Adjusting to Employment Loss: Noel Holly
My name is Noël Holly and I have pulmonary hypertension. Because of this disease I am unable to work full time and I receive Social Security Disability benefits. I live alone and do not have either caregivers or family members that can help financially. I also live in a state that has a high cost of living. SSDI is not as much income as some may think and I often struggle to make ends meet. It’s hard to stay afloat financially. While my functionality is such that I am unable to work in the normal work environment, over the past three years I have been able to do what is sometimes called a side gig.
My side gig is pet sitting, ranging from walking small dogs while their owners are away for a day, to cleaning bird cages and feeding said birds, feeding cats, to in-home pet sitting while pet owners are traveling. It was something that I could fit into my life as a person with a disability and provided some much needed extra income. Mind you, due to my physical limits I cannot translate this into a full time business, but it is an important financial support that I have cultivated carefully. I was proud that I was providing a service to people and gave them the security of knowing that their pets were being cared for by someone who loves animals and is honest and dependable.
My pet sitting gigs were year round, but the main times were focused around the holidays and the summer months as these were when most people were traveling on vacations. My gigs for 2020 were already starting to book early in the year. We weren’t in a pandemic and all seemed to be normal. My calendar was filling quickly.
Then, along came COVID-19 and the financial fallout began. The pandemic dominated the headlines and it began quickly to affect everyone’s lives in many ways. I received one phone call from a client to say that they had to cancel their travel plans and would not need my services. Then, like dominos falling, I began to get calls and texts from all my other clients to let me know the same thing. Of course, this is no fault of the pet owners, and I completely understand, but it was quite disheartening all the same.
This summer, typically my busiest time, is now my slowest ever. At this time I have pretty much lost all gigs and do not anticipate this to change through the end of the year. Instead of a full calendar I have one with “cancelled” written on those dates. As with many gig workers, I do not have workers insurance or sick leave to fall back on. What small amount of money I have been able to save I went through quickly. I am managing, barely, to pay the bills, but other expenses, such as auto repairs, I am now unable to afford. I rely on my car to get to doctors’ appointments, grocery shopping, and other errands, (all following safety precautions and guidelines of course) and having it be in good condition is important. I worry that my car may fail and I would be left in the lurch.
My experience is a microcosm of what all pet sitters and gig economy workers are experiencing, but it is made more frustrating and yes, even scary because of my circumstances of having PH. I hope along with my fellow pet sitters that 2021 will bring a much brighter prospect of our business picking up again, but until then the COVID-19 financial fallout will still be felt.
Noel received COVID-19 relief funds from the Team PHenomenal Hope Unmet Needs Patient Impact Fund. Learn more about how this fund supports PH patients at teamph.org/unmetneeds.