They are an ubiquitous part of New York culture, plowing through the streets with abandon alongside mommies, nannies, and strollers, and the impossibly cool NYC native teenagers who are dressed better than you will ever be. They walk among us, often with two, three, or seven canine companions. They are (sometimes) the walkers of champions. They are the walkers of dogs.
June, 23, who went to college in New York and had a well-paying internship (and later, full-time job) for three years, turned to dog walking after getting unexpectedly laid off. After answering an ad on Craigslist, June filled in for someone who had injured her knee, and was kept on by the employee’s small private service.
A typical work week for June was Monday through Friday, usually from 11 AM to 6 PM, with the most walks scheduled between 11 and noon-- which is a normal time slot according to Kate Columbia, of NYC Dog Walkers. She is now the head trainer of all new walkers at the company, which was started by her father, Paul, in 2001.
Kate describes the schedule of an NYC Dog Walkers employee as “extremely physically challenging” at first, with ten walks per day. With her Craigslist jaunt, June got up to walking between 18 and 22 dogs per day. I asked her about the stereotypical image of a busy dog-walker—three leashes in each hand, a steely focused gaze as to not let anyone distract an unruly pack. It’s not far from the truth.
“The largest group I've ever walked is 6, and that was only once. It was absolutely miserable, I had no control. I ended up tangled in leashes, covered in mud, and unhappy. Also I think some of the dogs peed on each other…” This is precisely why NYC Dog Walkers caps their group walks at four: “To make the walks as fun as possible, and keep the pups safe.”
If you’re thinking of entering the dog-eat-d-- sorry, I will not make that pun—the world of New York City dog walking, there are just a few things to keep in mind. Kate reminds all rookies under her guidance always wear good shoes, always check the weather, and to check, double- and triple-check their pockets for keys- “You do not want to leave them inside of the client’s house.”
Both Kate and June agree that the job’s positives outweigh the negatives. Kate loves that she is “outside all day with the dogs, and in the best shape of my life.” Walking dogs in the winter was June’s equivalent of a S.A.D lamp. “Dogs just always make me smile, no matter what, and their personalities were completely worth it,” she says. "Walking down the street in the neighborhoods where I used to dog walk, the dogs recognize me and freak out. It’s nice to see that they appreciated the time I spent with them.”
Despite the momentary misery of being overwhelmed by a pack or a rainy day, June looks back on her dog walking experience with fondness, if tinged with a little bemusement. From her three-month stint, she surmises that “people take better care of their animals than they do themselves. I’d walk into an apartment full of McDonald’s wrappers, and then the dog food is organic, gluten-free, $45 dollar premium food. Or the dog sleeps on a $300 orthopedic bed, and the owner sleeps on an Ikea mattress held up by milk-crates. I think it’s great.”