The New World of Pet Care: Dog Businesses Struggle and A Vet Has Advice for Owners

Sam Geymin leads a training class at Amanda Gagnon Dog Training.

By Audrey Campbell

Only a few weeks ago, dogs and owners were gathering for early morning and weekend play dates. Pups were eagerly anticipating weekday afternoon visits from their walkers and likely dreading their monthly grooming appointments. In the span of a few days, all of those routines came to a dramatic halt with the rapid spread of Covid-19. Among the countless local institutions that have had to close their physical spaces and revamp their operating models are pet-centric businesses including behavioral trainers, dog-walkers, and veterinarians. “We’ve started a totally new business, just like everyone else,” said Amanda Gagnon, Founder and Head Trainer at Amanda Gagnon Dog Training. “We switched everything to live webinars and training sessions, and we hosted a quarantine webinar series.”

TruWalks, a dog walking and pet sitting business on the Upper West Side, lost approximately 70 percent of their business in past three weeks. Co-founders Daniel Martins and Madie Polyak spoke about the financial and emotional challenges they’ve faced. Martins noted that the severely reduced amount of business has forced them to effectively lay off 60 percent of staff members who walk dogs on a daily basis.

“It’s been devastating, honestly,” said Polyak. “We were concerned about [the walkers] taking public transportation and we had to make a decision to keep on only those based on the Upper West Side to try and prevent spread and contamination. We’ve sent walkers to work with medical gloves, hand sanitizer, and alcohol spray, and we gave them their own leashes so that they’re only touching one leash.”

Martins and Polyak have spent the past four years working together to grow the small business. In recent months, Martins said he felt the team was finally at a point where it was the strongest it had ever been. “The hardest part for me was to approach these employees and I was just apologizing to them. They didn’t do anything wrong. If anything, they comforted me and said ‘We totally get it. We know where you’re coming from.’”

The Benterprise team poses for a photo.

Ben Chaplin began his own dog walking business, Benterprise, approximately 5 years ago and he, too, has had to make difficult decisions in the past few weeks. “As of right now, I’m still holding on to pretty much everyone, but at a greatly reduced pay schedule,” Chaplin said. “I said to everyone, ‘Whatever I can do, I’ll do’ and hopefully it’s enough to hold people over until business returns.”

But Chaplin is worried about whether the business itself will be able to withstand such a difficult setback. “There’s no corporate safety net. It just isn’t feasible for a business with 14 people on staff to keep a full staff paid for weeks with only 20 percent of the business remaining. I’m okay taking a pay hit. I’m okay surviving for a little bit, but I’d hate to have to restart a whole new dog-walking team.” Chaplin, Polyak, and Martins all noted that clients who wish to support their businesses in the meantime can pre-pay for walks, holding on to the the credit for later and effectively supporting cash flow and staffing needs right now.

In the meantime, many Upper West Siders contend with restless dogs eager to play while their owners are struggling to juggle domestic responsibilities while working from home. For those owners, Gagnon recommends lots of exercise in the morning and mental stimulation throughout the day. “First of all, the best thing people can do now that they’ve canceled dog walkers is to get their dog some early morning exercise,” Gagnon said. While maintaining a safe social distance, Gagnon recommended long walks which will ensure the dog is tired and less likely to demand attention while owners are attempting to keep it professional on conference calls. Gagnon also recommends mental stimulation for dogs in the form of puzzle toys and treats.

Amanda Gagnon with her dog, Drago, in front of Belvedere Castle.

The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked so much fear that even seemingly mundane interactions have become a point of stress and anxiety. Dr. Karen Cantor of Westside Veterinary Center noted that she and her staff have been fielding frequent questions regarding the possibility of virus transmission between humans and pets. “Humans can’t give it to their pets,” Dr. Cantor explained. “However, pets could potentially act as a fomite, which means if someone coughs on a dog, the virus could perhaps be on the dog’s fur for 24 to 72 hours, and then if someone pets the dog in that time period, they could potentially catch it. I don’t think it will be common that someone pets a dog and they catch [the virus]. Everyone is keeping their social distance right now and I think that’s helpful.”

The Centers for Disease Control advises that people who do have coronavirus isolate themselves from their pets as a precaution.

If you are sick with COVID-19 (either suspected or confirmed), you should restrict contact with pets and other animals, just like you would around other people. Although there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus. This can help ensure both you and your animals stay healthy.

When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. Avoid contact with your pet including, petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with them. For more information visit: What to Do if You are Sick.

With the health and safety of staff members and clients in mind, Westside Veterinary Center has  incorporated new guidelines into their intake and client consultation processes. Gone are the days of owners and pets sitting together in a small waiting room. Since Governor Cuomo’s executive order that only essential businesses remain open, Westside Veterinary Center has been cutting down on their appointments and taking only urgent cases as well as dogs and cats who need to be updated on vaccines in order to remain healthy. “We’re having owners drop [the pet] off outside the hospital,” Dr. Cantor explained. “They walk up to the door, a nurse goes out and gets the pet wearing a mask and gloves and brings the dog or cat in to the hospital. The nurse gets the patient history, the doctor looks over the pet, and then calls the owner to discuss what treatments or procedures need to be done. Then we call them when we’re finished to come back and pick up the pet.” Dr. Cantor said the most difficult part of this new routine has been finding the right balance between supporting clients and sick pets while also maintaining the health and safety of the clinic’s staff.

