When I started dog walking, my intention was never to do it forever. It was to stop working in a bar, and start working with animals; to start building up my “thousand-hour eyeballs”, so to speak. I already knew at that point that I wanted to train, and walking seemed like a really good jumping off point while I saved up for tuition and then worked my way through school.
Ethologist George Schaller has written that to really understand what an animal is doing, you need thousand-hour eyeballs; that is, you must watch the animals for that long before trying to draw conclusions. – Reaching the Animal Mind, by Karen Pryor
The thing about dog walking is that you can’t complain about your job. At the end of the day, you get fresh air, exercise, and you get paid to hang out with dogs. It’s a pretty sweet gig, and anyone in a “normal” job will roll their eyes at you if you complain. Which is fair enough – I’ll take dog walking over just about any other job.
But here’s a dirty little secret: sometimes, it sucks. Like on those days when it is pouring rain and you are soaked to the bone, or those days where you can’t feel your toes and your pedometer clocks in at over 25k and need to thaw in a hot bath for an hour when you get home just to get rid of the chill. Or those days where a dog tries to eat something weird and you reach down their throat to pull it out, to find your hand covered in a combination of poop and drool, and the dog, rather than being grateful, is trying to snap at you and bite you for stealing it’s precious piece of poop. There are the days when there is just something in the air and every dog you walk is just on their worst behaviour and you want to cry. And then there are the clients who treat you like a servant, or who tell you their dog is just perfect, when actually it has multiple reactivity issues and triggers (pro-tip from me to you: if your dog is reactive, I will still walk it. I promise. I just need to know in advance to keep our walks as safe and pleasant as possible! So please, just be upfront about issues your dog has).
But for all that? There’s also way, way more good. There’s the days where the sun is shining and the breeze is blowing and you realize that your “office” is a walk along the boardwalk by Lake Ontario. There’s the days when all the dogs want to do is give you face kisses, and you can’t help but laugh and feel happy, and push that “remember that time I pulled poop out of their mouth” thought as far from your mind as you can. There are the clients who treat you like family because their dogs love you so much, who leave you baked goods or tea on the cold days, who leave you cards signed by their dog’s name just to make you feel appreciated. There are the days where you take your own dog to work with you, and see your baby get along with all these other fur kids you walk. There are the days when you realize that, other than their owners, these dogs love you more than just about anyone in the world; a dog walker is like the crazy aunt, you see? We dog walkers get to give kisses and treats and fun and then send the dog home before doing anything more serious. There are the days where you’re so grateful that you can wear sweatpants seven days a week and no longer own mascara, and no one cares.
And so here is the truth: I’m going to miss dog walking, a lot. I didn’t know if I would, but as my last day draws nearer and nearer, I find myself feeling more and more sad. Unlike a lot of jobs, I’m not leaving paperwork and a desk behind, I’m leaving real lives and friends behind. And unlike coworkers, I can’t call them up for hang-outs down the road. Sean, who is taking over my route, is really great. The dogs will love him. And I’m so grateful for that, but I’m also… jealous? Because they won’t miss me nearly as much as I’ll miss them; they’ll have Sean.
I am really excited for my next chapter, what I’ve been working for all along. But all the fur friends and lovely clients I’ve met along the way? It’s hard.
It isn’t like leaving just any job behind.