I’ve had wonderful dog walkers before. Mike in the East Village, for instance, took my dog, Pelle, for two-hour walks and trips to the park, and he always remembered Pelle’s favorite treat. My current dog walkers at Eva’s Play Pups leave friendly notes with adorable cartoons of Pelle at the bottom.
But there was also the friend-turned-dog walker who, unbeknownst to me, gave keys to my apartment to at least seven of his other friends so that they could take turns walking Pelle. When I stayed home sick from work one day, I was treated to a complete stranger walking in on my messy, scantily clothed convalescence, which is how I discovered how free the walker had been about letting people into my apartment.
There was also the dog walker who periodically forgot to walk Pelle and would call me when I was at the office to ask, “Does it really matter that much today?” and heave a put-upon sigh when I answered with an emphatic, disbelieving yes.
I thought I’d learned my lesson about negligent dog walkers, so when I moved to a new neighborhood, I hired a man who ran a nearby pet store and seemed to dote on Pelle. Steve was a great neighbor, someone who had long, gossipy chats with me about the other neighborhood businesses and had two cute dogs of his own who played around the store. I often stopped by to speak with him on the way home from work, and he described to me things Pelle had done during his daily walk.
Steve walked several dogs during the day, so I figured that although it was odd he was the only employee in his shop and had to close the store in order to walk Pelle and Tracey and Lapsang and Django, I trusted him.
Soon after Steve started walking Pelle, my boyfriend, Andy, and I began noticing that Pelle was unusually desperate and energetic at the end of the day. Andy insisted that the walker wasn’t coming for the dog. I thought Andy was paranoid, but I called Steve to double-check. After all, he was charging my credit card regularly, so it seemed unlikely that he would simply forget Pelle was on his schedule.
Steve acted like I was completely ridiculous. Embarrassed, I politely let the subject drop.
Andy wasn’t so easily satisfied. He began leaving Pelle’s leash, which usually hung down in a straight line from a peg by our entranceway, in increasingly strange and difficult-to-duplicate positions on the peg board and the kitchen counter. When we came home from work each night, we found the leash hadn’t moved.
We thought maybe Steve had been bringing his own leash to walk Pelle, so the next week, Andy taped a string across our front door, and we left the house from the back door. When we got home at night, the string was unbroken, suggesting Steve had never come through the door at all.
I was unwilling to accuse a friend of something so awful as leaving our dog home alone all day while essentially stealing my hard-earned money, so I became convinced that maybe I’d given Steve the key to our back entrance and just forgotten. A call to Steve confirmed that he didn’t have the keys. I asked him again if he was walking the dog, and Steve swore he was.
All we had as proof that Steve hadn’t been coming to the house was circumstantial evidence. If I told him he was fired for not walking our dog because of a knotted-up leash and an unbroken string across a door, I knew he could make me sound like I was crazy. So Andy stayed home and worked from the basement to see if he heard Steve come to the house during the day.
At some point late in the afternoon, Andy heard a jingle of keys and the jangle of Pelle’s leash, then the door shut. Steve had come for Pelle. Less than five minutes later, though, he returned and left Pelle in the house again. So much for the forty-minute walk Steve promised when I paid him.
It seemed to us that Steve had gotten scared by my calls and decided to walk Pelle just a little bit each day, just so he could say he’d been in the house. I called to tell him what Andy had witnessed, but Steve insisted he’d walked Pelle for forty minutes and Andy was wrong.
I had no way to disprove what he said, really. I wished we’d set up a camera, but I wasn’t going to let Pelle and my wallet suffer for any longer just so I could shove filmed confirmation in some jerk’s face. I knew that without definitive proof, I wouldn’t get months of dog walking money back from Steve, but I finally had the proof I needed to realize that Pelle was being neglected. I let Steve keep the money.
Shortly afterward, Steve hired a fleet of employees and stopped working at his own store. I haven’t seen him since. From now on, I hire a dog-walking company instead of individual walkers. Despite having had some great individual walkers, I feel that a company is more accountable and invested in its reputation as a reliable service; I don’t want to risk Pelle’s comfort and health again.
Still, maybe I should test the next walker, just in case. Would you? What would you have done in my situation?
About the author: Lauren Zimmer lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her boyfriend and dog. She is a children’s and young adult book reviewer and licensed social worker. Her dream is to become an animal-assisted therapist for children, and she hopes to someday own a farm where she can house many more adopted pets.