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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022 4 months ago

Standing O: Nicole Damico turns her passion for animals into successful small business

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Nicole Damico's business, Keys and Collars, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary in October 2021.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

In 2017, Nicole Damico's life changed. 

Her mother lost her battle with cancer in April of that year, and for Damico, that changed her perspective on how she viewed life, and how she wanted to live it. 

“Obviously, losing my mom was such a pivotal moment in my life, and I didn’t like how my mom turned 65 in February, passed away in April, and never got to enjoy her retirement," she said. "She missed it, and I hated that for her, because her and my dad had so many plans.”

Her business Keys and Collars was just a "side hustle" at the time, as Damico worked full-time as a medical biller. About six months before her mom's death, she remembers sitting in her driveway with her parents and brainstorming how to turn her love of caring for animals into her business, an idea that was born after a friend asked her to pet-sit while she was away. Her parents have always been her biggest supporters, and Damico said they encouraged her to pursue her passion. 

Now, Keys and Collars recently celebrated its fifth anniversary, and Damico has not only kept a small business afloat during a global pandemic, but she has grown her business to employ 35 people to serve Volusia and Flagler County, as well as the upper Florida Keys. Damico has future plans to continue expanding to Tampa, North Georgia and possibly Jacksonville. 

“This business has been my saving grace," she said.

Lifting each other up

After her mom's death, Damico took three months off her medical billing job, and Keys and Collars, to allow herself time to grieve and process. Then when she came back to work, she realized she hated being there.

“I remember sitting at my cubicle job and I was just like, ‘I don’t like feeling stuck here, and working for somebody else,’” she recalled.

Kristin Heron, one of our Standing O nominees in 2020, nominated Nicole Damico for the recognition. File photo

Damico spoke with her father and he told her he would support whatever

"I’m nominating Nicole Damico because through her business, Keys and Collars, she’s not only made it easy for residents of Ormond Beach (and beyond) to feel comfortable leaving their beloved pets safely at home while they travel, but she’s also created numerous jobs in our community for her pet sitting team. Nicole’s business has touched so many people and pets in a positive way, and she deserves a Standing O."

Kristin Heron, curator of Education, Outreach and Exhibitions at the Ormond Memorial Art Museum and Gardens

decision she made. Two months later, she took the leap of faith, and celebrated her last day at her medical billing job just one day before her one-year anniversary of launching Keys and Collars.

She's never looked back. 

And thanks to her clients and her team members, a group of reliable, trustworthy and "goodhearted" people, Damico said she loves her job, which has granted her lifelong friends. She's spent holidays with her clients, kept them company is hospital rooms, helped them run errands or taken them to doctor's appointments. Whatever her clients and team members need, Damico said she tries her best to help.

“I try to be that light in people’s lives because people have been that for me," she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, especially in its beginning in March of 2020, was a scary period for Keys and Collars, she shared. As a business owner, she was nervous — with people not traveling and staying home from work, many of their regular clients didn't require their services, and Damico didn't want to rely on the government for help; but she still wanted to keep the company afloat.

And so did their regular clients, she said. Once things started opening up again, many hired Keys and Collars to come walk their dogs even though they were still working from home. 

Nicole Damico walks a dog during a wedding she was hired to work in. Courtesy photo

“We came back tenfold," Damico said. "It was just something that you think would have held us back actually flinging us forward. Now, we’re busier than ever.”

Moving mountains

Damico sports four tattoos on her arms. On her right, she has a wave to remind her of a significant trip to California, the coordinates of her parents home in Ormond Beach and the paw print of her first German shepherd, Troy — a tattoo that matches her dad's. 

On her left arm, she has "Because I love You," in her mom's handwriting, taken from a note her mother left on top of Damico's folded laundry one day. 

“I always carry that around with me as a reminder to be selfless, and even if someone tells you not to do something, to follow your heart and help them if you can," Damico said.

If she's going through difficult times, she said she finds helping people helps fuel her to keep going. Today, she bounces out of bed in the morning excited to see the progress of her business. In life, Damico said she believes that we are given the obstacles to overcome to show others it is possible.

“The whole ‘You’re given the mountains to show other people that they can be moved,’" Damico said. "I truly believe in that statement and I think you need people in your life like that, because you don’t want to feel alone when you’re going through those hard times.”

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