I answered a post on a local Facebook group looking for a part-time dog walker in New York City. I wanted a side gig, and was trying to stop my heartache after my recent failure to conceive through in vitro fertilization. I needed to earn money to fund more treatments, and I was trying to find a way to stop crying half the day.
My dog walking business saved me while I was trying to get pregnant via IVF
My once thriving nanny job no longer existed. I held back tears as I walked to meet my first client – a 1-year-old English Creme Spaniel named Sonny, after Sonny Corleone. Within ten blocks, I was talking to him in a low, soft voice. I even looked at him and smiled.
A week later, I found my next assignment. A Dalmatian puppy, straight out of a Disney movie. I didn’t cry once when I walked with him. I quickly built a small, steady circle of clients, and with each step of my $30 dog walk, I was closer to my next $30,000 fertility treatment.
At first, it was just for the money.
As a freelance writer, my monthly income was inconsistent. My husband’s corporate sales job only funded one round of IVF before the cap was reached. I knew I was lucky to have this, but affording each subsequent treatment required a percentage of my husband’s salary, dipping into our savings. Walking dogs added a few thousand dollars to our family fund each month.
Every morning, I would walk through the door of someone else’s apartment and hear the sound of running feet. It would attack me with large paws and wrap itself around my neck – usually a toy hanging from a wet mouth. Sonny was always keen on presenting his daily shows.
I would put the leash around his soft white neck and he would follow me out the door.
Growing up with my single mother in New York City, we were cat lovers. Her gray cat, Valentino, died before I was old enough to really remember her. At nine years old, I got Paisley. Long before cats took over the internet, she subscribed to Cat Fancy and gave her homemade spa days. Later, I had Fred, a white cat who thought he was a dog. When my mother died in 2010, with my asthma and allergies getting worse over time, I couldn’t keep it, so I gave it to her old coworker.
For the next five years, I enjoyed my relationship with a new boyfriend and didn’t think much about pet ownership or motherhood. In 2017, ten months after my wedding, I decided to bring a new member into our home as a birthday gift – a dog. As fans of the movie Jaws (I even walked down the aisle to the famous John Williams song), we named our Goldendoodle puppy Chief Brody. It has brought my husband and I closer, and instilled in me a level of compassion I didn’t know existed.
The couple was sick from the sternum. Now their wildflowers are a local attraction.
Life seemed perfect for a while in our family of three. When she got pregnant in 2018, our family joked that Brody wouldn’t take it after all the one-on-one lovemaking. Sadly, he never needed to adapt. We Didn’t Bring This Baby Home The loss of the second trimester seemed at the time like a flash of tragedy in a picturesque story. I didn’t realize that it would push me into a constant chapter of grief that seemed to have no end.
The past five years have seen miscarriages, surgeries and several failed IVF treatments. They were filled with sadness and constant waiting. All the love I had to give to my child was given to our now five-year-old dog. It didn’t take away my heartache, but Brody welcomed the attention.
I have always considered walking my dog to be a valuable part of my day. But once I started walking other people’s dogs, it turned into something else entirely.
My daily adventures with dogs—usually five to six a day—have benefited my mind and body. During bouts of depression, my usual exercises or yoga classes were easily ignored. But dog walking was a daily exercise that also helped me maintain my health. I treated each time like a privilege.
It was a half hour (or hour) where my mind could wander or dream. Sometimes I would listen to music or a podcast. Other times, I could think about writing projects in ways that I might not if I were sitting at my desk in my apartment.
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It required me to focus on the task at hand, while taking on a certain responsibility that I had never had before. As I walked, my attention was on the dogs, they needed me fully present. It helped remind me to stay in the present moment, which wasn’t easy for me, as I’m often obsessed with the past or stressed about the future. I began to think of walking my dog as a new mindfulness practice, which served me well long after the half hour was up. The meditation or yoga I tried didn’t give me as much peace as exploring the city with Sonny, Tula, Bobby, Maverick, and Winston the Bulldog.
At times when I was feeling sad and wanted to hide in my room, I would force myself to get out of my apartment and into the fresh air. Someone else was relying on me for comfort, love, and exercise. I was not yet the father of a human child, but I felt a new sense of purpose.
I shocked myself when I became a morning person, before dawn – the complete opposite of the night owl I had always been. I love that either. Also, being a dog guard made me more friendly. My usual attitude in New York was to stay in my quiet zone. But with a dog by my side — never mind any dog — I regularly came into contact with people who wanted to say hello to my furry friends, or ask what harness they were wearing.
About 65 million households in the United States have dogs, and about 46.5 million have cats. There are more dog owners than ever before, and I bet many of them don’t consider taking the dog out as self-care.
The dog kept escaping the shelter to sleep in a nursing home. Approved by employees.
The idea of self-care is often associated with spending money on spas or beauty products, but I’ve found that walking dogs has done more to improve my mental health than anything else. If it’s true that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with, then at this point (assuming we can all agree that dogs are people) I’m in good company.
Every walk now offers a small step toward another attempt at motherhood — our next walk is coming this fall. No matter what happens, I’ll be fine. For this reason, some credit should go where it’s due: my four-legged friends.