Intimidating isn’t the first word that comes to mind when describing Beth Morgan, pretty and petite at five feet tall. That is, until you see her in action as a no-nonsense dog walker, charging down the streets with a handful of wiggling pups.
“As a small person, to be walking down the sidewalk surrounded by beasts — it’s really just so fun,” Morgan says. “People just scatter. I’m looooving this.”
Morgan made dog walking her full-time gig in April, when she left her job at a translation company to join Bushwick K9. It wasn’t necessarily that she wanted to walk dogs; rather, the 27-year-old writer wanted to work less to focus on applying to graduate school and her own projects. For two years, she commuted an hour each way to her office, where she worked eight to nine hours a day in a job she describes as unfulfilling. She followed the lead of a former coworker, who had quit a few months before to become a dog walker.
“I was at the point where I was so miserable that being scared [to quit] was fun,” Morgan says. “I’m also very anxious and constantly think that I’m going to die an untimely death. And I was like, ‘Is this really what I want to be doing? Spending my time this way? Because I’m not really getting anything that I want done.’”
Today, a busy day is about four hours of work. She wakes up around 8 a.m., writes until 11 a.m. — with all the extra time on her hands, she’s nearly finished with a novel — then leaves her apartment near Broadway to walk dogs until about 4 p.m.
It’s stimulating to be out and about, not chained to a desk, she says. But, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
The Math Behind Dog Walking
Before she picks up the first dog, Beth has to map out her route. It changes daily — she has regulars, but some owners reach out last minute — and surprisingly, there are a lot of variables.
“It’s like an LSAT problem,” she says, laughing. “How to get 15 dogs walked within 3 and a half hours.”
Some dogs will walk with other dogs, but others won’t. Some dogs are slow walkers — often the small dogs can’t keep up with the bigger ones. Then there’s location to factor in: If she’s going to pick up a dog here, is there time to walk there to pick up another dog, ensuring that he or she will still have a full walk? (A walk can be 30 minutes to an hour.)
“It sounds really boring, but it’s complicated,” Morgan says. “It’s super stressful. I have stress dreams about it.”
How to Walk a City Dog
Beth had dogs of her own. She grew up on a farm in Texas, and over the years had four (including a sheep-dog mix named Lydia, who once saved Beth’s dad from a wild boar), as well as cats and horses. Still, she’s learned a lot from interacting with city dogs.
For one, they’re needier, she says. They can’t simply be let out in the backyard, so they get excited about their walks. But, because they’re often indoors, they smell a lot nicer.
“I can’t get over it: all of my dogs growing up were so stinky,” Morgan says, pausing to think.
“It’s so weird because I didn’t think about about my dogs growing up — when you have dogs you can put in the backyard, you don’t necessarily have to interact with them very much,” she continues. “They’re doing their own thing. [But with other people’s dogs in the city,] you have to walk them and pick up their poop. It becomes this weirdly intimate relationship with them. You have to learn to adjust to their patterns and understand how often they have to go to the bathroom. And how much energy they have to expend in order to get tired.”
Poop came up quite a bit.
“Interacting with so many different dogs made me realize how many different personalities they have. It’s crazy,” Morgan says. “They all have different ways that I get them to poop. I am amazed at the really granular knowledge that I have now about what particular set of preparatory movements mean that a dog is about to poop. And it’s different for each dog. And it’s like, ‘We only have a small amount of time left, so I really need you to do this now.’”
A Pit bull she walks only poops in parking spaces. It’s odd, but she’s hardly notices — she’s focused on keeping him safe, making sure there are no cars around.
“What’s crazy is when people are like, ‘Oh my god don’t you hate picking up poop?’ And it’s just like, you don’t understand — that is definitely the easiest part of my job. That’s so fine. I’m just inoculated to it at this point, it’s whatever.”
Toll on the Body
A self-proclaimed gym rat, Morgan says a perk of the job is how it keeps her in shape. She doesn’t track her steps or distance, but walking every afternoon for nearly four hours straight has become her main source of exercise.
It’s hard on the body, though.
“I don’t think I can do it forever,” she says. “I can just feel that I’m getting crazy back problems because, in theory, you should be able to stand up straight and navigate and control the dogs enough that they’re not going to pull too hard. But in practice, you’re scanning the ground for chicken bones. Also dogs are all different heights, and you have to compensate in different ways.”
Her fanny pack adds to the pain. Attached to the black bag is a large key ring that resembles a janitor’s, holding an absurd number of keys categorized in her own unique (read: unintelligible) system. Some are tagged with a name placed in a colorful rubber frame, but others are marked by an object: a plastic skull ring, a pink paper clip, a mini chain.
“Clearly I have my own idiosyncratic system that is going to be a nightmare for my boss when I leave,” she says, referring to her upcoming two-week trip to the Philippines. “I should really label these before I leave. That’s what’s nice about not walking on my own — I have someone to cover me while I got on vacation.”
That’ll be her boss, Daniel Nogueira, founder of Bushwick K9, who specializes in training urban dogs. He also trains all his walkers.
That’s what’s nice about working for a service,” Morgan says, rather than joining a dog-walking app, such as Wag!
“I think that people really want somebody who is going to be regular and going to see their dog every day and is going to be reliable, and who they know has a lot of experience,” she says.
Tips and Tricks
Since becoming a full-time dog walker, Morgan says she’s happier, but mostly better rested.
“The weird thing about working with dogs is that they know if you’re sleep deprived or hungover, and they misbehave. They respond to it,” she says. It’s really important to me to be well rested and to be alert, otherwise they’ll think I’m a joke. It does make it a lot easier for me to be happier and healthier day to day.
They also sense hesitation or nerves.
“They are very sensitive to that stuff. You have to project — God, that sounds so self helpy — but you do have to project self confidence, otherwise they won’t respect you.”
Morgan says it’s easily made her more assertive and aggressive, more comfortable being in the world. But overall, she says considers herself lucky.
“I’m one of the only people I know who has been able [walk dogs] full time and make it work. At least financially. It basically pays almost as much [as my last job], which is what’s kind of crazy. That doesn’t mean that I’m making a ton of money, but it means that I was making no money when I was working in an office.
“I definitely feel appreciated, which is really nice for a job that’s not super high-stakes,” she continues. “But you do help people out. The dogs are happy, and their humans are happy.”