A Day in the Life of a Dog Walker

by Sasha Futran

 

Today’s first group is made up of five dogs, half of them mine. No, it is not a math problem; one of them is a “joint custody” dog.

 

That’s Match, a four-year-old Golden Retriever, who always has a smile on his face. You know the look:  tongue hanging out, joyful glint in his eyes, and the relaxed body of a happy dog ready to have fun. He has a toy in his mouth as I leash him up. “Drop it.” He does, and grabs Lila’s leash instead to help walk her to the car, the usual routine.

 

Lila is what a friend once called a “garage dog.”  This is a Bronx expression for mutt. Part Golden, part “who knows,” and all mine, she doesn’t react to Match’s walking her, but has a happy expression much like his. She’s added her monotone bark, bark, bark, announcing her satisfaction that we are about to head out the door. She’s nine.

 

Alphie -- so named because the shelter where I adopted him said he was an Alpha dog and we needed to agree early on that I was the Alpha -- is ten and mostly Belgian Shepherd. He mills about, bumping me while waiting for the others to quit messing around.

 

We go get Lulu, a Puerto Rican stray. Now six, she was adopted on the East Coast from a shelter that imports dogs, just as some shelters here bring in and place strays from Mexico. She’s a sweetheart and allegedly a Whippet mix, but you could have fooled me. She hops in the car and everyone touches noses. When I start to drive she gives me a lick on the neck.

 

Finally, we head off for the bundle of energy, teenager Beau, a Labradoodle. He no longer almost knocks me back out the door with his exuberance. Months of turning in place whenever I go into his house have finally worked.  (I digress, but the best way to get a dog to stop jumping on people is to totally ignore him. Don’t look at him. Turn until he stops jumping and the moment all four are on the floor say “Good dog!” and pet and treat. Prepare for the dog to immediately jump on you again and to repeat the whole process until all four remain on the floor and you are a little dizzy. Then you can pay attention to the dog.) Beau will now sit and stay when getting leashed up too.

 

As usual, I mull over where we’re going based on weather, tide levels, and group composition. Lila awaits my announcement with her head cocked. “The beach,” I say, “Let’s go to the Albany Bulb.” Li barks and barks her joy. I get licks from two. Another nuzzles my shoulder. Alf looks managerial but pleased.

 

When we get there, Match and Beau disappear in a flash over the sand dunes while the other three race behind. By the time I get to the beach, Match has already begun chasing another dog’s ball. Beau is running wide circles that encompass water and sand, and Lulu careens after him. Alphie is wet and urging the others to chase him. Lila is running back up the dune looking for me.  We’ve arrived for an outing of chasing, splashing, wet pant legs, and exploring paths.

 

My own day began much earlier with visits to various cats whose humans are out of town. Coffee in hand, I collect mail, sit and cuddle or play with the cats, and ‘feed and water’ them. A quiet start to the day and a diversification shared by other dog walkers as well.

 

Later I’ll take another group of dogs to a still undecided, but likely different off-leash area.  There will also be a private dog training session in the late afternoon and a solo neighborhood walk with an aggressive dog that shouldn’t do off-lease outings with others.

 

Meanwhile, some of the dogs are getting bored with the beach. Not Match, of course, he is still chasing balls into the water. I call them and we head out on the many winding paths of the Bulb, where we find that someone has painted dozens of ladybugs on a trail of stones.

 

As we round a curve suddenly there are about 20 women hiking with babies strapped on front and back.  A wave of horror spreads across their faces when they see the group of dogs. “Side of the road, “ I call skipping backwards to the edge acting silly while creating a new command and training technique on the fly.

 

My own dogs wonder what I’m up to and dash toward me. I ask them to sit, use my clicker and give them a treat. The other dogs immediately join them. I decide to use this for joggers, people on bikes and anyone looking scared when they see the dogs.

 

Before we’re done today, Match will run back to the beach and need to be collected. Beau will roll in a patch of foxtails, and I will pick what seem like an endless number out of his fur. None of which is completely unexpected.

 

Having previously worked in the media, I do sometimes wonder exactly how I came to decide to start an animal care and dog training business.  I suppose one way of looking at it is that from journalist to dog walker, I’m still scooping all the hot poop.

 

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