Today marks the official start of NaNoWriMo and my wise husband has warned me not to try to boil the ocean. “Just write a post each week, babe. Something manageable.” I know he’s right, BUT DOES THIS MAN NOT KNOW ME??! When I get an idea I don’t just run with it, I hoist it over my head and head for the hills! Some live their lives at a comfortable simmer, frequently I’m more like a full steam roiling boil. When I read that New York Times article yesterday I was like, “Oh. Okay.” But then the pot started to simmer, and it got me thinking of so many other things I’d done before. Like moving to Maine, or writing a cookbook, or having a baby, or trying out for roller derby when I’ve got a chronic disease that gives me vertigo. I don’t pretend to understand the way my mind works, I’m just a captive under its spell.
I don’t do things that are easy. Not all the time, anyway. I like a challenge. So I spent most of yesterday morning just thinking, “I wonder if I could do that??” I made split pea soup and I baked an apple pie, and I pondered. I had the day off, after all. And it was raining. I could stay in my pajamas and sit at the computer, writing for the first time in forever. It’d be FUN.
When I took my dog walking job a year ago I had the idea of writing a book about it. My husband encouraged me to do so. But I was just too damn tired. It took me months to transition to my work schedule. I mean, some days are easy breezy but others I’ve got 10 dogs and I’m walking six hours straight. And I’m no spring chicken; I just turned 47! That’s freaking OLD in dog years. My legs may be stronger than they’ve ever been, but it didn’t happen overnight. Now all these months later, I’m tired, sure, but I’m also restless.
The idea of having a 200+ page book at the end of a mere month is making my fingers itch. I awoke this morning at 5 or 6, presumably to pee, but my mind was aflutter. I started thinking about a new post, and wanted to write something down but I didn’t have any paper handy. I fell back asleep repeating a sentence like a mantra, just so I wouldn’t forget.
“Clients aren’t supposed to know my name. Clients aren’t supposed to know my name…”
Of course my clients know my name! I’m Christy, the friendly dog walker. The woman who enters their homes to take Poochie and Goya out for a midday walk. Of course! But in truth most of my clients don’t know my full name. I am Christy. But Christy WHO? I have keys to their homes. I can smell what they’ve had for breakfast. I know what shoes they wear. Their dogs trust me. If that doesn’t sound like the plot of a horror movie, what would?
Good thing I’m so honest. Seriously. I mean it, it’s weird to think about. Maybe it’s partly because I’m from Philly and still mostly totally suspicious. We don’t have a house cleaner, or dog walker, or pretty much anything where we have to pay someone to do something at our house when we’re not home. We’ve lived in Maine for ten whole years and I still have to lock my car at night or I can’t sleep. I consider my clients almost friends, we’ve known each other so very long now, but they couldn’t even look me up if they needed to. And that’s intentional.
My husband and I recently celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary (thank you) and as a present we went to a local spa for a couples massage. My massage therapist was so kind, she left me a special thank you note afterward letting me know how much she’d enjoyed rubbing me. It was so nice! I kept her business card and when I looked at it later I noticed it lists only her first name. No surname. Obviously in her line of work things could get awkward, even downright awful, if a client loses all sense of decorum. It’s important to keep a strict sense of distance when you’re working in such an intimate sort of employment. In my case it’s more the setting. I enter other people’s homes on a weekly basis. I take care of their most prized possessions, their pets. It’s important that they not get too attached to me, and vice versa. Things could get a little odd otherwise. My boss wants to ensure that I’m comfortable with my clients and they are comfortable with me. Keeping our relationship on a strictly first-name basis helps solidify appropriate boundaries between us.
But there is more. Before I started last year, my boss had a “situation” arise with a former employee. Said employee took some liberties with my boss’ business, such as trying to steal her clients and in a few cases successfully doing so. This did not make my boss happy. She ended up having to seek legal counsel against said ex-employee and things got ugly. When I started a year ago I had to sign a bunch of paperwork, tax forms, and the like. One of the documents was actually along the lines of a non-compete clause. I was told very specifically that all requests for work must go through my boss and my boss alone. I’m not at liberty to make pet plans of any sort with any of my clients, even if they try to do so. I must direct them back to my boss. So I do. This is her business, after all. Her livelihood.
This is just one of several rules to ensure we’re all on the same boat. Since my job is mostly autonomous, we have a system in place of pre-established doggie checks-and-balances. It goes something like this. My boss emails me my weekly schedule every Sunday night. It outlines my daily clients, will note whether I have a day off, and offer any additional information I need to be aware of. If there’s a problem, I email back but otherwise just await the workweek. Each weekday morning my boss texts me my client list for the day, usually by 8AM. I respond by acknowledging her text (with a thumbs up, for instance), and if any additional information needs to be exchanged we do so then as well.
Once I have my list of clients I’m free to start my workday anytime between 10 and 11AM, as long as I can get all of my dogs picked up before 2PM. Walks can run over that time, but all mid-day walk pickups are before 2, unless previously arranged. I’m totally at liberty to decide which dog gets walked when, unless there is a conflict such as “Trevor has a grooming appointment and won’t be home till after 12,” or, “The triplets won’t be home from the vet until 11:30.” That kind of thing.
As soon as I pick up my first dog I text my boss, “Got Barley” or “Stanley in da house!” confirming that I’m indeed doing my job, and my boss can rest confident in the knowledge that clients are taken care of. Where I walk the dogs is totally at my discretion, though my boss will offer suggestions if I ask. Otherwise I’m wearing the decision pants. Which I love. Mid-day walks run on average from 25 minutes (if the weather is terrible or a dog is injured) to 30-35 or more minutes. Totally my call. After the walk when a client is returned safely home I acknowledge the fact with a quick “Hoover home” text to my boss. And then I begin again.
Tuesdays are my only long days. My workday starts as soon as I drop my younger daughter off at school and I start picking up dogs at roughly 8AM for what we call ADVENTURE TIME! Adventure Time is our once-weekly extended (2.5 hour) pack walk in the woods. Or the beach, or pretty much anywhere in between, as long as the dogs are free to roam and have as much fun and exercise as possible. We jokingly say that 75% of Tuesdays it rains, snows, or both. True. I’ve spent many, many Tuesdays soaked to the bone, but on only one occasion did the dogs seem to care. It was a day with rain so relentless we all looked like drowned rats, and by the end of the first hour the dogs started looking at me like, “Really?”
It’s a company policy never to walk more than 5 dogs at once, for any walk. Most mid-day walks are smaller packs, mostly two or three dogs at a time, as well as solos, though I’ve walked as many as 5 dogs at a time too. Adventure Time is always 4 or 5 dogs, at least it’s been for me. Some might find the idea of walking four or five dogs off-leash intimidating. Particularly when you’re in public places often interacting with other dogs and people. For some reason this has never bothered me. Which likely explains why I’m still walking dogs. Either you’re an alphabitch or you’re not.
One of the nicest perks, besides daily snuggling and fresh air? I can bring my own dog on walks too! As long as I don’t have more than 4 clients, and my dog gets along with the others, I am totally free to bring my 9-month old puppy Pepper along with me. Can you say that about many other jobs?? I haven’t actually taken this up yet, at least not outside my own home and yard, but once Pepper is older and better trained (we’re working hard on that!) I definitely plan to do so. For now she’s been enjoying frequent puppy parties at home with another one of my clients, a year old black Lab. But soon she’ll be branching out, and we can’t wait.