Thus far, in her 56 years, her steps – some small, some large and several that were admittedly sideways – have landed her right where she wants to be.
Which is standing in a pack of playful pups who are wagging their tails like flags and jumping up, her mask be damned, to give her wet, sloppy kisses.
Viviane, who grew up on a farm in São Paulo, Brazil with dogs, cats, cows and horses, opened Vivi Pet Care a little over a year ago.
The shop, which offers grooming, boarding, dog walking and day care, announces itself on 21st Avenue at 31st Street with love – its awning is Valentine-heart red – and with the boisterous barks and happy howls of its contented canine clients.
“I designed every part of it myself,” says Viviane, adding that “I treat every pet as if it were mine.”
As she says this, Jubilee, her own pooch, leans in for a caress. A Swiss Hound-Beagle mix, he has long floppy ears that fly like kite tails when he runs.
Viviane – red nails, red lipstick, red uniform jacket; excited, expressive, enthusiastic – sees every dog-food bowl as half full and every opportunity as golden.
“I’m grateful for everything I have,” she says. “I have a positive attitude; I know that everything happens for a reason. I’m happy no matter what.”
Ironically, Viviane’s new beginning started with an ending.
She had married at 18 – which probably was far too young – and after 19 years and two children decided that she wanted a divorce.
She emerged with some money – “we had a company that made racing-car parts,” she confides – and an enormous amount of determination to change her life.
She had a friend in New York City, which is why she decided to come here in 2002.
“I didn’t know the language at all,” she says, adding, in perfect English, that she’s still not flawlessly fluent. “I took whatever jobs I could because I knew I had to survive.”
Her first job, as a coat checker in a restaurant, allowed her enough time to take classes in English, and after she saved some money, she took a job as a live-in housekeeper on Long Island.
Next, Viviane went to bartender school and worked as a bartender, where, she says, she became much more proficient in English.
“People in bars like to talk,” she explains.
Although she liked the work, she was set to take the next step.
“I decided to go to grooming school,” she says.
By 2007, she was, indeed, working in a pet shop.
“But I had always planned to open my own store,” she says.
In 2019, Vivi Pet Care was born.
Viviane’s quick to point out that although Vivi Pet Care bears her name, it’s very much a family business. Her daughter, Vivian Fernandes, works there, and her grandson, 6-year-old Giovanny, is a frequent helper.
“It’s a team effort,” she says.
She breaks away from the pack long enough to pet Toby, a boxer-pitbull mix.
“He was my first customer,” she says proudly.
Vivi Pet Care, which is open six days a week, takes up most of Viviane’s time. She can’t think of anywhere else she’d rather be.
“I know everybody,” she says as people taking their pooches out for a spin wave to her in the shop window.
But this, she says, is only the beginning. She hopes to open a second shop in Westchester, where her business partner lives.
“I had always dreamed of being a veterinarian, but it’s too late,” she says. “I’ll do that in my next life.”
With Vivi Pet Care up and running, Viviane, who shares an apartment in Astoria with Vivian, Giovanny and Jubilee, wants to devote a little more time to her personal life.
“I want to get married again,” she says as she gives Toby a hug. “I’m looking for a husband.”
She’s in no particular hurry; she knows that it will happen as long as she takes things one step at a time.
Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling