Dog walking in London
Some dogs are perfectly content indoors, while others can't handle city life at all – but most enjoy a good stroll. Professional dog walker Tracey Lee Egan shares her expertise on city canines, and blows the whistle on some of the less conscientious members of her profession
'I adore my job,' says Tracey Lee Egan, crunching through fallen leaves in Kensington Park on a perfect – although quite terrifyingly warm – autumn day. 'I was slowly dying in an office environment, then one day I saw a guy walking through Holland Park with about five dogs, and looking so happy. And I said to my friend, "Do you think he gets paid to do that?" '
This weekend, 190 different breeds of dog will be strutting their stuff at Earl's Court for the Kennel Club's twelfth annual 'Discover Dogs London' event, with experts on hand to advise would-be owners which breeds are suited to life in the capital. Most small local parks have dog-free children's play areas and specific dog exercising areas.
With more and more Londoners succumbing to the primal urge to live with a canine companion – or, frankly, to make themselves look good by having the most fashionable and/or fierce looking breed on the end of their lead – the city's dog-walking industry is expanding rapidly. But, according to Egan, not all the new arrivals on the scene are everything they claim to be.
'People have caught on to the fact that you can make money walking dogs,' she says, 'and it's quite frightening because a lot of them don't know anything about dogs. I see dog walkers arrive at the park with a big van and about 16 dogs, and they pull in, open the van, sometimes tie the dogs to trees, have a cigarette, and put them all back in the van again, and that's it. I've reported a few people. I see other dog walkers whacking the dogs because they get frustrated. If you're going to employ someone to walk your dog, then take references and ask questions about dogs; treat it as if you're employing a nanny, do reference checks. If it was me, I'd even say that I wanted to come on one of the walks with them. And if you work full-time, maybe take a day off and don't tell them. I've talked to people who have said they came home from work unexpectedly and found their dog walker sitting on the sofa watching telly.'
Egan makes a point of picking up all her dogs on foot, limiting the group to four or five, and letting them romp around the park off the lead for up to two hours. We're joined today by a pomeranian-cross and four bouncy puppies: a springer spaniel, a Hungarian vizsla and two puggles – very cute examples of the pug-beagle cross which is one of the most sought-after dogs in London at the moment, costing around £2,000 each. Pretty steep, though the price of all types of dog has sky-rocketed recently. A chocolate labrador will cost £900, compared with about £200 a few years ago, while a bulldog will set you back £1,400.
It's fair to say that Egan's clients, all based in Kensington and Chelsea, can afford to pamper their pet with the best of everything – it's not unheard of for some pooches to spend four hours a week at the grooming parlour, at £150 a time – but money is something to consider for anyone contemplating getting a dog.
'It's fine as long as you're realistic about it,' says Egan. 'If you work long hours and you're going to have a dog, you need to have a bit of money to employ somebody. And if you haven't got the money, have the time. You don't have to be a millionaire to have a dog, but they need to be in a loving environment, and they do need to be walked. I see people coming out of flats and the dog goes to the toilet and they take it straight back in. That's awful.'
The other big consideration is breed. 'Don't forget certain breeds were actually bred to be city dogs,' she says, 'like a chihuahua. The whole point when the Parisians started breeding it was to create a dog that didn't want to go outside much, so if you have a chihuahua in the country and you're taking it out for five-hour walks every day it's not going to be very happy. Yorkshire terriers are quite happy in the city too, whereas working dogs like springers and sporting dogs like vizslas, Weimaraners, pointers, they all need lots of exercise.'
Despite one dog-phobic jogger we passed, who screeched and started swearing at us after one of the puppies decided to give her a sniff, most people seem happy to see Egan's well-trained pups enjoying themselves. 'They just love being out and running around together,' she says as we watch them playing happily in the sunshine. 'People say it's cruel to have a dog in London but that's rubbish. Look at them. I wish people who work in offices could see what sort of day these dogs have.'
For more information on Tracey Lee Egan's service see www.adogwalker.com.
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