In need of some good news? Gagnon says now could be a great time to adopt a puppy. “This is an awesome opportunity to get a puppy and have those house-training behaviors in place before you go back to work. It’s also scientifically proven that you can de-stress by focusing on your dog.”

NEWS | 37 comments | permalink
    1. Iris says:

      I’m looking for a pommerian, could you please be of assistance

      Thank you

    2. Diana says:

      I’m concerned about people adopting or buying pets because they’re bored at home for these months and then getting rid of them when things go back to normal. Taking in a pet isn’t a distraction: it’s a responsibility for a creature’s life and well being. I hope people remember that.

      • dc says:

        Diana, I agree with you. A dog cannot spend hours and hours alone each day when their owner goes back to work. A daily dog walker, doggy day care, etc. need to be factored into the decision to get a dog if you work outside the home.

      • AMEN DIANA! AMEN!!

      • Linda piken says:

        I posted almost the exact same thing on my FB page. Now is NOT the time to adopt a puppy unless you have a system already in place that allows for ongoing continuity. It is a good time however to consider fostering. Many of the shelters have more and more dogs coming in without enough homes to accommodate them in these times. Fostering is a great opportunity for a little reality testing so you don’t wind up re-homing your pup after this crisis is over

        • Amanda G says:

          It can be a great time to RESCUE a puppy who is in need of a home, if you were waiting for a good time to set up a solid house training schedule and you are equipped to give a puppy everything they need after the quarantine ends.


          • Teddy says:

            It doesn’t have to be puppy. There are many dogs older than a year who need good homes, some of whom need house training too. Older dogs, especially seniors ,are often overlooked, so please consider saving or fostering one.

      • Kat says:

        I get it. Maybe they can just foster, or foster to adopt. Sadly people are now dumping their pets over this virus 🤬

    3. Fred says:

      Dr. Cantor and Westside Vet are absolutely the best. She has been my dog’s vet since a puppy (she’s 13 now) and has provided wonderful care and compassionate, informed support in decisions we’ve made together. It’s terrific to hear that Westside is making such commitments to human and companion animal wellness during this unbelievable time.

    4. jerry says:

      We are dog lovers and walk our little guy 3 times a day but have always taken exception to the walkers who drag along 6 dogs at a time – half of whom don’t seem to be enjoying the experience. And I understand some people just don’t like dogs. So today, taking into account the current circumstances, what do I come across? A walker with 6 dogs having a gabfest with another walker, completely blocking the intersection of West End and 89th. Very poor judgement.

      • Charles says:

        The UWS is dominated by pack walking agencies. Why anyone would pay for their dog to be tied up with 20 other dogs outside a building while the walker picks up another dog is beyond me. I assume people don’t know/don’t care what’s happening to their dog when they use these services.

    5. Beverly says:

      Not sure I understand why the dog walking business isn’t better during this time. Having a dog walker allows the owner to stay at home, especially if they work from home.

      • lynn says:

        Dog walkers are not allowed into co-op buildings on the UWS and UES based on the fact that they go in and out of so many homes, and they’re also not considered essential workers. Owners are allowed to bring their dogs downstairs and outside to meet the walker, and then be there when the walker returns. At first I thought it was an inconvenience, but the walkers I know come from the outer boroughs so they were also taking public transportation, and most of them decided it wasn’t work the risk. Several pet owners are continuing to pay the monthly fees to make sure their longtime walkers still have a salary.

    6. Toni Stanley says:

      The vet recommends getting a puppy. I’d say get a cat or a kitten…not a puppy…and practically none of these issues will apply…now or in the future.

    7. Mking says:

      I was completely taken advantage of by my Vet Animal General in the time of Corona, when so many of us are somewhat helpless.
      Is Westside Veterinary Center charging their current clients $85.00 for a follow up call for everyone of their patients that was just prescribed medication that didn’t work?
      It is a tragedy that so many are out of work! Dentists, Doctors, Bartenders, Dog Walkers, but this is NOT forever and now is the time to really remember that we are all in this together and whatever your actions are now as a business owner will only come back in karma.

      • Dr. Karen Cantor says:

        We do not charge for phone calls for our existing clients. We have gotten requests for Telemedicine visits. Telemedicine appointments for existing patients is possible. You can not do them if you have not examined the patient before.
        These are difficult times for all of us. The veterinary community is doing the best we can to care for our sick patients. Westside Veterinary Center is seeing sick patients from 9am to 6pm M-F 10am- 4pm Sat/ Sun

        • MKing says:

          Well Dr. Cantor, you now have a new client. I was completely outraged since this was a follow up call from our original conversation only 10 days ago. There was absolutely no new diagnosis since we are new puppy owners and trying to figure out what agrees with the dogs stomach. Even after I told the vet I thought the charge was inappropriate, they still did it. I have spent my whole career in building loyal relationships and this one was lost rather quickly. Hope to meet you soon and stay safe!

