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When Disaster Strikes — Strategies to help you roll with the punches.

When disaster strikes in your pet care facility, are you prepared? This article goes deep into the lives of PetExec clients during times of crisis and how they rolled with the punches and kept their cool.
When disaster strikes in your pet care facility, are you prepared? This article goes deep into the lives of PetExec clients during times of crisis and how they rolled with the punches and kept their cool.

The day that you decided to start your business you might have envisioned gleaming smiling customers and thunderous applause for all the extra care and resources that it took to take the risk.  Only a certain few get to realize their dream of having the freedom and luxury of starting their own business.  The signs are up, your website is beautiful and the sun is shining rays of happiness in your direction.

Then one day, reality enters the building. A natural disaster, a disease outbreak happens, or something else to throw you off course.  Either you are already prepared or you need to make a plan and fast! The following real-life tips and examples will help you be prepared when and if a disaster strikes.

Be Proactive 

During a crisis, you may want to bury your head under the sand and hide, but you need to immediately broadcast your plan to your customer base of pet parents.  If your management software if able, notify your customer list and blast updates periodically.  Use social media with updates and under no circumstances leave customers waiting and wondering. How would your emergency plan stack up against these brave pet professionals? 

Surviving Hurricane Harvey changed the way we do business…

The following is a story from PetExec Clients: Judd and Thuy Gottlieb, Owners - Mount Pleasant Avenue, LLC

In 2017, we were challenged and put to the test by Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Harvey put the City of Houston under water and made our dog hotel, Mount Pleasant Avenue, Premier Canine Villas and Spa (“MPA”), an island. While our situation could have defeated our spirits, it didn’t; we wouldn’t let it. So what did we do?  We closed shop, moved our guests into adjoining suites at a human hotel, and made our experience a giant slumber party. But most importantly, we gave our human clients – who were unable to return home and were watching news stories of constant devastation – peace of mind with humor through our social media.

Hurricane Harvey wasn’t supposed to be the storm that it was, but we were ready as we could be.  We had an evacuation plan in place: get supplies, stay in constant communication with parents, and most importantly, make arrangements for us and our guests to stay safe at a dog friendly place with backup generators. A few days before Harvey made landfall, we closed MPA and implemented our plan. We called all our clients to discuss the storm and evacuation plans. Parents that were able to cancel their plans kept their babies at home. The kids whose parents were unable to make it back to MPA stayed with us. After sandbagging MPA and sending our employees home to their families, we (the owners of MPA) packed up a cargo van with a week’s worth of supplies and our remaining guests and headed to higher ground.

The first night was relatively uneventful. We watched Big Brother and ordered room service for our guests (several small dogs, a pit bull, and a mastiff).  The second night was completely different; it was terrifying. The storm hit the City of Houston and we lost all power. The backup generators that we were relying on failed and the cell towers were clogged with people trying to reach loved ones. No more room service or basic amenities for us. Our only reliable method of communication was through social media. 

In order to keep sane and the parents of our guests informed and calm, we began posing our guests in humanlike poses around the hotel and posting the pictures on our Facebook page.  Bitsy eating breakfast in a bib and receiving tableside service. Sadie spooning a pillow on her own king size bed. Precious and Lily posing by the pool.  We were stranded at the hotel for almost a week with limited supplies and on and off power, and the parents of our guests never worried. They, along with other Houstonians as it turns out, were too busy laughing and enjoying our posts.

The “key” to our survival was preparation. After the hotel ran out of supplies and lost power, we were our own self-sufficient island with plenty of food and water.  Preparation enabled us to concentrate on our guests and turn a scary situation into fun memories, which we captured using social media. This is how we made it through Hurricane Harvey and it changed the way we do business.

When the person taking the heat is you!

Have you ever been faced with such a tough situation that the person you envy is the most is anyone who isn’t you?  All eyes are on you or your business and you have to get yourself out of a tight spot. When the going gets tough and all eyes are on you, can determination give you just enough energy to power through a tragedy?

The California ‘Camp Fire’ Crisis

The following is a story from PetExec Client: Sarah Richardson, Owner - Sarah Richardson’s Canine Connection

November 8, 2018 was a day that forever changed my geographic area. On that day, a “perfect storm” of fire and wind erupted in what became known as the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. Within hours of the fire starting, the sleepy foothills Town of Paradise, and its surrounding unincorporated areas, were engulfed in flames. Approximately 50,000 residents were displaced and, when the damage was tallied, over 18,000 structures were destroyed, most within the first four hours of the fire. In the space of a day, the once sleepy, foothills Town of Paradise and many areas nearby, had been reduced to ash and rubble.

I live in Chico, California, the nearest town to Paradise, where I own and operate a small, busy dog center that provides training, daycare, and boarding to area residents. When I awoke on November 8, to a sky that was smoke-filled, and learned of the fire that was roaring through our neighboring town, I knew that time was short and critical in responding to this disaster. First, we had to be ready to implement our own evacuation plan for the dogs in our care, should the fire threat reach us. Second, we needed to assess our capacity for accommodating the dogs of our displaced clients as we serve many people from Paradise. Third, we needed to consider our larger community role, helping to support the emergency animal shelters that quickly filled with thousands of animals – those dropped off by evacuees who needed temporary housing for their animals and those picked up as “strays” by Good Samaritans. 

