My friends call me Alphabitch.

I just read an article in the New York Times about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, the project in which thousands attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days.  It starts tomorrow (November 1st) and runs through the end of the month.  I’d never considered participating before but 1,667 words per day x 30 days = HOT BAM! you’ve made a BOOK.

1,667 words isn’t too much.  I’ve written longer posts here without taking a bathroom break.  And now that I can hold my pee for HOURS (more on that below) maybe I’ve got a fighting chance?  HECK YEA!  And wouldn’t we all like to write a book?  I mean, I would.  Even though I’ve written several cookbooks, their appeal is pretty limited.  Even to me.  AND TO WRITE A BOOK IN JUST A MONTH.  WOW.  Wouldn’t that be grand?  Christy Ellingsworth, Author.  Ooh! But how long would it take me to write 1,667 words?  Not just once, but every day for 30 days, including THANKSGIVING?  What are they, INSANE?  This simply won’t work if it’s going to cut into my wine time.  I only have so many hours in the day, and now that I’m busy working and holding my pee…. Oh!  Right!  The pee thing.

A year ago, I took a job.  A REAL JOB.  One where money is exchanged for time, effort, and inconvenience.  I didn’t realize at the time that pee-holding would be, even could be, a skill, but YES.  Yes, it is.  It’s also a job requirement.  And some days, particularly my “long days” (Tuesdays) I must also rise early in order to offload other stuff before I take to the woods. You might not have wanted to know that, but I think it’s important to truly understand what we (you and I) might be getting into should I undertake this NaNoWriMo challenge and be blogging candidly for the next 30 days about my life.  Which involves a lot of #1 and #2.

In a nutshell, last October I left my glamorous life as a low-sodium cookbook author (writing cookbooks that don’t pay royalties, maintaining a website thousands still use for free) and traded it in to hold my pee for hours and pick up poop.  As wonderful as it’d been working gratis all these years and having nothing to show for it, I was like, “Bitch. It’s time to get PAID.”  I turned to Craigslist.  Daily I’d drop my daughters off at school and return to scour the ads.  I wanted a job that wouldn’t interfere with my family life.  Something I could do without investing in a new wardrobe or buying much of anything, and wouldn’t entail a ton of training.  I needed employment that was basically part-time, mid-day, and autonomous.  As much as I love people, I didn’t really want to work with them and after years of independence, I didn’t want to be bossed around or take orders from someone half my age.

I was too old for “video cam model” (their loss), many of the food service jobs were full-time, and driving for Lyft meant I’d have to clean my car way more than once.  But then I found THIS:

Check, check, CHECK!  Love at first sight dressed as a minimum wage job; it was perfect.  I’d spent years cleaning up shit for free.  I was already a poo PRO.  I’d be working with dogs, my favorite kind of people!  I wouldn’t have to wear a uniform, buy stuff, and I’d get paid to walk.  Who needs a gym?  The hours fit, the description fit, I could even drive my car; a Honda Fit!  WHY HADN’T I THOUGHT OF THIS SOONER?  Walking dogs, for MONEY.  Days after I’d applied, I had an interview, and within a week I began my brand new job!

SUCCESS!!  I was now a professional Dog Walker.  But before I could walk I had to drive.  You might not think dog walking = driving, but here in Maine, where clients often live miles away from each another, it does.  As mentioned above, I drive a Honda Fit.  I call her Fitty.  And I knew Fitty would soon be shitty if she wasn’t *dog proofed* as much as possible.  My car has cloth seats, aka filth magnets.  And our seasons aren’t tidy.  Additionally, I live on the coast where dogs routinely romp on the beach.  So mud, snow, sand, water (ocean, pond, & puddle), leaves, acorns, BUGS (like ticks) and more were gonna wind up in my car.  Most dogs also shed- NOT YOURS! but pretty much everyone else’s.  So like any responsible adult, I wanted protection before getting down to FUN.

