Thanks to SeattlePi for this article!
Seattle Dog Taxi shuttles 120 dogs monthly
By ANDREA JAMES
Seattle taxi driver Jen Chiafalo is grateful that she has never had a client pee in her car. One pooped once, though. Another got carsick. Most of them have slobbered all over the place, and some have even eaten her business cards.
If it seems that her customers have a better track record than the average Saturday night taxi rider, maybe it’s because they are dogs.
Chiafalo opened Seattle Dog Taxi in September after she saw a “huge untapped market” of pet owners too busy to drive to doggy day care, the vet or the boarding ranch. While there are several citywide pet service companies that will transport dogs, Seattle Dog Taxi appears to be the only one that taxis primarily pets. Its main competition — if you can call it that, since they refer customers to each other — is Fun Pet Rides LLC on the Eastside.
Nationwide, pet lovers are increasingly willing to drop big bucks to pamper their pooches. Americans spent nearly $3 billion on pet services in 2006, an increase of 8 percent over the year before, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.
Chiafalo is happy to tap into Seattle’s own love affair with dogs. Within days of launching seattledogtaxi.com, the calls started coming in. She transports about 120 dogs per month, easily bringing in about $2,000. Rates start at $15 one way in the city. For the holiday season, she’ll transport about 60 dogs. Sometime next year, she may buy a second car and hire an employee, she said.
While demand alone would drive the business, it helps that Chiafalo adores anything with fur. Her uncanny ability to identify dogs and remember their names helps her to get them to listen.
“I consider the customer to be my dog, which is kind of goofy, I know,” she said. “One of the best parts of my job is I have clients that are so happy to see me.”
One of those clients, an 80-pound lab mutt named Atticus, licked her cheek last week while she drove. She thanked him for this.
Moments before, she had picked him up from his Greenwood home to take him to Bone-A-Fide Dog Ranch in Snohomish while his owner, Melissa Worrel, 28, left town for the holidays.
Worrel gladly forked over $25 to Seattle Dog Taxi for the trip. “It’s totally worth it to not have to drive up to Snohomish,” Worrel said.
After urging Atticus to “go potty” — he refused — Chiafalo strapped him into her Subaru Outback with a canine seat belt attached to a harness. The belt prevents dogs from climbing into the front and from being thrown in an accident. Next she was off to pick up Biscuit, a yellow Lab that she has driven before.
“I love Biscuit,” she said. “It’s like seeing an old friend.”
After Biscuit joined Atticus in the back seat, the two sniffed each other’s behinds. Satisfied with each other, they looked out their respective windows, and Chiafalo was on her way.
In the rare times that dogs don’t get along, she takes them out and puts the more passive one in first. This teaches the aggressive pup that the car is not his territory, she said.
Chiafalo, 33, graduated from the University of Washington in 2004 with bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and biology. When she couldn’t find a job in one of her fields, she took a job with Bone-A-Fide, and helped drive its day care van.
She learned how to drive with 15 dogs romping in the back, so now she considers it a “real treat” to drive just two or three. She hopes that running the business will be conducive to motherhood, so she can keep working after she has children.