I used to be a high-end dog walker. I worked for a small company employing a handful of people. While our competitors provided group dog walks, we were branded as a luxury dog walking service specializing in individualized walks, so our canine clients received all the attention they demanded.
I got the job because I had worked as a dog walker before, but I was told I was also hired for my “neat appearance.”
Why should my appearance matter so much? I would be spending all day on my feet, picking up dog poop, and collecting dog hair.
“We have high-end clients,” my boss informed me. I was required to wear a collared shirt.
One particularly high-end client was a woman who lived alone in a big house on the top of a hill overseeing the rest of the city. Her home was immaculately decorated, so much so that I often wondered if she actually lived there. I once had to use the bathroom and felt a little bit like I was soiling a museum piece. Even the bathroom reading material seemed expertly curated.
Although she wasn’t employed, she made a job of fussing over the house’s imperfections. A scuff on the wall hailed a team of painters to retouch it, a spot on the rug welcomed professional carpet cleaners to steam and scrub the offending mark out, and I never saw food prepared in the kitchen (though the maids were always carting in paper bags from boutique grocery stores). She also had a dog — a small purebred Poodle — that she hired a walker to take out. That walker was me.
The Poodle, named Charles, was well cared for, if perhaps a little under socialized and not very well housebroken. This meant I often had to step over and around the hoses of high-powered carpet cleaners when I went to fetch Charles, who was always sitting up on the arm of an expensive-looking couch — exactly where he was not supposed to sit. The upholstery showed signs of damage, as dogs have no taste for interior design. Nor can they appreciate Italian craftsmanship.
Many rules governed Charles’ walks: He was not to walk on the grass, his paws had to be wiped (with a towel monogrammed with his initials) before he entered the house, and I was to carry (in addition to his poop bags) baby wipes. I don’t need to tell you what the wipes were for.
The dog would defecate in the park and I would stand there, wipes in hand, with Charles peering imploringly at me as if to say, “Please don’t. The other dogs already think I’m weird. Have you seen my haircut?”
I would respond to my imaginary conversation with Charles, saying, “But your human said to. I mean, are you — you know — dirty back there?”
In my imagination Charles would say, “Well, I can do an extra scoot on the grass if you think that would help.”
I would say, “OK, but do it quickly so no one can see.”
So I didn’t really use the wipes. I wasn’t embarrassed to wipe a dog’s butt — dignity is not something I’ve cultivated — but I imagined it was sort of the same thing as someone wearing a really loud perfume on a crowded bus, irritating the refined sense of all the dogs at the dog park. Miraculously, I was allowed to take Charles to the dog park.
Charles often experienced digestive issues. I assumed it was a symptom of stress, of being subjected to his owner’s wailing voice whenever a stray mark on a wall appeared, then her ushering a team of strangers to the house, who threw plastic all over the furniture and carpeting.
When these digestive issues flared up, Charles would be rushed to the vet, and the vet would perform blood work and tests and keep the dog overnight for observation, but never deliver a diagnosis.
In my imaginary conversations with Charles, he would tell me, “Dude, I just ate some grass and barfed it up. Dogs eat grass and barf it up — it’s just a thing we do.”
But one day Charles’ digestive issues expressed themselves through the other end, and it happened right in front of the house before I was supposed to return him. Prior to this incident, Charles had always pooped in the park, and I’d disposed of the poop bags in the public trash cans there. So there I was, doing my best to pluck up every piece of goopy poop off the sidewalk, my dexterity lacking. I finally scooped it all up, pulled the bag inside out, and at the same time, the garage door yawned open. Charles’ owner appeared, her maids in tow, heading out to the grocery store. I stood up, bag dangling in one hand and Charles’ leash in the other.
The woman shrieked, “What are you doing!“
I fumbled. “My job?”
She became flustered. “No no no, don’t bring that in here.”
“I was gonna throw it away in the outside garbage.”
“No, you can’t throw it in any garbage on the premises.”
“Not even the outside garbage?”
I was speechless. My mind reeled. What does she do with the poop when I’m not here? What does she think happens to the food the dog eats? Does she poop? I looked to Charles. I imagined him shrugging.
“What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Take it to the park and throw it away,” she said, reaching awkwardly for Charles’ leash, as if being in the mere presence of the poop bag might cause poop particles to leap out and attach themselves to her face.
“You want me to take this poop bag in my car with me to throw it away in the park?” I wanted to make sure I understood her.
I think I was stunned by the sheer absurdity of the suggestion, so I did exactly that — I took the bag full of poop with me, in my car. I drove to the park and tossed it in a trash can there.
And then I sat in my car contemplating other career options.