ORLANDO, Fla. – Lashonda Geffrard says she runs the Orlando area’s first Black-owned pet grooming salon.
Geffrard said she’s always had a big heart for animals. Not being allowed to have pets of her own as a kid, she said she began taking care of friends’ animals — grooming them on the patio of her Pine Hills home.
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Geffrard graduated from Evans High School but did not have the opportunity or finances to attend the college she wanted, so she worked her way up in the pet industry by getting jobs at various groomers and animal hospitals.
In 2015, her dream of owning her own business became a reality: The Paw Shop, located on North Clarke Road in Ocoee. Geffrard said she felt the need to stay closer to her community and give back.
“So much change has taken place and normalizing Black pet care professionals is becoming a mission for many,” Geffrard said. “I’m committed to doing my part wholeheartedly with everything I got.”
Geffrard said her passion for pets is what inspired her to not only open her salon but sparked the idea to create a nonprofit pet assistance program.
With rising pet care costs such as vaccinations — which are required for grooming — Geffrard said she began to see more of her low-income and elderly customers turned away.
In 2020, ASPCA released new data on the COVID-19 pandemic effects on pets living in poverty. Over 24.4 million animals are living in poverty with their owners during the pandemic, according to the study.
To help address the needs in her own community, Geffrard formed Paws of Hope Florida.
“(It is) birthed from the desire to give back to local families in need in a special way. It is our mission is to always give free pet food, supplies and aid in veterinary care,” she said.
The pandemic is still creating many more challenges in her community by restricting needed resources for animals. Food pantries that once provided pet food are empty — many have even been shut down and closed.
Geffrard also faced tough times in 2020. She said the manager of The Paw Shop, Tragorian Sconiers, nearly lost his life in a long battle with COVID-19.
“My family and I prayed continuously for a miracle and God did just that. He (Sconiers) lost both legs in his battle but that we can live with. It’s him we couldn’t live without,” she said.
Spending months in a coma, her uncle fought for his life. At the same time, his pet needed care, and Paws of Hope Florida stepped in.
The nonprofit, with the help of local volunteers and donations from area businesses, was able to get Sconiers and his dog, Amunet, the services and resources they needed.
The group provided food, vet assistance, shelter and care while they spent many months apart.
Paws of Hope Florida and The Paw Shop continue to host events throughout the year that provide free care and wellness to pets and their owners.
To find out more information on needing pet assistance, or ways to donate, click here.