Jessica and the founders of Pensacola’s WolfGang, LLC, have found immense success in the realm of event planning and their clients have been howling their good graces for nearly two years. Those clients— dogs—are the center of the entrepreneurs’ lives, and their passion and dedication to them shines through in their work. Motivated by their desire to include their own dogs—Hugh, Marie, Mama and Victor—in fun and typically human-exclusive activities, WolfGang became the first dog event planning service to set up shop in Florida and they have made strides in increasing the number of pet-friendly spaces in Pensacola. For this month’s pet-themed issue, we sat down with WolfGang co-owner, Jessica Wolford, to discuss the intricacies of their business, the responsibilities of dog ownership and the pet adoption process.
What inspired you to start a business revolving around pet-friendly events?
Well, we have four dogs, and our biggest issue was that we could take them to do stuff, but they were just kind of lying there. They weren’t really doing anything even though they were still happy to be with us. So, we wanted to create a way to work with businesses that we already liked going to in an effort to host more dog-centered events. It was kind of a selfish thing at first—which I think most businesses that start are pretty selfish—then it quickly grew into something that everybody loves, because they already love taking their pets with them places. So, why not do something about making the dog the Guest of Honor?
What are some specific services and events that you offer?
The whole event side of it started off as a pilot company just to kind of get our name out there. We’re in the process of building a brick and mortar right now. We’ve done dog birthday parties, adoption events, Pensacola Pawdi Gras, Yappy Hours, Mutts and Mimosas, Santa Paws and more. People come to us with these ideas, and we research it and we kind of play around with our dogs to see if it works, and if it does, then we go for it. There are quite a few different things that we’re capable of doing. If we can do it safely and everybody’s having fun, we will entertain just about anything.
How do you go about approaching different businesses that typically aren’t pet-friendly to work with you?
We started working with local companies that are dog-friendly and I think our reputation kind of grew from there. We’ll be celebrating two years of business in October. Doing Pawdi Gras in partnership with Pensacola Mardi Gras, which is a city-wide event, really helped people to see that there’s a need and a desire for people to be able to take their dogs to more places in the city. These places don’t have to be dog-friendly 100 percent of the time, but if they can make an exception for one day to host a dog-friendly event, then it also builds the trust people have in their business and in turn, helps to increase their revenue. We just pitch to different businesses and say, “Hey, here’s our idea. What do you think?” In the past six months our reputation has really grown. We’ve had people start to reach out to us for quite a few private events with big corporations, and now we just have people coming in all the time and asking us, “Hey, can you do this for our business?” It’s a blessing.
What goes into planning for a dog-specific event?
If it’s a new event that we’re introducing to the public, we try that out on our own dogs and see how it goes. We do a lot of research on the type of event we’re going to do and the venue that we’re going to do it at. We do ticketed events and we limit the number of dogs for a couple reasons–the main one being safety and making everyone comfortable. We also want to make the experience personable. If we have more than 30 dogs in an area, that makes it hard for us to get to know the dogs and the owners one-on-one. That’s always been important to us—to make our events very personable and to remember those dogs’ names and have them come back. Then we work with the venue and try to figure out what’s going to be best for them from a monetary standpoint. When we’re looking at something like Pawdi Gras, that’s a huge event; we have to shut down roads. We’re working with sponsors and over 40 small businesses. That’s something that takes up to six months of planning. But with our smaller events, we just try to make sure that everything is meticulously planned and that we’re really catering to the dog. Obviously, we want humans to have fun, but we’re not human event planners. We’re dog event planners, and we want to make sure that the dog is the one having the most fun.
Can you tell me about your interest in campaigning for animal welfare as a whole?
It’s hugely important to us to bring awareness to local rescues and shelters in the area and to educate people. You know, a lot of people thought that our local shelter was a kill shelter, and it’s not. We really just kind of educate people on what these rescues do and help them to understand that they’re nonprofits. They rely on grants that they’re given to save these animals. With Pawdi Gras we donate 100 percent of the parade registration fees to a benefactor. The first year we raised $5,000 and last year we raised 12,000. Our goal for this upcoming year is going to be 15,000 and hopefully we’ll pass that. But every event that we do anywhere, we always invite an adoptable dog, and we try to donate a percentage of our ticket sales or we do raffles that benefit a local nonprofit.
Since so many of your pets are adopted, is there anything that you think others should know about the whole adoption process?
I think the biggest thing people need to understand is that you don’t know what trauma a dog has gone through before they got to the shelter. They can become traumatized whenever they’re put into a shelter or a rescue because they’re in an environment they don’t understand that’s loud and crowded and has a lot of people coming and going. It takes time. Make sure that you do your research, make sure that you know what type of dog that you’re getting and give them a chance and understand that not every dog is going to be a cookie cutter dog. You have to understand that these dogs were put in positions that were no fault of their own. They have no voice, so we are their voice. And if you’re not in the realm of getting ready to adopt, there are so many ways that you can help that aren’t just monetary. You can volunteer your time to go spend with the dogs or help share their stories on Facebook.
What are some things that you’d like to share about your journey as a pet parent?
Up until September of last year, we had five dogs. Oreo passed away last September—he was 17 and he lived a great life. Our oldest is now 10, our German Shepherd, and then we’ve got a coming-up nine-year-old, a coming-up eight-year-old and our recent guy, we think is about three years old and he’s a foster. We have a very diverse group of animals in our home, and when people say, “I can’t adopt that kind of dog because it won’t get along with my dog,” that is true most of the time, but still take the chance and see and do it the correct way. We have two pit mixes, a lab and our German Shepherd. Most people who like to breed shame, and really kind of put blame on certain types of breeds would look at our household and go, “Oh, my God, they must be vicious,” or “They must be violent or terrible dogs,” and they’re not. We truly mesh with their soul, and we believe that each one of these adoptable dogs that came into our lives came into them for a reason.
Was there anything else that you’d like to share with readers?
Well, the biggest thing that we [the WolfGang] usually say is that “We’re a dog business that’s human friendly.” That’s what we’re about. We also have big news coming soon with the brick-and-mortar announcement and we will be kickstarting all the Pawdi Gras stuff soon. People can also follow us on our social media and subscribe to our website, wolfgangparksandbrews.com. We send out biweekly newsletters that have dog-ownership and safety tips and it has information on our upcoming events.