I admit it. When our kids were younger, we succumbed to getting them a “guilt dog.” We had just plucked them out of their comfortable lives in San Francisco and dragged them halfway around the world to Singapore, where we would all be spending the next five years living, working and, for them, going to a brand new school.
So after a few months of getting settled into our new home away from home, we made the promised trip to the pet store and found Rolo. Or rather, Rolo found us. Rolo was a four-month old Japanese Spitz with long white fur, a fluffy tail and one eye which always seemed to point off in a different direction from where he was actually looking. The eye made him seem a little off, which meant most aspiring dog owners looking for that “perfect dog” passed him by without consideration.
We fell in love instantly.
We soon discovered that everyone connected with Rolo. Even people who claimed that they were not “dog people” would engage with Rolo. He was loving and friendly, but not in an “in-your-face” kind of way. He had an old soul and a keen understanding of people’s boundaries and would sit patiently waiting for their attention and to show them a little love.
When we walked Rolo, we would often be stopped by passers-by to talk about what type of dog he was and, of course, that wonky eye. Rolo came with us when we moved back to San Francisco. During early Covid days, like many, we were out several times a day for walks and socially-distanced hellos with our neighbors who often remembered Rolo’s name before ours.
I believe that dogs help bring people together and build community.
Why is pet infrastructure so important to a city?
More than 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Many studies support the positive benefits of pet ownership.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that owning a pet can increase opportunities to exercise, get outside, and socialize. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. Pets can help manage loneliness and depression by giving us companionship. This is part of the reason “pandemic puppies” were so prolific.
According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “the erosion of sense of community and social capital in modern societies is a common lament … pet ownership is emerging as a valuable and positive feature in community and neighborhood life.” Pets, and in particular, dogs, bring social capital and facilitate the connection between people.
The study’s results support the merits of ‘pet-friendly’ cities and note that housing and accommodation for pets for those who wish to own a pet is an important starting point.
I sat down with St. Pete-based author, speaker and community consultant Peter Kageyama recently to discuss many topics, including the important relationship of dogs in community-building. Kageyama has written several books including For the Love of Cities: The Love Affair Between People and Their Places, Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places and The Emotional Infrastructure of Places.
“Dogs have become a necessary part of our emotional infrastructure,” he asserts. “Dogs help us cope with our self-made, stressful, and sometimes even toxic environment. They are good for our physical, mental and emotional health, and smart cities need to recognize the role they now play in our lives, and support this important relationship.”
A Local Story of Pet-Related Entrepreneurship
Taylor Wallace and his business partner are doing their part to support the much needed infrastructure for taking care of our four legged friends across Tampa Bay – especially as people continue to go back to their places of work “in real life.” With two doggy day care facilities already up and running successfully in Tampa, they will be opening a third location in St. Pete in the coming months.
Wallace, who grew up in Philadelphia and lived and worked across the US and around the world, moved to Tampa Bay first in 2012 to help build and run a mobile app-based software company in the shared photo and video editing space.
After winding down that company in 2017, he did the digital nomad work-from-home thing, well before it was a thing, and moved to Berlin, Tel Aviv, Jackson Hole and Los Angeles working in tech marketing and PR.
In 2018, he ended up in San Francisco and shortly thereafter returned to Florida to run development marketing for Magic Leap, a rising startup success story in AR hardware and based in Miami. Then Covid hit. Over 1,500 employees were laid off, including Wallace – who subsequently decided to move back to Tampa Bay.
After serendipitous conversations around pet-related software and then reconnecting with an old roommate who was then managing doggie day care facilities in the region, he was inspired to get into the space.
They both researched further and dove head forward into their next entrepreneurial journey by buying and running Paws ‘n’ Rec. After working for many different tech related startups, Wallace found a place where he could bring his background to something where he felt more connected.
“I wanted to do something that I could touch … that has some tactility to it,” explains Wallace. Bringing his experiences in the tech world together with the knowledge of his business partner was energizing for him. “If you can find a passionate person like my partner that really knows the industry well, and then you combine them with the systems thinking that tech people bring … you can build something really profitable from a business standpoint.”
In line with this thinking, Wallace continues to focus much of his energies on integrating tech forward systems into their everyday operations, including how they’re using Zoom, automated call trees, building out their documentation and simplification of operations with no code tools, and servicing inbound calls on a centralized basis, just to name a few.
Bringing his skills to the business while continuing to learn and grow has fueled this entrepreneurial journey for Wallace. “I don’t think entrepreneurs are born,” he explains. “I think they’re made. I was blessed to grow up in an entrepreneurial family. I was always doing a business thing on the side growing up. Ultimately, though, I am curious and I like to learn which is a key trait of an entrepreneur.”
It seems that dog owners across Tampa Bay and their furry friends will continue to be the beneficiaries of this entrepreneurial spirit. I am certain that Rolo would have approved.
Startup City will continue to explore topics on what it takes to have a thriving startup ecosystem on a bi-weekly basis through stories and thoughts of local residents.
Michelle Waite is the VP of Marketing at Florida Funders, a locally-based venture capital firm and angel investor network who enables tech startups to thrive through monetary and business-intellectual capital. She has invested in, co-founded and worked for tech startups for the last 10 years. She counts herself lucky everyday to work for and alongside some pretty amazing entrepreneurs. You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.