Dog walkers can earn more than R$ 510,000 a year in New York


In black leggings and a puffer jacket, Bethany Lane, 35, walks down Bleecker Street, in Manhattan, carrying three “goldendoodles” (a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle) and a “bernedoodle” (a Bernese with a poodle) Tinkerbelle. They go into a store for treats and walk through Hudson River Park.

After an hour, she takes the dogs home, a luxury home owned by a couple in their forties who made their fortune in real estate. “My job is to make these dogs happy while their owners are busy. I fall in love with them. It’s like my babies.”

Lane started working as a “dog walker,” a person paid to walk dogs, 11 years ago after graduating from Rutgers University and moving to New York to pursue a career in public health.

“I needed to pay rent and my student loan, so I went to the classifieds. I saw someone would pay me to walk dogs. Since I’m obsessed with dogs, it was perfect.”

She began to get more work as a walker, and in 2014 she founded Whistle & Wag (whistle and wag). At one point, she even worked 12 hours a day. She was able to pay off student debt and hire other dog walkers.

Today, almost three years after the start of the pandemic, it cannot handle the demand. After raising prices — she told one client she would charge $35 (R$180) per ride — and taking on dozens of new clients, Lane reckons she made a six-figure total last year.

She is so confident in the business that she bought a house in Tuckerton, New Jersey, to spend the weekends there. “It’s a three-bedroom house, it has a backyard and it faces the bay,” says Lane, who shares a two-bedroom apartment with her partner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “I can go to whatever restaurant I want whenever I want. I can go on vacation. When I was younger, if someone had told me that I could make a living by taking care of dogs, I would never have believed it.”

The current moment is profitable for dog walkers. While job search sites show first-time Manhattan walkers charging just $14 for a 30-minute walk, more experienced walkers with high-end clients are charging nearly three times as much and earning $ 100 thousand (R$ 514 thousand) or more per year.

The market for pet care providers is booming. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, more than 23 million American households — nearly one in five — have acquired a dog or cat during the pandemic. Today, with many returning to face-to-face work, someone needs to hang out with all those animals.

“Before the pandemic, I would get one or two calls a month from potential new clients,” says Lane. “Today there are several a week. And there are many puppies.”

Taking dogs for a walk, as a paid activity, was something that attracted people interested in a regular job, but with flexible schedules for other activities. Something that appeals to actors, musicians, writers, students, retirees, stay-at-home moms and dads, and people still undecided about what they want to do with their lives.

The increase in the number of people with pets, added to the growth of the sector, converted the activity into something more like a business. It involves not just ordinary walks, but also more differentiated services aimed at dogs living in cities: nature walks, day trips to farms, training camps and spas.

One of those looking to capitalize on the moment is Michael Josephs, 34, from Brooklyn. A former teacher of disabled students, after school he used to train Willy, a black Labrador mix, in Prospect Park. “After three months I could ride my bike in the park and he would follow me running. People saw our relationship and started asking me to train their dogs.”

In 2019 Josephs decided to leave his teaching job to open Parkside Pups. He charges US$20 (R$102) for a 30-minute walk with a group of dogs. Within a month he had already landed eight clients, working five hours a day to earn around US$30,000 (R$154,000) a year.

The movement stalled during the pandemic lockdowns in 2020, but has since recovered. “In 2022 we got along really well,” says Josephs, who lives in Middletown, New Jersey. “Before, we primarily served customers in downtown Brooklyn or the park area. Now we have dogs in neighborhoods where you never saw many before, like Ditmas Park and Windsor Terrace.”

Today Parkside Pups offers puppy training ($60 an hour, R$308), pet sitting ($65 a day, R$334) and 15-minute puppy check-ins ($12, R$62 ). Last year, according to Joseph, the company generated income in excess of US$ 100,000.

His wife, Clarissa Soto, helps with the work, and the couple are now considering opening a dog daycare outside Prospect Park and a field in western Connecticut for roosting animals. “Now we have financial security for our child,” says Soto, who gave birth last year. “We opened a savings account to pay for his college.”

The couple also has more money for extra expenses. “We’ve just spent six days at Disney with our families,” says Josephs. “We went to Miami, to Canandaigua for a wedding. We are able to spend it on things that give us pleasure.”

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