but we do miss the face-to-face interaction.”
While procedures have changed at Paws, so too has the way in which services are being utilized. Much of Paws business has traditionally come from those going away on a trip, whether business or otherwise, and when the pandemic hit, those trips stopped. With the world essentially shut down for much of April and May, local residents were staying home.
But while the boarding business was down, grooming services were in demand.
“Grooming (services) are busier than ever,” said Robin Whitright.
Paws also began to put more focus on a robust daycare program, as they found that, while travelers weren’t looking to board their pets for extended stays, many individuals working in essential services needed a place to care for their pets while they worked longer hours.
Paws has been able to keep their entire staff on, and in recent weeks they’ve seen an uptick in pets being boarded at the facility.
And the Whitrights are hoping that, if the current positive trends continue in Connecticut and surrounding areas, people may be more inclined to take short trips all throughout the fall and even into the winter.
“When the pandemic started, it was our intention to come through this stronger than ever,” Robin Whitright said. “We weren’t going to let it knock us down.”
For more information on Paws Pet Resort & Spa, visit https://www.pawspet.com/.