JESS Montagne could never have predicted the effect the coronavirus pandemic would have on her family’s cat-boarding business.
“I know it sounds naive, but we’d been in business successfully for more than 20 years and I never thought a time would come where people wouldn’t be able to travel,” says the director of Curtin Cat Care.
“Our industry relies on it, yet pet boarding isn’t considered to be a part of the travel industry.”
Jess, who started Curtin Cat Care in 1999 when she was in year 12, says the family had evacuated animals from their Mongarlowe facility because of the threat of bushfires when covid hit, and once lockdown was announced, they immediately had all remaining bookings for the year cancelled.
“It was demoralising and severe enough for us to feel the business may not survive,” she says.
With her mum Alice running Arcadia at Mongarlowe, sister Dindi managing Kismet at Nanima, and Jess at Curtin Cat Care, she says the family was in “stunned shock” as their income dwindled.
“We all rely on the business for 100 per cent of our income,” she says.
“We couldn’t even close, as we had several cats already boarding, whose owners weren’t able to get back from overseas.”
Some staff members had to be let go but JobKeeper, a covid grant and loan deferrals helped the business continue, Jess says, as well as the kindness of valued clients, one of whom “generously paid for five years in advance”.
So, inspired by the need to survive the challenges of 2020, she created Kismet Cats, an online store selling eco-friendly cat toys and accessories, that reflected her values.
“Some of what we sell doesn’t have the eco-credentials we’d like, as the pet industry isn’t quite there yet, but we are moving towards it, as well as looking to design our own felt products next year that will be handmade by a community of women in Nepal. It’s fair trade and the artisans are mainly single mothers trying to make a go of it on their own. We already sell some of their designs, and it’s the complete picture for us.”
Jess, who has a young son, is also involved in land and creek regeneration at the Nanima site. All three facilities are now open.
“Hopefully we’re coming out the other side now. People are travelling locally and we are seeing a shift,” Jess says.
“I can’t imagine not being surrounded by animals and nature all day and I love the sense of community. Our clients are like our family.”