What started off as a trade exchange between Rachel and her beautician friend (she would walk her dogs in exchange for treatments), inadvertently turned into a permanent job. The self-confessed animal lover moved to Durban with her husband nine years ago. The dog walking snowballed after a few word-of mouth referrals and Rachel landed herself a full-time dog-walking gig. On weekdays, after dropping her kids at school, Rachel visits up to four homes each morning, and walks at least 15 dogs a week (two at a time) for up to 30 minutes each walk.
What do you love most about being a dog walker?
The privilege of spending time with all these gorgeous pooches. Seeing their excitement when I arrive to walk them is just priceless! I love them to bits, together with all their individual personalities. I would love to have lots of animals and dogs of my own if I could, so walking other people’s dogs helps keep that need in check!
Where did your love and passion for dogs come from?
I grew up with dogs and pets in my home, and my paternal grandfather was a vet. I am also a passionate equestrian, which goes hand-in-hand with loving dogs. Dogs are so incredibly loving, intelligent and perceptive. They amaze me on a daily basis! I would be lost without them.
What are some of the challenges you face as a dog walker?
I am a dog walker because I love dogs and animals, plus it keeps me fit! However, I am in no way a professional dog trainer or dog behaviourist. All of my knowledge is based on past experience and training my own dogs. I have to be careful of how some dogs may interact with other dogs or people in certain situations. When I first meet a dog to walk, I find out as much information as possible from the owner so that I know of anything I should avoid or be more cautious of doing. Some of the bigger dogs can get very over-excited (and strong!) when they see another dog. I try to find appropriate routes to minimise any potential conflict. I expect the dogs that I walk to behave nicely, as the majority of the walking I do is on public roads. I am quite strict, but the dogs respect that and are generally very well behaved. They each have their own quirks and, through trial and error, I work out what is most effective for us to have a happy and harmonious walk. The weather can be challenging at times, but, because I’m British, I’m not overly fussed about cold, wind and rain. It’s really rather normal for me! Dogs need to go for walks regardless, and very few are actually bothered by bad weather anyway. I have a good rain jacket and I towel dry the dogs once they are back home, if they get wet.
What are some of the misconceptions you feel people have about dog walkers?
I don’t think that there are any misconceptions as such, however a lot of people laugh initially or don’t believe me when I tell them what I do. It’s not something that people take very seriously as a profession, yet they are quite intrigued by it at the same time.
You must be extremely fit walking dogs on a daily basis. Do you monitor your daily step intake? Yes, I’d like to think I’m quite fit! I actively monitor my steps, but I do wear a heart rate monitor with a GPS tracker when walking the dogs. I walk between 5000 to 10000 steps per day and average around 25 000 per week.
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Text: Monique De Villiers-Delport | Photograph: Melissa Mitchell Photography, email@example.com
Get It Magazine (Ballito/Umhlanga) August 2018