When COVID appeared then grew exponentially into pandemic, Eileen Castine recalled the virtual Niagara Falls of events that overwhelmed her business and life.
Castine and her life and business partner, Ricci Mundy, had to watch helplessly as their 20-year-old livelihood, Mr. Scruff’s Pet Care, plunged over the pandemic falls in a torrent of problems that included illness, debt and house repairs.
Eileen Castine and Ricci Mundy
Ages: 57, 55
Occupation: Owners, Mr. Scruff’s Pet Care
“It was hell. A blur,” Castine said. “One thing after the other, after the other. Things happened with our house; we racked up credit card debt…”
The cascade of events started with the sudden blow to the heart of their pet care business. People were at home during the shutdown, and many remained so even as work resumed. Business trips and vacations were canceled. Those folks no longer needed pet sitters. So, 75% of Mr. Scruff’s business evaporated overnight.
Then, Castine found out she was ill. In March 2020, she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. That was on top of another condition, called myotonic muscular dystrophy, a degenerative neuromuscular disease. Even as hospitals canceled elective surgeries to make room for the growing number of COVID patients, Castine was able to get surgery for her cancer in April 2020.
Though Castine didn’t have to have chemotherapy or radiation treatment and has a positive prognosis, “It was pretty hellish,” she recalled, because of the neuromuscular issues, including irregular heartbeat and low oxygen. Thankfully, she did not get COVID, though she had neighbors and friends who did, she said.
But business was still at an unsustainable crawl. “We were pretty slow up until about March of this year. It suddenly started getting a little busier. It was pretty rough. But we got a lot of help from clients and friends,” Castine said.
A year and half later
What a difference a little more than a year has made. “Now, we have made it through, and I am amazed and grateful,” said Castine. The key to survival? Committed friends and a supportive community.
“We also took advantage of (government) mortgage relief, so we were able to hold off on the mortgage payments for about six months.” Castine applied for and received federal disability, which started in July 2020.
She is grateful for Mundy. “She has really been taking up the slack. We work well together. Looking forward was just terrifying. We just had to take it one day at a time. We have come out of this really supporting each other.”
And Mr. Scruff’s is as frisky as ever. “What’s good is, we are still here and busy as ever now. We have more than enough business; we can hardly handle it all now. When people went back to work, we got our daily people back, people going on trips…”
Castine’s health has even “kind of stabilized for now.” She is in physical therapy; both women have gotten vaccinated, including boosters.
While Castine is optimistic about the future, she is still “pretty anxious” about the pandemic, which is producing variants and infections around the world.
“I think that it is sometimes hard to look back, because it was very scary,” she said. “But I have a lot of gratitude. And friends. I discovered how we get each other through. Our community got us through this.”
Celeste Williams is a writer and playwright living in Indianapolis. She was a journalist for more than 25 years, having worked at daily newspapers in Alabama, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Indiana. She has won national awards, including recognition for reporting on extreme poverty in Tunica, Mississippi. Her play, “More Light: Douglass Returns,” about abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass, was produced in 2017 and 2018 in Indiana.
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