If you’re a dog owner, it’s more or less inevitable that at some time or another you’re going to find yourself feeling guilty because you’ve had to leave your dog or dogs at home, unattended and cooped up alone. It happens to us all.
Pressures of work, social activities and holidays sometimes mean our dogs suffer. I have a very large dog, a Great Dane called Rufus. He’s wonderfully friendly and doesn’t chew things if he gets bored. Until he was about three and a half, I either worked from home or was able to nip home and let Rufus out at lunchtimes. Then, a few months back, I started working longer hours and nipping home at lunchtimes was no longer an option. I didn’t really give it a lot of thought; Rufus seemed to wait patiently until I got home.
Then a neighbour told me he’d taken to howling while I was out, generally in the afternoons. Rufus isn’t a loud dog. He rarely barks, in fact I think I’ve only heard him bark about a half-dozen times in four years, so I was a bit surprised. I wondered if perhaps kids had been knocking on the door or something like that, so I left a voice-activated recorder in the hallway for the next week or so, to find out what was going on.
Sure enough, once lunchtime had come and gone, Rufus started howling without provocation and kept it up until he heard me arriving home, at which point he’d go and sit in the hallway and wait for the door to open.
My dogs have always been my surrogate children and the idea that I was neglecting Rufus was terrible. On hearing this, a colleague suggested finding a dog walker to drop in at lunchtime and take Rufus out for a walk. It sounded like a great idea, so I started loooking.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to find a local dog walker but it’s not as easy as it sounds. I started out looking at a site that seemed to be a clone of airbnb, but wasn’t impressed. A bit like airbnb, you couldn’t actually meet the people or even speak to them on the phone before paying. Less than 10% used a business name and lots gave the impression of being dog walkers until they found a job elsewhere. I may be wrong, but that’s how it came across. If I wanted to contact a dog walker I had to send an email, much like you do with airbnb, which would be forwarded to the walker by the site, with all reference to phone numbers and email addresses deleted. If the walker agreed he or she was available, you had to pay on the site to make a booking. The site would then take their percentage before paying the walker and giving you the contact details. There’s no way I’m paying someone to walk Rufus and giving them my house keys and alarm code without so much as meeting or at least speaking to them on the phone first, so I quickly moved on. The website claims it is the biggest site of its kind, but it all seemed so unprofessional.
So I started looking for dog walkers with their own websites, people who were doing it as a full-time job and whom I could meet before paying them. I stopped looking at the paid-for adverts that Google shows you first, mostly because they were almost all totally irrelevant. Quite why Google thinks someone in North Kent wants to see an advert from a dog walker on Tyne & Wear is beyond me. I kept looking and eventually found several professional dog walkers in my area. In fact, in a town of only 3500 residents, I found 6.
Four of the people I met told me that Rufus would be picked up in a van, driven around town while the walkers collected other dogs, then taken to a nearby park where he’s be walked with the rest of the group. Based on what they told me and doing the maths, it meant the walkers were earning between £40-80 an hour. Not bad. However, while Rufus is one of the least aggressive dogs I’ve ever owned, he seems to attract every little dog that wants to demonstrate its bravery by attacking him, and I didn’t want my boy getting bullied by a stroppy Jack Russell with size issues. I moved on.
I eventually chose a youngish guy called Neil, who I recognised as being local. What swung it for me was Neil told me that he walked dogs individually unless I gave permission for Rufus to join a group, and that even so he’d only let Rufus join a group if he was sure he’d fit in properly. I signed up for the solo walk option. Unlike those on the airbnb clone site, who only needed paying, he had a proper contract ready with terms and conditions, and asked me more or less every question about Rufus that I’d expect to hear.
From that day onwards (I checked with my voice recorder) Rufus stopped howling. I quite often find him asleep (on the sofa despite 4 years of training) when I get home, evidently pooped. It’s a relief, if I’m honest. Just in case you’re wondering, Rufus has worn a GPS tracking collar for about two years now – I often take him into local woods at the weekend and he’s definitely dumb enough to get himself lost. The collar means I can see when and where he goes out. And so can Neil, just in case..
Anyway, I spoke about this with a colleague of mine who designs websites and he decided to create a website called forwalks.co.uk which would be a local dog walker directory. It won’t change the world and he’s not interested in making a profit from it and his only aim is to provide a service for other dog owners who want to find a dog walker.
The site officially launches in Mid-May 2018 and charges dog walkers a nominal fee to register and stay on the site. Each dog walker is checked before they are added, so there won’t be any unofficial and uninsured walkers and by not allowing people to register for free it stops the fakes and fly-by-nights who vanish a month after registering their free wix website.
You’ll find forwalks.co.uk advertised on this website, so if you’re curious, go take a peek. If you’re looking for a local dog walker, dog homestay boarding or a dog sitter, it may well be what you’re looking for!