Many pet stores, auto shops, and outdoor outfitters sell pre-fab solutions to the mess outlined above in the form of car seat covers.  But I didn’t want to spend any money.  So I got crafty!  We had several ancient sleeping bags upstairs in the attic, one of which was a “double-wide” and happened to have a broken zipper.  It turned out to be the perfect size to make a backseat sling.  I laced laundry line through the fabric and tied the sling into place using the front and rear headrests.  It’s super easy to remove and re-install so I can wash it frequently and keep it fresh.  In order to ensure the dogs would be fully supported, I placed two large rubbermaid containers, upside down, behind each of the front seats, and a small suitcase sideways in between those, so the whole backseat area is in essence one big fleece-lined bed.  I lined the trunk with another cushy sleeping bag and threw in a bunch of beach towels.  The front seats stay protected with some blankets and small quilted squares.

One year later, Fitty is now known as The Dog-Mobile, or The Dish-Mobile, and has seating for 2 humans up front and up to five dogs in the back.  The backseat and trunk function as two separate “dog zones” and I try to place dogs according to size and temperament.  And by “try to place” I really mean when I first pick up a dog I put it into the car where I think it should go, but dogs have minds of their own.  Some of the dogs want to be RIGHT beside me, so a few will jump the sling to join me upfront.  I have had as many as 3 dogs in the passenger seat, but typically it’s only one.  I jokingly refer to it as a clown car for dogs.  I’ll roll up at the park or beach, and folks will laugh and point as the many dogs and I tumble out.

My husband recently asked how many miles I’ve put on my car since October 2018 and I had to admit, NO FREAKING CLUE.  I didn’t think to jot down the mileage when I started last fall.  My two front tires went completely bald over the winter though.  So that’s probably a sign.  The good news is I drive a Honda Fit, which gets great gas mileage!  I earned enough to buy new tires this spring!  And last week, I got a free hot dog for filling my tank!  It might have been the strangest gas station promotion I’ve ever seen, and the strangest hot dog, too (it was glowing neon red), but that’s okay.  It was FREE!  I didn’t eat it, of course, but one of the dogs did and she thought it was delicious.

The best part of my job?  Pure dog joy.  Too many modern dogs spend their lives cooped up, with limited interaction.  Unless they have a live-in buddy or at-home parent, they’re often lonely.  The joy they feel when we’re together, it’s mine too.  Playing and walking, seeing the way they look at me and YES- even SMILE!  Dogs do smile!  Loving them and being loved.  I may not make much money but I wouldn’t trade my job.  Whenever I walk dogs off-leash in the woods or at the beach, anywhere they can just let go, I feel FREE.  The happiness they find simply living in the moment.  Playing with each other, cage-matching, running, sniffing, peeing, pooping, and being absolute animals.  Yet looking to me as a guide and friend.  I see real gratitude in their eyes, feel the love, trust, and respect.  Whether I’m with one dog or many, I’m more than just me.  I’m a part of the pack.  But I’m also the alphabitch.

Almost as sweet?  The openness I see in strangers’ faces when I’m working.  Whether you’re a miserable SOB or a total sweetheart, most folks are better with a dog.  They’re kinder and frequently more relaxed.  And when you’re out on the trail with five dogs?  Total puppy party!  My job is hard work but spending hours outside with a bunch of dogs is AWESOME.  And that lightness of spirit must show on my face because it seems to bring out the best in others.  Seeing strangers light up as I approach, instead of turn inward or look away.  Humans crave friendship and acceptance, the camaraderie of our fellow wo/men, yet the world trains us to be suspicious, distant, and doubtful.  Dogs teach us to be better people.

Often when I’m out on a walk, folks will stop to say hello, and ask if they can pet my clients.  I always tell them that I’m a dog walker.  It’s funny how frequently folks assume, even when I’m with 4 or 5 dogs at the time, that they’re all mine!  I mean, REALLY?  I’m covered in leashes, dog slobber, and hair.  I guess I do look a little different.  The best is when I get complimented for doing my job well.  I’ve had people follow me blocks to ask me questions, or stand to the side, watching me throw tennis balls to a pack of dogs, sometimes for half an hour.  And it’s happened more than once!  I try to think of it as therapeutic for us all, delighted dogs included.  The best part?  When they end by asking for my card!

I doubt that I’ll have time for this NaNoWriMo challenge, this post took me way too long today (my day off!) but it’s been fun to write for the first time since February.  If anyone wants to hear more about my fun new job, let me know!  There’s an endless supply of stories to share. 🙂

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