Petropolitan owner Chris Watts wants to help create a community as passionate about animals as he is
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
Not everybody gets to make their passion be their profession. Chris Watts is one of the lucky few. And now, his business is growing along with his passion for his work.
Watts and his husband, Todd Fisher, own Petropolitan, a full-service pet services shop located in downtown Dallas, at 408 S. Harwood. Soon they will be opening their second location, at the intersection of Emmett Street and Hampton Road in Oak Cliff. It is a move that will more than triple their total space and give them the chance, Watts said, to begin offering the kind of services that they hope will enrich their new community as well as their pocketbooks.
As a child, Watts said, it was his dream to be a veterinarian. But as he got older and the time came to choose a career, Watts said he ended up on a different path, eventually going to work in the marketing department of Bank of America.
Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I worked in the green building in downtown Dallas when 9-11 happened. After, we were there, talking about our contingency plan, about what to do if something happened there. And I just realized, I can’t do this anymore,” Watts recalled.
And so he left his corporate job to go to work managing a friend’s pet grooming shop. Eventually, the shop sold to a new owner — “someone who was all about the money, and not about the animals” — and Watts was once again on the move.
“Within 60 days of giving my notice there, we were opening Petropolitan,” he said.
It took a while longer for Fisher to get out of the office and into the family business, Watts continued: “Todd worked as a hatchet man for IBM. He traveled all over the world, consolidating offices, laying people off. He definitely needed to find his soul again, too.”
The two agreed that they couldn’t give up Fisher’s income right away. “But once we got Petropolitan up and really going, we decided Todd could be free of his corporate side, too,” Watts said.
What’s now, what’s next
Most of Petropolitan’s business now is in pet grooming, pet boarding and pet sitting, Watts said. And while most of the business in the shop deals with dogs, Petropolitan reaches out into other species, too.
“We work with cats. We’ve house-sitted chickens and we’ve handled pet rats. We have even contracted out to handle some snakes. Well, I won’t work with snakes, but we have others who do. My criteria is that they have to have legs before I handle them,” he laughed. “We’ve bathed a pig; we’ve bathed a rabbit. We’ve never worked with horses, but if someone asked us to handle horses, we’d have to make sure we have someone with the expertise to do that.”
Watts said Petropolitan can board pets at the shop during the day, and will sit with pets in the owner’s home. They walk the animals, and offer a pick-up-and-delivery service, too, whether that means delivering the animal to the shop, to the vet or to its home.
But despite all the services Petropolitan offers now, Watts said those services will just grow once the new, second location is open.
“We’ve been toying with the idea of a second location for some time, but no place was just right. We just decided we weren’t going to force it. If it happened, it happened,” Watts said. “Two weeks ago, we weren’t even talking about opening a second location. Today, we’ve got a signed lease in hand. It was just all very serendipitous.”
The new location is “centrally located to Oak Cliff,” Watts said, which in addition to being a burgeoning part of town is also where he and Fisher live.
“And there is a significant lack of animal services and resources,” he added.
The new location has about 9,000 square feet of space — more than twice the space of Petropolitan’s 4,000-square-foot downtown location. “It already has its own parking,” Watts said, “and it was a vet’s office before, so the build-out we need was already there.”
And that, he said, opens the door to any number of new services that Petropolitan can offer, including low-cost spay and neuter clinics, low-cost vaccination clinics, even classes and seminars to help pet owners and the community as a whole better understand the city’s ordinances regulating animal ownership.
“We can’t do it all by ourselves, but we can do it all if we partner with the city’s animal services and with the rescue groups in town,” Watts said.
“What we want is for this to be more of an overall wellness center instead of just a shop. We want to offer all the services you need for your pets, outside of actual veterinary services.”
The new space, Watts continued, will have room for trainings and workshops — such as pet CPR training — “and we’re even talking to a retailer about taking over part of the space as a store for pet supplies,” he said. “This is a collaborative effort, something that will help make our already incredible neighborhood even more incredible.”
