A few years back, Becky O’Neil shared with us that she started her dog-walking business in 1998 over a Christmas holiday that was a blur of fur – she took care of 25 pets, all by herself, stopping back home only briefly to open gifts and eat dinner with family. Nearly 25 years later, what was once a one-woman enterprise in Northern Virginia has turned into Becky’s Pet Care, with 97 employees and 400 regular clients. That work ethic came in handy during the pandemic. “We were considered essential very early on,” O’Neil says. “We did not close.” That wasn’t enough to prevent an inevitable dip in business, as people stayed home with their pets, but now she’s hiring again – if she can find good help, that is. Not only has the pandemic created labor shortages, but her employees must love dogs… or whatever animal needs care, from rabbits to rodents.
We asked O’Neil how she works now. (Responses lightly edited.)
Is your office remote or in-person?
We currently mainly work in person – both in the office and in the field. I definitely prefer in-office/in-person for our admin team. We are able to come together as a team in a much more effective way. There is some flexibility with the office staff. Everyone likes the flexibility to work a day or so a week from home. Of course, our pet care professionals are always in the field.
What has changed the most about how you work, since the pandemic?
There are lots of requests from clients who adopted during the pandemic as well as people who already had pets. We are not able to hire enough to keep up. Staffing is the biggest issue.
Do you allow pets in the office?
My dogs come to the office frequently. Our COO also brings his dog, Daisy, who is the office mascot.
Do you have a signature work outfit or accessory?
We have a lot of branded items – T-shirts, polos, hoodies, sweatshirts, jackets, etc. We encourage staff to wear Becky’s gear when they are working.
What time do you get up?
6 am. I’m not really a morning person, but my commute is a minimum of 60 minutes. I like to get here as early as possible.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Besides showering, I feed the dogs. I have Rylee, a black lab. My mom and Abby, her Great Dane, also live with me. And then I organize my day.
What apps do you check the most?
Text and email.
Do you have a preferred social-media platform?
Not really. If I had to pick, it would be Facebook.
What’s your Zoom background?
I Zoom from anywhere. Office, coffee shop, home, patio, porch. My favorite is from my porch with all the trees in the background.
During the work day I can’t live without…
The best thing that the pandemic has done for the workplace is…
Given us time to streamline some of our processes and update our software. During the first year of the pandemic, we were down over 70% in business, so we had time to work on that.
What do you miss the most from the “before” times?
Being able to find employees.
Does your work day have a hard stop?
How do you de-stress?
The beach or any type of water.
Where did you go on your most recent vacation?
Vieques, Puerto Rico. I was invited to go there by my aunt. Best part of anything is the beach!
These have been trying times. What are you the most hopeful about?
Moving forward with a streamlined business and being able to provide better care to our employees and our customers. Aside from our regular clients, we care for about 4,000 additional clients on an as-needed basis. It’s mostly dogs and cats, but we also take care of reptiles, bunnies, pocket pets and birds. ◼