How Walking Dogs for a Living Taught Me to Be a Better Human
By MICHAEL CHIARAVALLOTI | BUSINESS INSIDER
The streets of New York City have a unique cast of recurring characters.
Taxi drivers hollering at one another, the skateboarders scraping the pavement. Homeless people who’ve set up encampments. Nannies pushing babies in high-end strollers. And dog walkers.
We’ve all seen these intrepid souls negotiating a tangle of leashes and tails and whipping out plastic bags to retrieve poop off the footpath. It is not the most glamorous occupation, but for me dog walking is more than just a job. It’s a love story.
I’ve been a dog walker for over two years, ever since graduating from college. For most of that time, I’ve had the same four regular “clients.”
They range from a tiny Yorkie-Poodle, to a rather large German Shepherd-Wolfhound mix. I’ve been with one since he was only 12 weeks old, and another since he was already 8 years old. From walking these dogs nearly every day of the week, for months on end, the situation is no longer a means to an end in terms of paying rent and covering my bills. I’ve invested my heart in these animals as if they were my own.
Having worked in restaurants for several years through high school and college, you could say I’ve gone from taking crap to picking it up, and I couldn’t be happier. Even if it does get on my hand sometimes.
When originally entering the dog walking world, I had no inkling of the effect it would have on my life. Each owner of each dog has become a personal friend, for whom I would do anything and everything. I’ve also begun to relate to the dogs themselves.
Fred hates skateboarders, barking and growling ferociously at them when they get too close. I scream at taxis that cut me off when I ride my bicycle, but like Fred, my bark is worse than my bite.
Spike enjoys chasing little birds, running at them until they fly away out of reach. Don’t you remember running at some pigeons to scare them away when you were a kid? Puka likes to lounge on a couch in the shade with some air conditioning, without a care in the world. She makes me want to grab a beer, put the game on, and relax all afternoon.
Then there’s Norman and Z, who love nothing more than to wrestle, rolling around the rug all day long.
I frequently channel these disparate personalities throughout my day, all the time.
Short of sniffing someone’s butt when I meet them, I’ve basically become a dog. There’s no shortage of fur on my clothing, and if you see me, I very likely have a poop bag in my back pocket. Even if I’m “off-duty.” I sit on the floor frequently, and my friends make fun of me for sniffing everything before I eat it.
The thing is, we can all learn something from our four-legged friends.
We all have a way of making our lives complicated, but sometimes it’s better to appreciate the simple things the way dogs do. They take such joy from life and its little pleasures. Take a cue from my canine friends, and try sniffing the New York City air sometimes. Warmly greet the person you live with. Stare at somebody with great, big eyes when they eat your favourite food.
When life gets you down, give yourself a treat. Then find someone to scratch your back, go for a walk, and really take everything in.