by Christine D. François

October 20, 2020

©2020 Christine D. François . All Rights Reserved

Pexels Image by cottonbro

I must admit that I’ve had my share of challenges, in navigating my work and home life over these past six months, like many entrepreneurs across the globe. However, the close bond I have with my family’s five cats, yes! I said five, has made the time more bearable, infinitely more fun, has encouraged me to become more present, and reinforced my natural resilience; a skill that I hope to share with millions over a period of time. Millennia of years of co-existence and cohabitation with our furry friends, have helped us, humans, cope with more than one or two major disasters in our long sojourn together. The arrival of the Covid 19 global pandemic in the first quarter of 2020, marked a pivotal moment in history for entrepreneurs: a time most defined by fear, loneliness, anxiety, and loss.

One way in which entrepreneurs and professionals have navigated this stressful environment successfully is through, like me, their unique relationships with their pets. Really? you might be thinking to yourself. However, studies have shown that pets certainly bring a lot more to the table, and now work environments, than they are accredited.

Marteka Swaby, Mental Health Innovator and Founder, Benevolent Health and Mind Hub, United Kingdom. Marteka, who’s company Benevolent Health specializes in providing expertise in mental health through consulting, coaching, and mentoring to organizations, shared that like other employee incentives, making your office more pet-friendly is an investment designed to boost job satisfaction, tackles issues that affect productivity such as disengagement, absenteeism, room for error and accidents.

1. Owning a pet is known to relieve stress, promote a positive mood, and even improve physical health. These factors help the development of a positive work environment. This supports an increase in job satisfaction among employees which subsequently boosts morale, engagement, loyalty, retention, and productivity in the workplace.

2. The presence of a dog in the office can help regulate an employee’s work habits, as in their consistent working hours and reduces the chance of presenteeism. Having to take a dog out a few times a day means an employee won’t be chained to their desk and will have to take the time out to rest and refocus throughout their day.

3. Another clear advantage of making an office dog-friendly is that employees who can bring their dogs to work, are less likely to rush home to be with them, and more willing to stay late. This also reassures that employees will be more focused on their tasks in the office rather than worrying about their pets being left alone at home.

4. A dog is also an excellent way of encouraging employees to bond, because as humans we are drawn to play and pet animals. In the office this motivates good work, as employees will be excited about coming into work and this enthusiasm will be transferred to their performance. Source: https://benevolenthealth.co.uk/

Now, as an avid cat and dog-lover myself, and armed with the intelligence I sniffed out from Marteka, I could begin building a case to help shift the mindset of a still-evolving corporate environment. I also discovered, not surprisingly, that my friends and associates at home and abroad with pets were successfully coping with what we’ve dubbed the ‘new normal’ as a result of the huge benefits in the human/animal equation. Here’s what I unearthed, as I connected with six successful entrepreneurs as they talked about their beloved pets and how they attribute their higher levels of compassion, empathy, patience, and resilience to their very present and often rambunctious four-legged companions.

Wendy Yawching: Certified Master Practitioner of BTB Feng Shui and Board Member of the prestigious International Feng Shui Guild, Luxury Villa Rentals, Trinidad & Tobago’s First Female Airline Captain (Retired), Adventurer, Competitive Dancer, Avid Dog-Lover

Q1. Wendy, when did you realize you were passionate about dogs and how have they impacted your life from then till now?

A. It’s been a lifelong love affair. My family always had dogs and cats and fish…so I grew up associating pets as part of the family. As an adult, there were years when having my fave pets (large dogs were not feasible) but as soon as I found myself a homeowner with a fenced yard, I became the proud mama of several big breeds. My dogs are my children, and they complete my home.

Q2. What are the attributes you most admire about your dogs and how do those align with your human relationships and interactions?

A. Their loyalty and unconditional love. How they can switch from ‘wild canine’, as when hunting in the yard, to sweet and cuddly in an instant. With their clear understanding of invisible energies, we could learn a lot from them. I am probably a lot like them in my human interactions, except I would switch the ‘wild canine’ for strong and independent.’

Q3. How have your dogs helped you cope with the current pandemic and the uncertainty of the tourism industry in Tobago?

A. Their companionship during the quarantine/lockdown has been a great source of comfort in these uncertain and stressful times.

Q4. What’s your #1 tip for entrepreneurs considering incorporating a pet in their lives?

A. Choose a dog that suits your lifestyle and space. Different breeds of dogs have different personalities and needs. For example, high energy dogs require space to run and lots of diversions. Also, don’t get one unless you have the right safe environment for them to thrive. Learn more about Wendy at https://www.healingspacescaribbean.com/

Teagan François: BSc, RVT (Registered Veterinary Technician)

Q1. Teagan, you’ve grown up having dogs as family pets all of your life. How would you say that has inspired you to become a veterinary technician?

A. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was inspired to become a veterinary technician. However, I have always had a love for animals and a desire to care for them. I believe that having family pets definitely played a role in nurturing those feelings. I honestly decided to become a technician as a means to refocus my energy in a field that I knew I was passionate about, during a time when I was uncertain of my career options.

Q2. As a professional living and working in a North American metropolis, what are some of the differences you’ve experienced as it relates to animal care and ownership there, versus in your home country?

A. Hard to say, as my experience is limited. Speaking from my own personal experience of pet ownership, the differences seem to stem partly from varied perspectives and partly from a lack of knowledge. In Toronto, pets seem to be treated as part of the family. They live indoors, get regular veterinary care, some of them even have pet insurance. In Trinidad pets seem to be family to some and property to others. I recall that many dogs lived outside of the home space, kept chained up sometimes, and there seemed to always be an abundance of strays on the streets (dogs and cats alike).

During my time in Trinidad, dogs lived outside, ate outside, etc. and I thought nothing of it at the time. We have a warm climate, so there is little need to protect them from the elements as there is in Canada with the Fall/Winter seasons. Looking back on it now, I wish we knew better. Keeping our pets in sanitary living conditions and in good health is so important in ensuring they have a long happy life as our companions.

Q3. Veterinary medicine can be a very demanding career. What role does your feline companion play in your overall health and well-being?

A. My lovely cat-child as I call her, is a crucial part of my ability to cope with day to day stress. Prior to adopting her from a local veterinary clinic, I was still studying to become a technician and which as you can imagine was quite stressful. I had a two-hour commute each way (to and from school) and worked a part-time job during most of my off time. As I had had pets my entire life thus far, it was a big change to be in a no-pet household for an extended period. In my second year of tech school, I adopted a beautiful grey and white domestic medium hair cat. She is a huge scaredy-cat but loves affection and has continued to be part of my support system since the day I brought her home. She helps me relax with the healing power of her purring and chats with me about her day and loves to snuggle beside me on the couch late at night. While I may not be able to truly understand her, I know that she loves me, and in reality, that is the gift pets give to us — unconditional love.

Q4. What’s your #1 tip for entrepreneurs considering incorporating a pet into their lives?

A. Do it! If you have never owned a pet before, do your research — and please look to reputable sources. Your local pet store or your “breeder” does not typically know best. Trust your veterinary professionals, and if you don’t trust your own, find another — oftentimes a second opinion is worth getting.

Pexels Image by Charles Roth

Randall Waddell: Principal Interior Designer at HomeWork Design Studio, a member of The American Society of Interior Designers, approved Interior Designer of the HGTV Professional Designer Network, Americas Property Award Winner 2020–2021-Interior Design Private Residence, Trinidad & Tobago, Fanatic Dog-Lover

Q1. Randall, you’ve been very open about your family’s passion for pets, particularly your family of cocker spaniels. Did you always have pets while growing up and what is it about cocker spaniels that you love?

A. Yes, my family always had dogs while I was growing up. But I did spend most of my teen years abroad at a boarding school and then moving on to university. Therefore, our dogs were really family dogs, and honestly, I was not overly attached to them; certainly not like how, hopelessly in love I am with our dogs now. Cocker Spaniels have such a sweet temperament; they are genuinely happy dogs. They thrive on human companionship and want nothing more than to please their owners. They are equally as happy to snuggle on the couch with their favorite adult as they are to romp in the back yard with the kids.

Q2. You recently shared footage of your family celebrating your pet, Jillie’s birthday. How have these celebrations helped to regulate the emotional balance in your home over the years and in what ways have they had a positive impact on your business?

A. To my wife and myself, our dogs are our children. Just as we celebrate our human children, we celebrate our pups too! Our children have grown up knowing the love we feel for our dogs, and in turn, they have also developed true empathy for animals in general. Navigating life can be very stressful, and even more so with two teenage girls. Our dogs offer emotional support to all of us, and they truly reduce and temper the levels of anxiety we can all feel daily. What could be better than four happy, wagging tails greeting you each time you enter your door? And they greet every family member in the same manner, so we all feel special when we each arrive at home. At any given moment in my home office, there are at least two, maybe three, or four furry friends at my feet, faithful to the core. They bring a feeling of companionship and calm that is hard to describe, and with this comes a higher level of focus and productivity while working at my desk

Q3. How have your dogs helped you cope with the current emotional roller coaster of the Covid19 pandemic and local restrictions?