As the disaster unfolded on November 8, we readied ourselves and the dogs in our care for evacuation. We rented cargo vans and outfitted them with crates so that every boarding dog could be safely contained. We organized the dogs’ belongings – food and meds, medical and client records, and contacted all owners to let them know our plan was in place. We contacted all dogs in daycare with us and asked that they be picked up as soon as possible. We assessed our staffing situation, recognizing that some staff were needing to evacuate their own families from the disaster area, and asking that those who could help be ready to do so. We waited. By 9pm that night, the mandatory evacuation zone had reached a mile to the east and south of us, too close for comfort. We chose to do a precautionary evacuation. With staff driving vans and personal cars, we caravanned to a friend’s property where we had safe, temporary shelter out of the immediate fire zone. By late afternoon the following day, the fire threat to our area had lifted and we made the journey back home.

Our next consideration was how to serve our clients who were displaced. We pride ourselves in cultivating a sense of family amongst our small, dedicated clientele and we struggled with how to charge for services (and hence keep our business financially afloat) when we really wanted to give freely from our hearts. We deeply discounted our boarding and daycare rates for existing clients who had been displaced by the fire and maintained the discounts for several months. Many of our clients were housing their dogs in hotel rooms and friends’ homes and desperately needed dog care while they were coping with crowded living conditions or no yards. Many of their dogs were dealing with a high level of stress. We listened to our clients – many needed our caring support themselves along with that we provided to their dogs. We adjusted dog care as necessary to support behavior changes in dogs that were stressed. We put people and their dogs ahead of profits.

We are now about nine months past the day of the disaster. I wish we had never had to face such a horrendous event but the lessons we have learned have been invaluable. First among these is the importance of having a solid evacuation plan, one that addresses a variety of evacuation types, from evacuating from the building to evacuating from the community. The second important lesson had to do with recognizing and staying true to our values as a business. When we had to make decisions related to pricing and resources, our commitment to caring for our clients and community helped guide us and ultimately, has helped favorably distinguish us in our area. Having a strong sense of values, mission, and priorities, along with good procedures, were key to our navigating the immediate disaster and aftermath of the Camp Fire.

You are in the service business and no matter how perfect you try to be in your processes and procedures, things will go wrong at some point.  You need to be prepared and ready to take swift action to do the very best of your abilities to produce the absolute best end result.  Be proactive and prepared with some kind of action plan in place that is well known by your entire staff.

Safety Program Requirements

The following is an excerpt from PetExec Client: John Sturgess, Owner, Adogo Pet Hotels

All facilities need to identify the safety issues and list the programs and training requirements. The programs should include the following:

Dog Related issues
Employee Related issues
Accident Investigation & Reporting
Emergency Action
Hazard Communication
Workplace accident and injury reduction
Noise exposure and Hearing Conservation
OSHA Record Keeping
Personal Protective Equipment
Safe Drive (if you have a shuttle)

Safety and Emergency Procedures

Management needs to commit to a safe and healthy workplace to prevent accidents and injury to health arising out of, linked with, or occurring in the course of work or as a result of the operation of your dog care facility. Adopt responsible measures to mitigate negative impacts that the workplace could have on the environment.

A safety and emergency policy statement “must” explain what the safety and emergency procedures are and why they are important to understand as well as what needs to be done in an emergency situation.  Employees and Managers should obey safety rules and exercise caution and common sense in all work activities.

Implement a Training Program that regularly provides information to employees about workplace safety and health issues, response requirements and how to prevent issues from occurring in the first place.

The potential issues of concern include severe weather, natural disasters such as tornado, flood, blizzard and other local issues. Fire and Medical emergency procedures need to be outlined in a clear and concise way with employees. An example would be to make sure all employees know where the emergency clinic is located in your market. Be prepared for other issues such as extended power loss, chemical management & spills, bomb threats, gas smells, etc.

Take all of this and put into a simple outline called Safety and Emergency Guidelines. Not only does management need to understand all safety & emergency requirements and procedures, but each facility needs a Safety Manager (does not have to be the General Manager) that communicates and updates all requirements and procedures.

Gain from your Pain

Being an entrepreneur involves taking risks. Businesses, especially in the pet space must face the reality of being thrown a curve ball to disrupt even your most careful planning.  Mistakes and pain are great teachers.  In a heated situation, you have to put out the fire and keep on moving ahead. The trick is to prepare for surprises, even tricky ones and have a plan of action.  The goal is still to strive for greatness, but also be able to look at each situation as a way to grow.  You chose the challenging path to be a pet professional combining passion, business, knowledge and tough crowd to please.  It isn’t always easy, but it is worth the hard work and unseen emotional pressure.   

Think of each day and each experience as a journey to your best self.  Once you master rolling with the punches, you will always surface even better than you started.  

Testimonial contributions by:

Judd & Thui Gottlieb, Owners Mount Pleasant Avenue. (832) 905-4955

Sarah Richardson, Owner, Sarah Richardson’s Canine Connection. (530) 345-1912

John Sturgess, Owner, Adogo Pet Hotels,  (952)-933-5200 and RetrieveOne Advisors - working within the pet industry helping early-stage to established organizations implement strategic business solutions.  (612)-850-3433 /

Paula Mosteller

A graduate of the University of Colorado, Paula spent the early part of her career marketing accounting software applications for large corporations. She continued her career in the corporate world in commercial marketing at The Boeing Company in Renton, WA. On a whim, Paula accepted a position working for a web development company where she discovered her passion for web development and applications. Then Paula decided it was time to go solo. She decided to combine her love of animals and helping people grow their businesses with the help of software. Paula and her long time workmate and friend, Paul Naro joined forces to create PetExec. Now living in sunny Arizona, married and mother of two grown children,  and two rescues, Paula enjoys being a gym rat and working with animal rescues when she is not busy helping PetExec Packmates.

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