Startup and Small Business

Dog walker throws leash around new career

November 26, 2007

Amanda Briggs weaves in and out of the bustling lunch crowd in downtown Indianapolis, keeping a close eye on her canine clients Griffen and Isabella.

"She will eat anything on the ground," Briggs says of Isabella, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who is cautiously scouring the pavement for food scraps while Griffen, a golden retriever, happily trots along the sidewalk.

Briggs, 25, continues her walk through the busy streets, heading to the American Legion Mall and some much-needed grass. Once the dogs have done their business, she cleans up after them, carrying the bright pink bags to the nearest trash can.

That afternoon, she'll take Nestle, a friendly brown lab, for a walk and stop for a bite to eat at a cozy cafe--this time without the dog--before heading to Buddy's house, where she plays with the 5-month-old mutt three times a week.

Such is the life of a professional dog walker and pet sitter.

"I worked my butt off," Briggs said, referring to her past jobs that demanded 80-hour work weeks with little payoff. "Now I maybe work 20 hours a week and I'm making more than I ever did."

Briggs moved to Indianapolis from Illinois two years ago--just before marrying her husband James, 29, an Indianapolis police officer.

With a bachelor's degree in art therapy at Millikin University, Briggs didn't plan a career as a dog walker. But she began taking care of some friends' dog while living with them in downtown Chicago and started walking other dogs to earn extra money.

When she moved to Indianapolis, she gave that up to concentrate on her job as a design consultant at CP Morgan.

After nearly a year, she moved on to a position at the Conrad Indianapolis and later to a fitness center. At the Conrad, Briggs walked a few dogs for Indiana Pacers who were staying there and began building a part-time business.

However, her jobs demanded such long hours that she rarely saw her husband and got to talk to her family even less. Stressed out and tired, Briggs prayed about what she should do as her "corporate" jobs forced her to put dog walking on the back burner again.

"I decided I wasn't going to let that happen, so I quit," she said. "I told my friend that I'd rather pick up poop than have to listen to it all day long.

"That night, I got two new [dog-walking] clients."

And Downtown Doggie was born.

At times, Briggs makes her rounds through downtown with up to five dogs, though usually she has three. Dogs with temperament problems are walked one-on-one. Briggs' own 1-year-old Weimaraner, Raya, helps determine if a new dog can handle the group walk.

"Generally, I try to bring my dog over [to the owner's house] to see how [their dog] reacts," she said. "If they get along, then that's a good indication that they have a good temperament."

The dog-walking enterprise has helped Briggs get to know the city and its residents. Because Briggs lives in the Fountain Square neighborhood, choosing to do business downtown was an easy decision. She also doesn't know of any other full-time dog walkers in the downtown area--another advantage.

As Briggs and the pooches make their way through the city, she greets people she runs into and friends she's made on her usual routes.

"I'm just an outgoing person," Briggs said. "I like to talk to people and ask how they are. I think it's not only good for business but it's good in general."

Briggs' business, which started up in February, began to boom almost immediately. Now she walks about 14 dogs a day, five days a week.

She charges $11 per 30-minute walk, with a discount for loyal customers. That translates to about $700 a week, not including overnight pet sitting, which Briggs says accounts for 30 percent of her revenue. Briggs charges $40 to care for one pet overnight at the owner's home, plus a $5 charge for each additional animal.

Briggs has about 30 human clients--and 38 dogs. With the help of three others who walk dogs on the outskirts of downtown, Downtown Doggie was named the Best New Business of 2007 by Indianapolis Pet Quarterly and received second place in pet sitting in Indy Tails, a free monthly magazine devoted to pets.

"It's just fun," she said. "And [the dogs] are just happy to be outside and walking."

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