A. Emotional roller coaster is an understatement. What a year this has been for everyone! However, we have to take the bad with the good right? Months of uncertainty and true stress, while my company came to a grinding halt. But lockdown meant spending a whole lot more time with my wife, my girls, my dogs. This forced time together, within close quarters, could test anyone’s emotional stability, right? For all of us, our dogs provided an outlet, a stress release, a shift in focus from the every-waking-moment-worry of what could possibly happen next while we weather the storm, which is what Covid-19. Researchers at Washington State University have found that petting a dog or a cat can relieve stress in just ten minutes. Well, they really didn’t need to fund research to determine that. Lockdown at our home meant many ten-minute periods strung together with our canine companions, and that could never be a bad thing.

Q4. What’s your #1 tip for entrepreneurs who are considering incorporating a pet into their lives?

A. First of all, allow me to say that no one should consider getting a pet unless they are prepared to properly attend to the pet’s needs. Don’t just get a pet now because you are spending more time working from home. Your conditions may change, and I am honestly not in favor of dogs being left locked up all day while we work away from home. Pets are the absolute best of companions, but they do require a great amount of care and they are certainly an additional financial responsibility; food, medicines when required, veterinary visits, etc. But many people now have had to adapt to working from home and having a pet may now be something they can actually consider. Therefore, for those entrepreneurs with home offices, I would suggest that you make room for your pet in your workspace. Dogs especially are fiercely loyal, and they are going to want to be close to you, always. Prepare a dog-bed close to your desk, or if you don’t mind them on your furniture, have a comfy chair in the immediate area. I have a sofa in my home office, and all four of our dogs are usually toe-to-tail, lying there in pure bliss while I do my drawings, or plan my projects. Unless of course, my wife arrives back at home. They will most certainly rush off to be with her for a moment. On that note, if you can, put a doggie-door in your office door. Otherwise, you’ll be getting up several times a day to open and close it, depending on where they wish to be. Learn more about Randall’s award-winning work — https://www.homeworktt.com/home/

Andrew Dhanoo: President, Diabetes Association of Trinidad and Tobago, Clinical Biochemist and Researcher

Q1. Andrew, most of the entrepreneurs with whom I’ve spoken have a strong attachment to dogs. I know that your four-legged kitty, Willie, joined your family just six months ago. What inspired you to adopt him?

A. My love for cats started when I was just about eight years of age, and a pregnant stray wandered into the yard of my childhood house and then became a permanent part of my life for the following fifteen years. After her last offspring died some five years ago, I did not have a cat for quite some time. With the years passing and as commitments increased, my time was stretched between my professional, academic, and personal life, while always feeling the need for that four-legged companionship. When the COVID-19 pandemic started to affect Trinidad and Tobago, and we were all forced to stay inside, as luck would have it, I saw Willie up for adoption. Without hesitation, I went to see him and took him that very day. He has been mine ever since, always by my side (that is when he is in the mood to be, which is most of the time.)

Q2. How has this feline family member impacted your outlook on life and work, especially given the emotional turmoil that you’re seeing either with family, friends and within your association as the impact of Covid19 continues to take its toll?

A. Willie is a new member of the family. At the onset of the COVID-19 restrictions, I moved back in with my parents who are both seniors so that I could be closer to them. Willie also moved in and quickly became their ‘child’ as well. Cats by their very nature are creatures of routine, and in uncertain times, this keeps you grounded. He of course is also a welcomed break for me, as brief interludes of playtime often broke the monotony of paperwork. His company during long nights of research and planning is a soothing presence that encourages me to spur on.

Q3. As a clinical biochemist, from a research perspective what positive impacts do pets bring to bear on the management of diabetes and potentially other NCDs ?

A. Of course, there have been numerous studies which show that having a pet (especially a cat or dog) can result in increased physical activity, lowered stress levels as well as feelings of loneliness, reduced blood pressures and even have a positive effect on your cholesterol levels. The companionship of a pet is beyond what anything or anyone can offer as their unique bond with you and innate need for your attention and care, drives an attachment to them which brings with it so many benefits.

Q4. What’s your #1 tip for entrepreneurs considering incorporating a pet into their lives?

A. Choose a pet that will suit your lifestyle. Do not bring an animal into your home if you do not know how much care they need. Most people think that a pet should just fit into their lives, however, if you are getting a new companion, chances are that you are going to have to change more for them than you first realized. When that change happens without you even noticing it, then you’ll realize that you have made the right choice. https://www.diabetesassociationtt.org/

Pexels Image by Ruca Souza

Candy Montano: Director of Sales, Hyatt Regency Trinidad (Retired), Cat Connoisseur

Q1. Candy, most of the entrepreneurs with whom I’ve spoken have a strong attachment to dogs. I know that your four-legged baby, ‘Wiggles’, has been in your life for more than a decade. What would you say is the greatest gift that she’s given to you over the years?

