How Hard Could it be?


I started grooming dogs as a teenager, but in Chicago, it’s always been seasonal.  Everyone is crazy/busy right after the  end of Daylight Savings Time or  Easter.  It stays busy through almost the end of June, and then it slows & stays slow until about Thanksgiving.  Because of the Jewish Holiday of Hanuka, it may stay busy through Christmas, but then it is dead until the time change again.

I have worked at a few upscale shops that have remained somewhat busy, but if it rains or snows,  & the weather stays bad for a few days, we no longer have a waiting list.

So, I started modeling for artists & photographers during the slow times.  I worked mostly for  colleges & universities.  I also worked for ‘workshops’:  that is a bunch of artists getting together in a studio—no teacher—& splitting the cost of the model.

It doesn’t take much.  They usually want ‘gestures’ (10 seconds to 3 minutes) & then go into the ‘long pose’, with breaks every 20 minutes.    I made as much money modeling as I did grooming.  However, there are no benefits.  Most models are students, actors, dancers, or other artists.

I did that for years, but got tired of it.  I continued to groom dogs. Even after I got my master’s degree, most jobs I got were contract jobs, or  with nonprofits that wouldn’t pay a decent wage, but could find a  bunch of ways to lose money.  That was frustrating.

I got a job with a company that offered overnight pet sitting, in addition to dog walking.  It is a very well run business.  It is “All Good Dogs,” in Evanston, Illinois.  The owners, Dave & Ramie Gulyas, have managed  to  work 3 ‘microbusinesses’ together to make a living. They have  All Good Dogs, Mutt Maids (pet waste removal—this is the north shore, after all),  & The Hungry Pup pet boutique, which sells dog & cat food, collars, toys, etc.

Because I have a roommate who will  take care of my dogs, I can stay other places over night.  Usually, it’s a no-brainer if you know how to communicate with animals & FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS.

That’s why I have to give Dave his props.  He has a good instruction sheet that tells you where the  client is, who the pets are, where everything is (collars, leashes, food, pills), and what you have to do.

People who choose to walk dogs for a living are  an odd bunch: self-employed, retired, or…not suited for other kinds of work—& not always reliable.  Still, Dave’s crew is regular.  Sometimes it’s not so easy.  Like, when he give you 3 keys for 1 house…but there are 2 locks, & 1 turns left, the other, right—but you have to try all the combinations of keys.

You work every holiday.  That’s when people need pet sitters & dog walkers the most…like last Christmas when it rained, froze, and then rained on the slick pavement.  Most dogs won’t eliminate in the rain.  Try walking 2 or 3 at a time in those conditions. That’s challenging.

Or…my  very favorite…the houses with alarms.  You  might wonder why anyone would need an alarm if they have a dog, right?  It’s for 2 reasons:  the dog is not a deterrent, & in our areas, everyone’s working—nobo9dy would notice anyone breaking into your house.

So…on the instruction sheet—& Dave will review this with a walker when he gives the walker the client—-there is the alarm code,  and directions on how to get to the alarm IN 30 SECONDS and turn it off.   How hard can it be?

Well, usually, I am able to find the alarm right away, punch in the code, it goes off, & we —the dog(s) & I go for a walk.  But the odds of things not going as planned are very high…& this is an incident I will never forget.

I am instructed to go to the clients’ back door, and I am told the alarm is in the stairwell just off the kitchen.  I get in, manage to find the stairwell, almost tripping over the dog, a little Poodly thing, punch in the code (meanwhile, the alarm is warning me I’d better do it soon), and….it starts beeping rapidly & then goes off!  SCREECHING!!!!!!

Shit. I try punching in the code again…it’s still screeching.    Ear piercing nails on the chalkboard, high decibal…I try calling Dave on his cell. He’s not answering.  It’s Saturday night, & he’s ill, at home.  The dog is plastered against the back door. The alarm is hurting her ears.  I call the client on his cell.  No answer. The client’s wife on her cell. No answer. Then, the phone rings.  We are not supposed to answer a client’s phone, but I have a feeling it is the alarm company.  It is. The  rep tells me to move away from the alarm, asks me who I am, & I tell her I am the dog walker, I tell her the code I have punched in, and she tells me it’s the right code.  She doesn’t know what is wrong (in case you don’t know it, clients get charge for false alarms). She tells me it will go off.  I tell her I still have to walk the dog.  She tells me it will come on again when I come back in.  I tell her I have left messages for the client, but they have not responded to my cell phone.  Oh, well.

I walk the dog, return the dog, the alarm starts SCREECHING!!!! again & I continue on to  my next client…& on the way, my cell phone rings. It’s Mr. AlarmClient…and he tells me, “Yeah, some times that happens if you don’t punch the numbers hard enough. Can you go back & I’ll walk you through it?”

“Uh…I am on my way to my next client.  I’ll have to call you back,” I tell him.

Then, Mrs.Alarm calls me, “You must have done something wrong…”   duh I tell her I have  talked to her husband, but I am on my way to my next client.

At the home of my next client, I call Ramie’s cell phone, & she answers.  I tell her  I punched in the alarm and…  She interrupts me:  “Those people. This isn’t the first time this has happened to a walker!  They need to get a new alarm pad!  Just turn your cell phone off.”

Of course, if they had told me this might happen, I would have asked to trade with another walker…or something.

Lots of my friends want to be dog walkers until they find ‘real jobs’,  I don’t  refer them …even though  the company is usually in need of walkers. Why don’t I refer them?

For one thing, you need a reliable car, and most people I know don’t have reliable cars.  You also have to be reliable yourself. These are peoples pets.  Just like modeling—if YOU don’t show up,  you’ve  sabotaged the business (as well as  leaving a pet in distress).  I know few people as reliable as myself.  How hard could it be?  If you’ve never been accountable, it can be really hard.

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