Virus Diaries: Jonesboro Dog Trainer Adapts as Humans Are Told to Stay

Virus Diaries: Jonesboro Dog Trainer Adapts as Humans Are Told to Stay
(Michelle Hill)
Editor's Note: This is the eighth in a series of short features on small businesses responding to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Michelle Hill of Jonesboro has shifted online with the dog training classes she teaches, and her income is down about $2,000 over the past few weeks of coronavirus fallout, she reports.

While longtime clients of her Helping Paws Training Academy are being supportive, prospective clients are not buying the online offerings, Hill said as COVID-19 isolation continues to devastate small businesses.

“Most [existing clients] have been pretty happy with it. A lot of them do miss the social interactions of going out,” she said. “But new people are kind of like ‘I don’t know that we could do this online. I don’t know that videos could help me through what I need.’ So it’s definitely a struggle right now.”

She is also self-employed, without a facility or employees to pay. “So I don't think I necessarily qualify for any sort of stimulus-type stuff,” Hill said. 

Another complication is that she trains service and therapy dogs, but now can’t take the therapy dogs she’s training to nursing homes. Many of her other clients -- the ones with service dogs -- face a greater risk for severe illness and even death if they become infected with COVID-19 because of age or illness.

The crisis had forced her to “shift gears really quickly,” Hill said. Even before the pandemic, she had wanted to experiment with online classes. When the outbreak came, she was able to reach that goal within a week.

Hill started her business in 2017 but has been training dogs for 13 years, she said. She also works with the Beck PRIDE Center at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, helping veterans with their service dogs.