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Jo-Ann Cooper’s business has felt the push and pull of the pandemic, but in the end many pets have come out better for it as their owners give them more love, said Cooper, who owns Borealis Kennels and Pet Specialties.

Borealis’ experience of the opposing forces of Covid has virtually split the company’s functions in half.

“The kennel part is non-existent because of Covid. (There’s) no boarding, because people can’t travel unless they self-isolate when they come back. That hit us in March when it was spring break,” said Cooper, who has been operating the business since 1992.

Staff member Ashley Stride works in Borealis Kennels and Pet Specialties’ Franklin Avenue shop that has been selling 25 per cent more pet food and toy items than usual.
Blair McBride/NNSL photo

“The boarding aspect has been pretty much null and void. At Christmastime, the boarding is usually hopping. We usually have a full kennel of 10 dogs and we would have people on a waiting list. We have absolutely nobody this year.

“(But) today my staff are happy there are no boarding dogs because it’s so -40 C with wind chill and they don’t have to take them for walks,” Cooper joked.

The grooming side of Borealis has taken a hit as well, since under the Covid health measures Cooper’s grooming and nail trimming services are by appointment only, and a smaller number of customers have been bringing in their pets.

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“I think more people are trying their hand at grooming at home since they have so much time on their hands,” she said, estimating that the grooming is down by half and boarding has fallen by 90 per cent.

But while the pandemic situation has taken, it has also given, and, in the end, the pets come out as the winners.

Cooper said retail sales of pet food, supplies and toys have increased by around 25 per cent compared to the same period of 2019. Proportionally, the retail side comprises 75-80 per cent of Borealis’ overall revenues.

Most of the retail sales happen out of the shop on Franklin Avenue while the kennel and grooming services are offered at the site in Kam Lake.

“People are spending more time with their pets than before. They’re buying better quality food and buying more treats and toys. We’re finding they’re spending more money spoiling their dogs,” Cooper said.

Borealis was deemed an essential service by the chief public health officer, allowing ongoing sales even during the lockdown period of the spring when most other stores were closed. Cooper delivered many of the pet products to customers around town and also to the airport to keep clients elsewhere in the NWT and in Nunavut supplied.

However, the rise in product sales has brought its own difficulties. Like all retailers, Borealis has been affected by supply chain bottlenecks that have slowed down deliveries and dried up the availability of some products, such as some American brands of pet food and Christmas toys.

Those shortages have influenced what Cooper calls an “attitude change” among some customers.

“Instead of being happy and joyful they’re irate and short-tempered. They don’t seem to understand that it’s out of my hands when the products are short shipped. I think that’s the hardest part. We see it way more right now than we ever have, in Christmas season,” she said. “People haven’t been out. I’ve never spent so much time at home. That’s the part that we see. We’re a very social business. Customers (normally) come in with their dogs and they’re happy and you get to play with them. We’ve seen more short tempers and frustration in our customers.”

Cooper admits to feeling “pent up” when she thinks about the long, cold season ahead with the possibility of a Covid vaccine and open borders still many months away.

But no company lasts for almost 30 years without thick skin, or fur.

“The perseverance is there. We all shall persevere. It still comes down to customers,” she said. “We’ve gotten this far. We’re going to get the rest of the way. Winter is just another time.”

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