It's that time of year again, when the sun comes out and everyone starts asking about dog walker's pay. No one seems to care when it's cold and wintery. I'm a personal assistant turned dog walker, renting a tiny place. I walk in Richmond Park and Battersea Park. Without a licence the park byelaws allow me to walk a maximum of 4 dogs at a time, and in Royal Parks, it's £300 annually for a licence for 4.
Every summer these stories come out about dog walkers making vast amounts of money while enjoying the sunshine with the dogs, but they don't see the reality, the expenses, the days when we are blue with cold from being out all day, or clearing up vomit and diahorrea, or hoovering up the endless dog hair and spraying for yet more fleas. This week ive had to throw out a sofa after a dog peed all over it. I haven't charged the owner; it's an occupational hazard.
A fellow dog walker started walking dogs 20 years ago. When she began she knew of only 3 other dog walkers in London. The attitude to dog care & responsible ownership has transformed since then. No longer is it acceptable for owners to go to work leaving their dog to howl all day while home alone.
Dog walkers provide a wonderful service to people who would not otherwise be able to own a pet; working people, elderly etc. The benefits of dog ownership are endless, they reduce stress, provide companionship and dogs are becoming more common in the work place now, having been proved to increase happiness and productivity.
Being a dog walker is so much more than a job; it's a way of life. I've rehomed lots of dogs for owners unable to cope with an ill matched dog. I've been on a clients doorstep to help at night with emergency care. I've stayed with grieving owners at the vets. This is normal behaviour for a self employed dog walker, because we care for dogs. You have to in order to withstand the drawbacks of the job.
Business has all come through recommendations, which have been offered because of my track record. It's taken me years to build up my business and some clients are irregular, so a 5 day week, managing 3 walks a day, and a lot of driving does not create much profit at all.
The constant stop start driving in London traffic is exhausting and my van bills are huge as a result of wear and tear. Once I've removed these expenses, less tax & NI, I've calculated that I'm earning less than I would were I on benefit street, by 700 a year. Lots of dog walkers simply burn out after a year or so. Dealing with over excited young dogs is hard work, you need eyes in the back of your head... Add that to 12 hours behind the wheel, picking up poop, the anti dog brigade and I'm sure you'd agree that it's no walk in the park.
Dog walkers don't get paid when clients cancel. We don't get paid when clients take their 10 weeks holiday for the Summer, Half term and Xmas school breaks. We're legally responsible for dogs in our care. We have to pickup mounds and mounds of dog faeces.
Many dog walkers give up long before their van clutches do. No hols, gruelling 10 - 12 hour days, endless traffic crawling jams, road rage, scaffold lorries/Travis Perkins trucks blocking sideroads to deliver to the enumerous basement developments.
According to the esteemed website, HR Grapvine, dog walkers earn more than the starting salary of PC Plod, NHS Angel or FIreman Sam. But that's before expenses! Luckily, our beloved public sector heroes aren't self employed like dog walkers.
Never mind Zero Hours, Unite members would go gaga at Zero pension, Zero sick benefit and Zero holidays pay! Sick benefit, god damn, we're not even allowed to BE sick, as we're paranoid of losing our clients! Dogs have to pee, poop, exercise, rain or shine. And as most clients work, there's no such thing as a sickie.
Like many London workers, I can't afford to live where I work either, it's a 10 mile drive. Thank you Boris and your foreign investor chums who you encourage to buy swathes of London suburbs for their 15% interest. God forbid, any politician might choose to please its electorate ahead of profiteering investors buoying up UK GDP growth (did you know that 10% of GDP comes from estate agent sales and another 10% from construction of new build homes-source ONS).
Im racking up 60 bile inducing miles a day =(2300) per year for fuel. Add van depreciation (1500), commercial van insurance (1000), van running costs (a fairly steady stream of repairs - new tyres, clutch, brake pads) dog liability insurance (200), van lease (2000) and mobile phone (300) = £8000 plus of expenses. Then there's tax and NI, they do add up when you add HMRC's payment on account (POA), which is a 50% advance payment for next years tax, in addition to last years tax liability, which all self employed folk pay.... Gulp, says Amazon and Uber, do we have to pay this too?
So does the Direct Line study only tell half a story about dog walkers? Are those journalist from the Guard-inane, Eve Standard & Indy simply regurgitating stats like a dog with a chew stuck in its throat? Would a journo bother interviewing actual dog walkers, when you can plagiarise the latest 'study' and get back to your Ashtanga Yoga and Net A Porter purchase before the editor can say 'Hold The Front page'.