          • Rebecca says:

            I’m sorry you had a bad experience – but I just have to put in a good word for Animal General, who has provided excellent and fairly priced care for my pets for many years. Any business can have a bad event, and the way you describe it does sound frustrating, but it is so different from what I have experienced that I really wanted to make clear this is not how I have experienced them.

    8. Pedestrian says:

      Dogs are great. I love dogs. What I don’t love are dog owners who let their dogs urinate on the hallway carpets. Hallways are not dog parks.

    9. Mary says:

      Thank you to Westside Vet Center for staying open for sick patients even during the Covid-19 pandemic. You are all so wonderful and caring.

    10. SSJC says:

      I’ve been using Amanda Gagnon’s videos to help with my dog barking (happening more than usual as I’m home more, and it’s like he’s performing for me).

      Certainly she’s creating something useful for the times!

      • Cheryl Shepherd says:

        Our Vets are limited to Emergencies only. They have shortened there hours drastically. We live very rural and because of this, we just lost our 11 year old best friend. She has had health issues all of her life. She was a small mixed breed. She developed quick onset labored breathing. Our vet was not there, so we had to go to an emergency vet an hour away. She didn’t make it. I don’t know if she choked on something or if her health just gave out. I will never know. She had a throat infection and was on antibiotics.

    11. Jen says:

      Thank you for highlighting TruWalks – they are a trusted company for many of us on the UWS – me and my dog look forward to working again with them as soon as we can.

    12. Camille Durante-Tiriolo says:

      I posted on FB this morning the same thing. It’s great they all have dogs and the shelters are empty but are they going to be thrown away when this disaster is over. I am really worried about them.

    13. Eileen Lewis says:

      I rece ntly moved before all this craziness. My Lhasa-poo is not handling it well I now have to tie her out. Whereby, before we had an underground fence; she had the run of the front yard and all her buddies would visit with her as they passed by with there person. Since moving and tying her out. She doesn’t want to go out, doesn’t want to eat yet has gained weight. I’m beside myself. I had a broken neck and can’t walk her. I can’t chase her when she becomes “Houdini” and backs out of every harness and collar I put on her. I know this weight is affecting her health. HELP, what can I do with these changes in her behavior?

      • HelenD says:

        I’ve had dogs for 30 years and I’ve never heard of a ‘tie out,’ so I looked it up. This makes sense to me: “A tie-out is a cable that is used to tie dogs in a yard so they don’t run away. They often make dogs aggressive because the dog can’t run away from any perceived threat, and we NEVER recommend them.”

      • Judy says:

        Get your dog the kind of collar that stays loose normally, but tightens when you or they pull on it. It has a name, but I can’t remember it. Any pet store would know it. I started using them all the time when my Schnauzer braced her front legs and backed out of herb harness at a busy intersection while we were on a vacation. We got her, but it was pure panic until we got her.

    14. Jennifer Volkman says:

      I was on track for adopting a dog when this CV hit. I am immunocompromised, so the thought of going to the foster home and having the dog going between us licking and petting each of us turned me off to the idea, because I’m being cautious. The article points to possible transmission, keeping distance, etc. Then ends with, now’s the time to adopt! Which is it? Is there even a way to transfer a pet to reduce, to the utmost, transfer of the virus? So bummed I didn’t adopt in Feb!

      • Dr. Karen Cantor says:

        If a new adopted dog is bathed just like washing your hands it will kill the virus if it is possibly on their fur. The dog will not carry Covid-19 internally.
        The trainer suggested this may be a good time to adopt a pet now since people are spending more time at home. If you are having medical issues you may want to make sure this added responsibility is really what you want to do at this time. Owning a dog or cat is a lot of responsibility, but comes with lots of emotional joy.

        • Jennifer V says:

          Just don’t want to get covid from the people fostering the dog. We’re under the usual orders of social distancing. We lost our dog last year, so we fully understand the responsibilities of taking care of a dog. In the interim we were taking care of my daughter’s dog, which I thankfully delivered to her in Puerto Rico, where she works for the CDC. I am 100% convinced her mental health would be on the line without her beloved Sprout to cheer her up where they are on extreme lock down compared to anywhere in the US. I think we have to wait a few months to adopt, it is what it is. Sadly, I could end up inheriting a dog due to poor health in elderly family members as well. Take care everyone and thanks Doc!

    15. Katy Martin says:

      I am looking for a vet who will come to your home to vaccinate my pets. I have one pet, a cat and she doesn’t like people or her carrier. She would need to be tranquilized.

    16. Debbie says:

      Thank you for taking the time to inform the public in caring for their pets.

    17. Cynthia says:

      Benterprise dog walkers are the best. They took care of my Ivy since she was a tiny puppy. They are like family. Please support them.

    18. grant nichol says:

      For anyone looking for help training their dog: