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One day I went into PetSmart with my dog, Bandit, and he did this really funny trick where you’d say, “Who’s the president?” and he would say, “Oh, bah, bah.” Everybody in the store was laughing and giving him treats. It was such a family feel. The assistant manager came up to me and said, “We’re looking for a dog trainer.”
That feeling played out the first six months. I loved the atmosphere. I loved the customers. I loved the people I worked with. I thought, “This is where I’m going to retire.” I worked retail jobs for a long time, and it just felt like something really special.
About two months in, I came to work and corporate was there, and they said, “You have a new manager.” I really liked the new manager, but the whole atmosphere of the store started to change slowly after BC Partners bought PetSmart. Within a year, it was really different.
Job positions started to disappear. They used to have a dedicated pet care person, and suddenly that person was eliminated. Everybody was having to do a whole lot more. It didn’t seem smart, especially when you’re working with live animals. It just leads to a lot of neglect. Not out of any kind of incompetence—there’s just not time to get the jobs done. If you don’t have enough staff in the groom salon to hold a dog that’s bitey or clawing or wiggling around, you risk nicking the dog, you risk being bitten, you risk the dog getting off its slip lead and attacking another dog.
The animals that the store sells, you don’t have time to properly take care of them. They also cut closing from two hours to 30 minutes, meaning you don’t close the animal sales until 30 minutes before the store closes, and then you’ve only got 30 minutes to take care of all these animals that are for sale in the store. That made people feel obligated to work so much harder for so much less money. They were just cutting corners. (In a statement, PetSmart said, “While we are unable to provide specific details related to an associate’s termination, we can confirm that Mr. Allen’s termination was unrelated to his Facebook activity.”)
Then, when the pandemic hit, we walked in one day and they said, “You’re gonna be furloughed. You may or may not be hired back. But during the time that you’re furloughed, you can’t do any animal-related work or you’re subject to not being rehired.”
During the furlough, I started a Facebook group that had about 700 members. It was all employees who were furloughed, laid off, or terminated due to Covid, and just helping them figure out what to do because we got no cooperation and no information from HR.
They called us back from furlough in, I think, the last week of June. The first day I was there, they wanted to know about this Facebook group I’d started. They said, “That amounts to working off the clock, and you weren’t supposed to be working during furlough.”
I ended up getting terminated, and I felt like it was because of the work I was doing with the Facebook group. I don’t know why that was so threatening, but that was a big deal. They told me I had to disband the Facebook group, and I did say, “No, I’m not gonna do that.”
Still, it felt terrible. It was embarrassing because I was very close with the clientele. This is a small town. All people know is they go in there and I don’t work there anymore.
I had a sense after the discussion about the Facebook group that I probably had a target on my back, so I stopped at a Petco. I said I’ve been dog training a long time, and the lady that managed that store said, “Well, we’re hiring a trainer right now.” The night I was fired, I called that Petco and talked to the manager, and I was upfront with her about what had happened at PetSmart. She said, “I checked out your reviews online. You have a lot of really happy, really loyal customers. PetSmart’s loss is gonna be our gain.” I was teaching class at Petco the day after I was fired.
This story has been updated with comment from PetSmart.