Commercial dog walkers are a maligned breed
Time to throw them a bone
Lately there has been a lot of social media shaming aimed at dog walkers. Mostly it’s photos of people being accused of kicking dogs, being in non off leash areas and the dreaded dogs in cars.
In early January, 2016 a Global News reporter videoed a car with several dogs inside. It was parked downtown for allegedly over 40 minutes, it was cold but the dogs were fine. This sparked a poop storm between dog walkers, dog owners, non dog owners, experts and armchair critics.
The walker called into a talk radio show the next day and explained that she was waiting for a prescription to be filled and was in sight of the car having a cigarette.
As with anything, there is good and bad
This is about the good
It’s only fair that the public understands what goes into being an accountable, knowledgeable and socially conscious pet care professional.
Here’s a positive Facebook posting.
On the morning of February 2, 2016 commercial dog walker Rai Cheng posted on the Commercial Dog Walker’s page:
“I’m at the hydro field at Lawrence and Kennedy. Dog with no human wandering in the distance. Lucy? The right color/ shape but not wearing a coat.”
Word quickly spread.
After waiting a couple of hours for help to arrive Cheng showed the rescuers where the dog was. (she’d been leery about approaching the dog with her pack, didn’t want to scare it off but kept her eye on it the whole time.)
It was in fact Lucy. After a week of adventure and making her way to Scarboro she was caught, vetted and pronounced in good health.
Oh, if dogs could talk…
After Lucy was safely secured Cheng posted, “I’m going home to pee now”
Cheng followed her gut and her post that morning ultimately brought Lucy home.
There are many stories of dog walkers finding and catching loose or lost dogs. It goes with the territory and they have the tools to make it happen; leashes, treats, other dogs and the ability to approach a dog and hopefully gain it’s trust.
Dog walkers are pack animals
The dog walking community is a small albeit vastly spread out group. There are “packs” and neighborhood hubs that are consistent to the various parks. Most walkers look out for each other, know one another’s dogs, cover for the other if they are sick or on vacation and share ideas and experiences. Many of them serve as mentors. You can be sure if another walker is messing up they’ll hear about it because the public is prone to paint them all with the same brush.
It’s a walk in the park literally, not figuratively
Sure, when the weather is sunny and warm people think it’s one of the best jobs in the world. Most times it is.
However there are other seasons and sometimes they overlap creating winter thaws that result in muddy, bacteria breeding puddles that dogs love to drink out of. Those puddles then freeze the next day creating jagged shards of ice that are a danger to paw pads and general walking conditions.
There are the poop land mines
A lot of dogs eat poop so walkers are pretty diligent about picking up any “stray” or “karma poops”. Some would suggest it’s the walkers who leave behind the droppings, sometimes it is but we’re talking about the responsible ones, it’s in their best interest to clear the area of things that can harm their dogs. If a dog eats parasitic poop those little squirms have found a new home.
Another concern is human feces, gross I know but it’s out there. Dogs love to roll in it and it’s extremely delicious. There’s also the risk of them getting sick after ingesting the crack infused stuff. It happens.
There are dead things.
Marcus Barber frequents Toronto’s Cherry Beach dog park, “Once I had a little white dog disappear along the shore. I finally found her inside the carcass of a massive fish. She was having the best time.” He mimics a gag, “That was a fun ride home”
Walkers will alert each other to corpses and those with strong stomachs will retrieve and dispose of them.
Aside from keeping an eye on their own packs walkers need to be aware of all the other dogs, people and triggers in the park.
Having a conversation with a working dog walker is always peppered with interruptions,
“Hang on a sec, Sawyer come!”
“Hold on, I’ve got a pooper”
“Crap, that dog just effed off with our ball.”
Up close and personal
Sorry to dwell on the poop thing but if you have a walker and they notice something’s not right with your dog they’ll give you a heads up and possibly hang on to a small sample for you to take to the vet. After all they know your dog pretty well, they are your second set of eyes.
