Imagine you’re a dog during the pandemic — it’s a dream come true; your owner is always home, and you have plenty of treats! Fast forward and now imagine the pandemic is over, your owner is gone more often throughout the week, and you find yourself home alone most of the day. This is the experience of many pets in Austin post-pandemic.
With many transitioning to work in person again, hiring a dog walker has become a necessity for Austinites to keep their pups stimulated throughout the day, and with part-time dog walkers, Austin pets get just what they need.
We got the chance to interview one of these unsung heroes, Robin Walton — an Austin native for 35 years, who turned her love for walking family dogs into a side hustle. Walton is a dog walker for the dog walking service platform, Rover.
Robin Walton: I’ve grown up with dogs all my life. There are pictures of me as a baby surrounded by dogs. I have three of them around me right now! I love them and all animals, essentially. When I was first starting in the industry, I needed extra money. I have a full-time job, but Austin is expensive. I thought to myself, “What is something I enjoy and wouldn’t mind doing during my off hours?” Well, dog walking keeps me active, and I get to do what I love. I’ll dog walk almost daily after I get out of my other job.
RW: Absolutely. My own dogs are middle-aged and small — they like a very leisurely smell-every-square-inch-of-grass kind of walk. Through Rover, I tend to walk a lot of larger dogs who want to GO! With those types of dogs, I’ll usually get in 1.5 to 2.5 miles per 30-minute walk, even if we stop and socialize and/or smell things.
RW: For cardio, yes, but I get my strength training elsewhere several times per week. Dog walking can seriously test my muscle strength, balance and coordination, though, so I’m grateful to have it. Keeping control of a 130-pound dog surprising you with an enthusiastic squirrel chase out of nowhere is no joke! But so far, I’ve somehow managed not to fall on my face and be dragged or drop a leash.
RW: The first week after I started, it was quiet and I was like, “Oh my gosh, why am I not getting any booking requests?” Then, Austin City Limits happened, and I got seven bookings within one day. I remember one moment when I was walking this little terrier dog. It was the cutest, sweetest dog. I was walking them along the lake, the sun was setting and I could hear the music from ACL. The dog seemed to just be loving life. I couldn’t help but laugh and take it all in. On a Saturday night, I would’ve rather been doing nothing else but getting some exercise and hanging out with this dog in Zilker Park.
RW: I always tell people they’re in a business. Being a caretaker is a very personal thing. Your relationship with these dogs is personable. At the same time, you’re running a business, so it’s important to set boundaries and practices in place. Dog walking is essentially building relationships because each dog has the potential for being a long-term customer. Dog walking is sort of like being a nanny; you’re providing emotional and physical care to an animal as you would a child, but you’re being paid for it. I’ve done lots of things in my life, but honestly, I can’t believe I get paid to hang out with dogs all day. Walking dogs is just one of those smaller pleasures of mine.