An Open Letter on Mental Health
By Cassandra Bauer, Pet Business Owner
It’s been a year like no other. Many of the personal lessons I have learned during the COVID pandemic cross over to the business, which I suppose is not surprising when it is a small family-run business.
Prior to COVID we were thriving, which is crazy to think of in a very rural area of New York like ours. We were on the verge of expanding, and I was in high gear all the time between managing everything and having a baby.
When COVID started to creep in, the biggest thing I felt was confusion. New York regulations being so vague and changing all the time didn’t help. On top of worrying about my parents’ health (whom I work with) and a boarding schedule that was literally completely canceled within a few days, I was also still battling some post-partum depression.
I ended up actually having to be hospitalized for over two weeks because I had a mental breakdown and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It’s something I talk about openly now because I wish more folks would, and it has also changed my business model.
I was hospitalized a few days after restaurants were shut down. Traveling had already been pretty much completely banned, and there was still a lot of back-and-forth on if grooming was essential. I had decided to put a hold on grooming at that time. It was a hard decision, but I ultimately decided I valued lives over livelihood and I put my faith in the fact that clients would find ways to support us. (Which they did tenfold by buying certificates, continuing to use our programs—especially if they were essentials working overtime—and even making donations.)
I have made changes in our business based on what I have learned and experienced. We have always striven to give the dogs one-on-one attention and keep our dog-to-staff ratio low; it’s even more so now. I was always acutely aware of how important it is to make sure your employees are healthy physically and mentally. It is even more of an honest and open conversation now.
I never appreciated the slower times and the lulls because I liked being go, go, go. I find power in them now. And to be completely honest, I’m struggling with a bit of anxiety over things opening back up and getting full-force again. The time I got to spend healing, quieting my mind, and enjoying my daughter over the fall and winter was amazing.
I know I have the tools now and the support, and I’m very aware that I need to carve out time for myself, family and friends, even if it is hard. I need to put away the business phone and my schedule books even if I fear I’m going to miss something. What’s meant to be will always find a way of working out. And I guess looking back, it took a pandemic for me to realize what I had going was “working”…but wasn’t working for me personally.
These days I find comfort in having a schedule, especially when it comes to sleep. I’ve learned to delegate more and I hired on another employee so I could do less grooming and focus on other tasks. I do a lot of reiki and massage. I keep up on my vitamins and have found a lot of great teas that help. And of course, dogs.
Even my therapist suggested I continue fostering dogs, even though it is a risk financially, because he could “see me light up when I talked about it.” As the anniversary of my mental health trauma has approached, I have a litter of foster pups that I took on, and they have brought me a great deal of comfort. It’s just about perfect timing because they are starting to trickle to new homes as spring break boarding comes back full-force and I find myself questioning if I’m ready for the “chaos.”
My passion is this business and working with animals, but if our own minds (the most important organ in the body, but often the one most overlooked) are suffering, we are failing both, and so many other people too. Wellness isn’t just a full schedule and secure paycheck. It’s finding balance and understanding within yourself.