Any pet owner knows that an animal isn’t just a pet, they’re family. As such, it may come as no surprise – especially in such a pet friendly community as Coronado – that Wag’N Tails was deemed an essential service in the times of COVID-19 as a provider of food and other health needs for our furry and feathered friends.
Melanie Parks is the owner of Wag’N Tails but she wasn’t always in the pet business. “I always had a passion for animals. I thought I wanted to be a vet but ended up studying architecture and space planning,” Parks mentions.
Growing up in the Midwest, Park’s family had hunting dogs where her love for big dogs started and has stayed with her. “When I was in the design industry I worked for a corporate group and was traveling a lot, so I was without a pet for a big portion of my life. When I knew I was ready for a change, this was a big reason – so I could have a home base to have a pet in my life.”
Settled in San Diego, Parks decided to pursue this career change and bought Wag’N Tails from then owners Scott and Heather Grimes. “They’re such wonderful people and started the concept for the self-wash. I expanded upon it,” Parks remembers, “bringing in more of the design inspiration. But the foundation they started and I really just built on it. Wag’N Tales wouldn’t be what it is without their support when I got started.”
That was over 15 years ago and today Parks continues to find a lot of joy in running the store and using her background in the arts to spread that joy to others. “I’ve had a lot of fun designing my storefront windows and it’s fun when people get excited and tell me they can’t wait to see the designs. There was a mom with a son in stroller who told me one day they always had to go by [Wag’N Tails] on their walks to see the windows for her son.”
Throughout her years at Wag’N Tails Parks has been a strong supporter for groups like PAWS and Whiskers Without Borders where she’s enjoyed giving back and helping out with photoshoots and events. “I’ve always gravitated towards larger dogs, but I love all animals,” Parks said. She knows first-hand the kind of impact pets have on people and the way they can foster community and relationships. “My dogs have always been a part of Wag’N Tails…I had a dog named Moses and everyone knew Moses – he would hang out in the store – and when he passed away, there was such an outpouring of sympathy and love and it was amazing how the community was so supportive.”
Parks has been grateful to be able to reciprocate over the years, as well. “One thing I really like about Wag’n Tails being a brick and mortar, mom and pop shop is that we get to know customers through their pets.” She and her staff have been able to celebrate with customers over new additions to their families with new puppies, and grieved together when a pet they’ve come to know has passed. With both the self-wash feature of the store and the fact that they offer a lot of healthy food and treats that customers rely on to provide the best care for their animals, Parks and her team have a chance to build long term relationships with pet owners that go beyond a simple transaction. “It’s kind of nice being more than just a store, if you will. We can really service more than just ‘come in and buy something cute for your dog…’ and really build a relationship.”
Wag’N Tails sponsored the recent Eagle & Journal’s Pet Photo Contest. When we get to chatting about the contest, it’s evident how well-loved the annual contest is. “It’s such an honor and privilege to be able to partner on such an incredible event,” said Parks. “[It’s] not just, ‘can I sponsor another charity?’ It’s something that’s completely out of the realm of what I’m usually asked for and why I really look forward to doing it.”
As sponsor, Parks offers the prizes for each category and her goal is to always make sure those prizes are personalized for the winners. “We don’t want a bunny photo prize winner to get something for a dog,” she laughs. “It’s been a fun challenge to try and be creative with that and I’m so incredibly blessed to have the most amazing staff team.”
This year marked the most entries ever into the competition with a lot of great submissions. For Sponsor’s Pick, Parks enjoys being able to select a photo that doesn’t necessarily have to stick to one of the four themed categories in reviewing them. “I asked to be able to do the sponsor’s pick because seeing photos that didn’t always fit an exact theme, I wanted to give an opportunity to those people as well. This year it was such a beautiful photograph that someone really took the time to craft. You can tell there was a lot of love that was put into that and it just kind of resonated with me that way.”
When asked why she thought this year had more submissions than any other, Parks remarks on people’s changed scheduled amidst the pandemic. “I think COVID has people home more and people spending more time with their pets…had more opportunity to see their pets and record them and make memories that way.”
As Wag’N Tails was deemed an essential business, the store has not had to completely close down this year, but they did have to pause the self-wash area for a time. Along with so many other businesses on Orange Avenue being temporarily closed and causing much less foot traffic on the main thoroughfare, Parks did have to cut and modify store hours for a time. “Business did suffer when everything around me closed as people weren’t coming uptown, but we had added curbside delivery a couple years ago and saw people take more advantage of that and that part of our business grew as the walk-ins business slowed down.”
In addition to free curbside delivery for items purchased over the phone, customers have also been able to take advantage of same day home delivery services from Wag’N Tails staff.
Today Wag’N Tails has reopened their self-wash tub services at a smaller capacity for the time being in compliance with safety regulations. “Because it’s a small area, in essence we can let two dogs and two people in at a time (though if one person is bringing two dogs that’s okay) so we had to modify how the room is used and most people have been incredibly understanding.” Staff and customers wear masks and Parks mentioned how as part of her store has always dealt with grooming, careful sanitizing and cleaning practices have always been a part of how she and her staff operate. “We’ve always been known for being one of the cleanest self-wash services around, so we’re just continuing that policy of cleaning really well and adhering to all the rules of wearing masks, sanitizing, etc.”
Parks has been grateful for the support of her customers, especially in current difficult times and is happy to be able to provide for them and their pets right now as well. “There were a lot of people really disappointed not to be able to use the self-wash when it was closed, so we got the word out as quickly as we could [when it re-opened]. Some people don’t live on island who come specifically to use that feature…and now we’re seeing them come back.”
Not everything is back as it was however, with manufacturers all at different stages of operating, with some just getting back up and running now and others remaining shut down. Throughout it all Parks and her team are doing their best to keep the store stocked with what people need. “Food and treat wise we’re really strong and do a lot of specialty orders for customers who may need a special food for their dog or cat…and just today I had someone thank me for staying in business and persevering because we are such a convenience to be here.”
With fall here and the holidays approaching, Parks is doing her best to ensure customers will be able to add a little extra joy into their homes for their pets. “We’re now just getting in some fun fall toys like stuffed turkeys, pumpkin pies, lattes that squeak, and we’re trying to bring in some fun things like that to bring joy to people whose holidays are going to be different this year.” She and her staff will continue to make fun and cheerful window displays throughout the season for everyone to enjoy, as well as some artistic treats for pets to look forward to at the shop’s dog bakery section (currently featuring Halloween themed iced cookie treats). Among all of the festive food and toys that will be on offer, Parks remains aware that times are difficult for everyone – not just businesses. “We have all different kinds of price points for anyone who wants to do a little something for their pet or someone else. We’re trying to be cognizant of being able to meet everyone’s needs.”
Throughout our conversation Parks weaves a theme of gratefulness for the sense of community across Coronado. “Of course it’s good to go off island now and then,” she allows jokingly, “but [we’re] blessed and privileged to support the community and be off service to them. We don’t take any of that for granted all of my staff knows that people can shop anywhere and that’s why we strive to do extra little things.” With a final thought, Parks drives the point home. “I really try to support the stores and restaurants on island and that’s what I hope to see grow a little bit more…we really need to support each other or it’s not going to be here.”
Humans and pets can currently enjoy Wag’N Tails 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday, and 10am-5pm on Sundays (tubs for wash services close 1 hours prior). For more information, visit the Wag’N Tails website at https://www.wagntailscoronado.com/ or call the store at 619-435-3513.