Living the dream
As if being able to make a living doing something he loves weren’t good enough, Watts also gets to serve on the city of Dallas’ animal shelter commission. First appointed by then-District 3 City Councilman Dave Neumann, Watts has since been re-appointed to the commission by current District 1 Councilman Scott Griggs. It is a job he takes very seriously.
“It’s our job to advise the council on issues dealing with animals and to help out the animal services department with strategic ideas,” Watts said.
“We are kind of a liaison between the animal services department and the council and the community.”
Taking ideas from the community to city officials, helping people understand the reason for ordinances involving animals and how to be compliant with those ordinances.
“I am passionate about animals, and I want to help create an incredibly passionate community when it comes to animals,” Watts said. “It’s a lofty goal, but I think we can get there.”
The lucky ones
Watts has plenty of help in getting there when it comes to his Petropolitan family. Right now, at the downtown location, the company has 11 employees. When the new location opens, he said, “we’ll be adding at least that many plus some.”
Watts said that potential employees don’t have to worry about having a lot of experience. In fact, he said, “We really prefer to teach them most of the job.”
What matters instead, he said, is attitude.
“In every ad we place looking for employees, we always say, ‘No divas, no drugs, no drama,’” Watts said. “We don’t want any of that. Pets respond to that kind of thing, and it’s not a good kind of response.
“What we want is people who have a passion for pets,” Watts said. “That’s what counts.”
Passion. That’s a key word for Watts, who said his goal is to help put Dallas once again at the top of the heap for pets.
“In the ’90s, Dallas was one of the top 10 dog-friendly cities in the country. Now, it’s not even in the top 50. I want to help Dallas get back up in the top 10 again. That’s what I am passionate about.
“You know, not a lot of people get to make a living doing the thing they love, the thing they are passionate about,” he added. “I do. I am one of the lucky ones.”
Saving the Pooch Parade
When lack of funding forced organizers to cancel the annual Easter in Lee Park event, including the ever-popular Pooch Parade, Chris Watts at Petropolitan stepped in to save the day, at least as far as the Pooch Parade is concerned.
Watts, who has been in charge of the Pooch Parade for the last several years, arranged to have the event take place on Easter Sunday as part of the already-scheduled Deep Ellum Arts Festival.
“The Pooch Parade has such an incredible lineage. It has been part of Easter in the Park for years, and people didn’t want to see it die,” Watts said.
“It is a tradition. But traditions can change, and sometimes, that’s a good thing.
“It’s always been in Lee Park, but I think moving it to Deep Ellum this year will be a good thing,” he continued. “This city, Dallas, is just so eclectic.
Every neighborhood, every community has its own history and its own traditions. And it can be a really good thing to go out and experience other people’s neighborhoods. We need to do that, and moving the Pooch Parade to the Deep Ellum Arts Festival for this year can do that.”
He said he and other organizers are already planning for next Easter, looking for new sites and new ideas.
But for this year, the Pooch Parade will be calling the corner of Malcolm X Boulevard and Main Street home, on the Deep Ellum Arts Festival Main Stage. The parade takes place from noon to 1 p.m. Emcee for the event will be comedian Dan Danzy, and District 2 City Councilman Adam Medrano and District 14 City Councilman Philip Kingston are confirmed as judges.
Watts said that longtime event emcee Paul J. Williams was unable to participate this year because of a scheduling conflict, “but he will be back next year.”
Last year, Watts said, about 220 pooches donned their Easter finery to parade through Lee Park, while about 75 pet/animal-related vendors had booths in the park, and about 80 animals were adopted.
With the last-minute changes, participation in this year’s Pooch Parade might be down. But Watts is optimistic.
“We have 10 rescue groups that are participating, and I think there will be plenty of people there. People love their pets; the animals always bring them out,” he said. “I want to see lots of pooches in the parade, and tell the people they should still wear their Easter bonnets! I think that’s a tradition we should keep.”