A. I would say that the greatest gift I’ve received from Wiggles,(and this holds true of all pets), is her unconditional love. Apart from the hours of entertainment just observing all her antics, seeing her joy and excitement with a simple string being pulled, her constant companionship has provided great comfort to me at the best of times and through difficult times, especially when my Mom passed.

Q2. As a busy professional, are there any downsides to having a pet?

A. The downsides have more to do with the fact that the pet can often be left alone for most of the day. Wiggles is an ‘only’ cat, similar to an only child. When I was working, I often felt a twang of guilt leaving her alone but the good thing with cats is that they sleep a lot. With that in mind, they do like and need company despite their independent nature.

Q3. What’s your #1 tip for entrepreneurs considering incorporating a pet into their lives?

A. Make sure your pet is neutered or spayed. Then give them as much love as you can — they will give it back. Regular vet checkups and a healthy diet. Do not spoil them with human treats.

Dr. Karlene Barrett: Owner of Dr. B’s Veterinary Clinic & Dr. B’s Mobile Veterinary Clinic

Q1. Karlene, you’ve owned and managed your clinics for a number of years. What inspired you to become a veterinarian?

A. More than five years. I was in a partnership from 2002- 2010 and sole owner from 2011 to the present. I grew up in a home that always had animals — dogs (at one time we had 10 dogs), aquarium fish, a monkey, a parrot, rabbits — and while going to the vet, I was always amazed when the vet treated and healed them. My parents had a “Bob Martin First Aid Book” that I would often consult to try to diagnose and treat them and when I had success, that would further encourage me. My mother was hoping I would be a pediatrician or gynecologist and now I am both (among many others) — just for animals.

Q2. As an entrepreneur, I know you have adopted a few cats, (dogs) over the years. What would you say has been the trend toward adoptions of cats and dogs over the last five years versus the last five months of the pandemic?

A. The adoption agencies would be able to give a more accurate account but we certainly have had a constant flow of puppies for vaccination (even through the lockdown). People were definitely spending more time with their pets and taking greater notice of any abnormalities and ensuring they had their routine procedures done (e.g. vaccines, neuters ) . Veterinary medicine was considered an essential service during the lockdown

Q3. Veterinary medicine can be a very demanding career. What role do your pets play in your overall health and well-being?

A. Having pets means I never leave my work at the clinic, but I cannot imagine my life without pets. They are loyal, entertaining creatures who give unconditional love.

Q4. What’s your #1 tip for entrepreneurs considering incorporating a pet into their lives?

A. Having a pet is quite an undertaking and responsibility that requires time, patience, love, attention, and funds for veterinary care. Carefully consider the species and breed of the pet and its requirements. For example, housing, exercise, grooming, etc. The pet owner also must consider his/ her lifestyle and personal health which means hours of work, travel, etc. If, as a pet owner, a person cannot provide ALL of the necessary requirements for the pet then it is NOT for them. If all can be provided, a pet owner will never regret having a pet in his/her life.

And there you have it! Success in the future appears to be firmly collared by our attachments to our furry friends. The good news is that for those looking to expand their horizons into the pet care space, there are loads of opportunities for success. According to the Small Business Labs’ Pet Trends article of July 18, 2019 titled From Man’s Best Friend to Family’s Favorite Child, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s article The Pet Economy Kicks Into Overdrive cites “the U.S. pet economy is projected to exceed $75 billion this year, up from $72.5 billion in 2018 and a doubling of 2005’s $36 billion. Petco chief merchandising officer Nick Konat explains, “ People want to take the best care of their pets, like a member of the family.” He does not view this mindset as a trend so much as a movement that’s been built over time, as people integrate pets more fully into daily life, the workplace, dining, shopping, and celebratory occasions.” Source: https://www.smallbizlabs.com/pet-trends/?utm_content=buffer970d9&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Hypothetically, success breeds success and there’s more to come. For those of us who love and cherish our furry friends, this is doggone good news!

Christine D. Francois is a communications and marketing expert and entrepreneur, currently living on the Caribbean island of Trinidad & Tobago. Her background includes banking and finance, corporate communications, sponsorship acquisitions, design and management for large-scale national and regional events, and sales and marketing. Christine is a proud and devoted mother to two millennials plus five kitties and is most excited when supporting other entrepreneurs in achieving their business goals. Christine’s passion for people and animals has led her to create a soon to be launched weekly podcast, “Tall Tails”, specially curated for dog and cat lovers everywhere and the people who adore and care for them.

I am a communications and marketing expert and entrepreneur, with a background in banking and finance, corporate communications, sponsorships and events.

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