(you won’t believe some of the things discovered in poop, see end of post)
One walker joked, “I come from the hospitality industry. I used to explain the subtle nuances of the wines I served. Now I’m like a poop Sommelier.” She imitates swirling wine with a bag of poo, “Ah, very earthy with notes of grass and hints of leather.”
In 2014 Lorrie Holmes noticed a growth on one of her charges and alerted the owners. They took their dog to the vet, it was cancer. The dog was treated and she’s now a survivor.
Holmes is the Co-Producer of the Smiling Blue Skies Walk to End Canine Cancer that has taken place in Toronto since 2012. To date it has raised over $140,000 for treatment and research. The Walk attracts over 100 participants, many of them dog walkers.
When the City of Toronto implemented the Commercial Dog Walker permit in 2005 it was primarily to insure that the City is covered under the walker’s insurance for $2,000,000 liability.
That’s it, they don’t care about any qualifications.
Fortunately the accountable walkers will take it upon themselves to obtain the proper education needed to do the job. First aid is a must and those courses can spread over weekends and cost hundreds of dollars.
Other courses cover body language, conflict resolution, training and so on. Walkers can spend thousands of dollars learning all they can. It’s also helpful to have business and people skills.
As a result many walkers wear several hats. They are certified trainers, groomers, behaviorists, vet techs, nutritionists and massage therapists to name a few. This adds dimension to their businesses and a more informed care giver for your pet.
The Toronto Centre for Canine Education offers a dog walking certification course that covers everything a dog walker needs to succeed. This is a great example of the industry creating it’s own high standards and providing the resources to do so.
The City of Toronto doesn’t ask for certification.
Many walkers will “adopt” their park and schedule clean ups, fund raisers and liaise with the City when improvements or repairs are needed. They will also fiercely defend their parks against anyone who disrespects them. So if you’re the type to meander around gabbing on your phone while Bowzer does his business behind you or runs off harassing other dogs don’t be surprised when you get called out.
Rescue and Foster
It’s common to see a walker’s social media filled with notices of dogs in need of homes, lost animals and pictures of them spending their vacations helping out at clinics around the world. While most folks bring back extra clothes and souvenirs these heroes bring dogs in need of homes.
Many times they will foster, train and socialize them insuring they have every advantage going forward.
How to find such a person
If you’re looking for a great pet care professional ask around, get referrals, hang out in the dog parks and observe them in action. Ask them questions and watch how they and your dog interact.
Above of all follow your gut and your dog’s reaction. They don’t lie.
Poops and Giggles
I asked a few dog walkers about the strangest things they’ve found in poop. Condoms and feminine products topped the list, here’s a few more:
- It took me a while to work out what it was …. The absorbent part of a diaper !!! Funkiest feeling poop I’ve ever picked up
- I walked a beagle for many years and she produced many items…plastic army men, condom, tampon, Q tip, baby sock, knee high, ear plugs and a very long strand of wool like 15 ft. from a carpet that we very slowly and carefully removed….always a surprise picking up after her!
- yogurt container (in one piece)
- Strangest thing was a small lug wrench – don’t forget I used to walk a lot of labs – followed by a pair of pantyhose. Same dog same load of poop – he’d been a busy boy apparently.
- Part of a baby blanket and a pair of nylons
- Glitter. And remote controls. She pooped rainbow glitter and buttons
- The dog that ate some crayons was memorable
- My shepherd ate my ear plugs, so her poops were always colorful with foamy plugs lol.
- I’ve had to wait for an entire Kinder Egg to either pass or be thrown up, at the request of a client.
- Electrical tape
- Our dog had a habit of pooing out socks and gloves when we first got him…those are no longer available to him! Oh the lab life!!!
- One dog pooped out a poo bag, if only the poop was inside
- An unopened and intact ketchup packet from a chocolate lab.
- I found an intact spicy chili sauce packet in a 35-lb mix. So weird!
- 6+ used condoms just kept pulling them out