Three pairs of socks, check. Three shirts and two pairs of pants layered over long underwear, check. Winter boots (that I’m sure weigh five pounds apiece), check. Forget being fashionable in wind chills of -20 C; I have no illusions about that as I get ready to head out the door. A last check of my day’s most important items: My cell, my lifeline to dog owners day and night, and a set of keys that I am sure would overawe any school janitor. My backpack is already fully loaded with the essentials: bio-degradable poo bags to save the environment, four kinds of dog treats to cater to large and small pooches as well as those with allergy issues, a handful of Kleenex for those days when the wind causes perpetual nose drips, spare business cards for handing out to any potential clients I might meet along the way. I am a dog walker. It’s a profession I discovered for myself almost nine years ago. I had dabbled in a few part-time jobs while raising our girls but really wanted something that was mine.
I love dogs, and love giving them (and me) exercise, but things are not always easy. Once, I remember taking a young Goldie-poo to the off-leash park after having been reassured by the owner that George would come back if called (always a worry for any walker). George did have great recall, but apparently not back across a shallow creek only fitfully covered with thin ice. I called and whistled, tried coaxing him sweetly, offered treats. He at last managed to dip a paw in the icy cold water before hastily drawing it back, looking at me as if to say, “Are you kidding?” I was left with no option but to go get him, wading through frigid water in hiking boots that immediately filled to capacity. Not a walk I remember fondly; nor the other one when I twisted my ankle badly going over a dip in the ground and hobbled back to my van thinking, “Why am I doing this?”
One of the least favourite situations for walkers in leash-free parks is seeing our little darlings roll around in raccoon poop, or eat poop, yuck! And no matter how hard I try not to, I manage to step in dog poo an average of four times a year. Murphy’s Law dictates that it’s always when I’m wearing shoes with deep, deep grooves.
I have been at this job long enough now to see my first dogs grow into seniors, and this year I cried along with their owners when told their lives were nearing the end or had ended. The loss hits me in two ways: I mourn for the dog who is no longer a part of my life, and also for the end of my relationship with the family. Yes, I do try to keep in touch, but the intimacy of being allowed into their homes and lives on a daily basis is suddenly cut off. Their lives become part of mine in a delicate dance. I have been involved with families facing the death of a loved relative, critical illnesses, job losses, marriage break-ups, and moving away. Their joys are vicariously mine as well – beautiful home renovations, interesting new jobs, the excitement of child birth and adoption, the addition of a new puppy. I have often thought what I do is rather ministerial. People confide in me, ask advice, and seek friendship when lonely. It can be very fulfilling; I sense when to stay a few extra minutes to chat with an elderly senior, a depressed widow, or an anxious new mom.
The icing on my cake is, however, the greeting I receive from every dog as I enter the home. The tail wagging, jumping, wiggling, smiling (I am not kidding) – dogs make the job such a pleasure. If only we could greet human loved ones with such enthusiasm whenever they come through the door!
I never know what can happen each day but I do savour the funny moments…. Picture a large white Sheppard running for the only puddle in a large field, then lying down in it and rising with an exact half of his body brown and the top half white. Everyone laughed, not only at the visual perfection but knowing the amount of clean-up it would entail.
At day’s end, my pedometer shows I have tracked over 40,000 feet. My mind boggles at the thought of multiplying this by 365 and then again by eleven years. All these walks, mostly pleasurable, many memorable. And all these friends, two- and four-legged, I’ve met all along the way.
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