Sheree Flanagan spent the holidays trying to process her grief over the Dec. 22 death of her beloved dog Zoe.
Little did she know her heartbreak would double on Jan. 30, when Thor, her 15-year old cat died.
“Losing Zoe was terrible. We had her for 10 years,” Flanagan tells PEOPLE of the pets she shares with her husband USAR Sgt. Corey Flanagan at their home near Dallas, Texas. “But when Thor died that was crushing. He lived with me in New York, then California and now here. He was always my No. 1 boy. I’m tearing up just talking about it.”
Flanagan was sure no one outside her family could understand her anguish. A live chat with Ashley, a rep from the pet company Chewy.com headquartered in Dania Beach, Florida, changed that belief. Flanagan didn’t intend to pour out her heart during her chat with the company’s representative. She only wanted to ask about the possibility of returning unused food she had purchased for Thor. But Ashley prompted her to share her grief.
“Ashley was amazing,” said Flanagan. “She told me she had a cat put down and she really understood. I kept saying that I didn’t mean to bother her and she kept saying ‘No, this is important. Tell me more.’ ”
Not only did the Flanagans get a full refund for the purchase — no documentation required – but on Feb. 8 a florist’s van pulled up to the Flanagan home delivering a large bouquet and a note expressing condolences over the deaths.
“Your team has either got it in their bloodline to be exceptionally kind and understanding, their leadership has done exceptionally well in guiding them or a combo of both,” Sgt. Flanagan wrote to Chewy soon after the delivery. “My wife has been taking their loss especially hard, and when we received the flowers we decided it was enough for us both to decide to stop shopping around and give Chewy all our future business.”
That’s a common sentiment from those who’ve experienced Chewy’s kindness.
Sue and Bruce Stack of Edwardsburg, Michigan, didn’t know anything about the outreach when they had 60 pounds of dog food delivered for their 6-year old great Dane Jake.
The Friday, Jan. 13, delivery went untouched because of Jake’s sudden death the day after. On that Sunday, the Stacks’ notified Chewy to end automatic deliveries.
“I called Sunday afternoon and by Sunday evening I had a note of condolence, a credit for the food, and a request to donate the food to an area shelter,” said Sue Stack, who said her Jake was well-known to the community because he’d accompany Bruce, a fire chief, to events.
“I came home from [my job as a nurse] Tuesday evening and there were flowers. I thought some of our friends sent them and I realized they were from Chewy and thought ‘This is crazy! What an amazing company.’ ”
Stack was so moved she posted the news on Facebook and encouraged other pet owners to support the company, which she will do when they adopt again. Her post went viral. At last count, it had 145,000-plus shares, 385,000 likes and 54,000 comments.
“The world can be such a negative place,” said Stack. “This kindness is so important.”
Kelli Durkin, Chewy’s VP of customer service, said the company, founded in 2011, was started by pet lovers that wanted to create a personalized service that involves such extras as zero automation in the customer service department. About 450 representatives operate the center 365 days a year, 24/7, answering calls in 4 to six seconds.
When the company began automatic shipments of food, they received a call from a woman who had to cancel her service due to the death of her pet.
“The agent on the phone was so moved, she said ‘I have to do something,’ ” said Kelli Durkin, Chewy’s VP of customer service. “We thought of sending a sympathy card but we knew we had to do more. And that’s how it really started for everyone.”
That prompted the company, which contributes a portion of profits to no-kill animal shelters, to open a WOW department that sends out the bereavement packages, cards and more to customers that experience life events ranging from illnesses to weddings. Last year the company – that employs 3,700 team members employed at Dania Beach, Florida, Boston, and three other fulfillment centers throughout the U.S. — sent 2 million holiday cards and anticipates even more in 2017.
“We don’t feel we’re talking to customers. We are talking to pets’ parents,” said Durkin. “We want to hear the good and the bad. We are feeding their children. We are part of their families.”