The citizens of Puerto Rico have recently been faced with a myriad of trials following the passing of Hurricane María. One of the greatest, most unspoken challenges is the fact that thousands of animals have been left abandoned across the island. Many people were forced to flee after the storm, and as a result, left their pets behind. Local organizations have been working to tackle this issue and have been fighting to provide shelters the resources they need to house these pets.
PetFriendly is one of these organizations. It is the only organization in Puerto Rico dedicated to promoting a pet-friendly culture among businesses, commercial spaces, and residential spaces. Their website maps out every pet-friendly place in a particular area, and businesses that take on the “pet-friendly” status receive a sticker to place on the front window of their establishment. Since the passing of Hurricane María, they have been tirelessly working to support animal shelters.
Sylvie Bedrosian first started this organization as a response to her own love for animals, and the love she saw many people have for their pets. In particular, she found that there was a vast need in knowing what places accept pets in Puerto Rico since there is no law that gives businesses guidelines as to how to certify their establishment as pet-friendly.
“People really responded to this idea because they were tired of getting kicked out of places or leaving their pets outside. Many people consider their pets family, either because they don’t have children or they do and want a big happy family– which can include their pet. Tourists also want to travel with their pets. So through this business, we’ve reached a verbal agreement with the government to create guidelines for businesses and certify them.”
Bedrosian’s journey to starting this organization was certainly unconventional. A few years ago, she found herself having to move back to Puerto Rico to take care of her sick grandparents. She had spent the last nine years in New York but had no ties there. Once she got to the island, she decided to get her first dog to have something warm and happy to come home to.
“I needed to have a reason to go home. It was such a sad environment, so having my dog really helped. But still, I felt like I needed to be distracted and get involved with different groups. I decided at that time to get involved with the organization Save A Sato, which is a no-kill shelter in Puerto Rico. Volunteering there changed my life. Stepping into that shelter– there is no way it doesn’t move you. It opened my eyes to a different world, and it gave me purpose.”
At that time, she also started noticing that she could not visit many places with her dog. “My dog was always with me, and I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t go to a pharmacy with him. In New York, I could go with him anywhere. So this idea just started brewing, and right when this was happening, I lost my job in the city. I knew it was what I needed to push me to start something.”
As a pioneer in this space, Bedrosian has faced multiple issues in the process. For one, she once had a large pet brand try to steal her concept. About five or six months into launching her platform, a well-known pet supplies company reached out to discuss the possibility of collaborating. In fact, they were hoping to put their brand on their PetFriendly stickers– an idea that Bedrosian objected to.
“I believed the stickers should be as is. What happens if that particular company has a food recall in a year– would we have to distribute new stickers without their branding? I didn’t think it was the right way to collaborate. Soon after our meeting, I found out they released a product almost identical to mine. I had put so many long hours into this; it felt as if someone had taken my child. In the end, people in Puerto Rico know my work and were taken aback by that move. It really was just fuel for me to continue working harder.”
They’ve also received pushback from the Puerto Rican government– in fact, this past July she received a call saying that her agreement with the PR government would no longer be upheld. “Out of the blue, I received a call from the president of ASORE (Association of Restaurants) saying he had just had a meeting with the Health Department, and that a new secretary had been appointed. She said she would not approve of having pets in any restaurant, even if they had a terrace.”
Photo source: Sylvie Bedrosian
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