Woof Walker provides exercise and affection for local pooches
For most of her life, Jill Neyens thought of herself as a cat person. However, about a decade ago, she started to volunteer for the Wisconsin Humane Society as a dog walker and she fell in love with the tail-wagging creatures.
"I have cats, and they definitely have personality, but dogs just have such large personalities," says Neyens. "I also love that there are so many different breeds and mixes of dogs. I love to meet new dogs and try to figure out exactly what breed or mix they are."
In 2005, after getting downsized from a commercial real estate company, Neyens needed to find a new professional path. A former coworker – who knew she was a volunteer dog walker – told her about a Chicago-based woman who ran a lucrative dog-walking business. He connected Neyens with the woman, and after a three-hour conversation, she decided to start a dog walking business, called Woof Walker, in Milwaukee.
"Even though I never owned a business before, I just did it. I still wonder how I did it, though. I wasn't afraid. I never thought once that this wasn't going to work. I was determined," says Neyens.
Today, Neyens employs between one to three walkers, depending on the season, and on average walks dogs six times a day.
"My record is 11 dog walks in the same day," says Neyens, who is physically fit and has always enjoyed exercise.
Woof Walker charges $18 for one or two walks a week; $17 for three or more walks a week and $20 per walk on weekends. Walks are 25 minutes. Neyens will also administer medication during the walk session, fill water and food bowls, provide affection and wipe paws and fur if the weather is wet or snowy.
"One of my dogs is very sensitive to salt and so I put her in the sink after every walk and wash in between her little toes," she says. "I love doing these extra things. No matter what anyone might say, dogs definitely smile, and I love to make them smile."
Neyens will only walk one dog at a time, unless they are in the same family.
"I don't know how you could walk 10 dogs at one time and have a quality walk," says Neyens. "But I used to walk three dogs at once from the same family and I loved it. They were a Yorkie, a Doberman and an Irish Wolfhound so they were small, medium and large."
Most of the dog's caregivers set up a permanent, regular schedule with Neyens, but she is also available for an occasional walk or to pet sit animals of all kinds.
Neyens, who walks primarily on the East Side, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay and Fox Point, will go out in almost all weather (it's unsafe to walk dogs during lightning). However, if a particular dog doesn't like to walk in the rain she will get him or her to do their business and then spend the rest of the time petting or playing with them indoors.
"If I can get my car to move, I will move," she says. "Weather doesn't bother me in the least. But I had to invest in decent weather wear. REI is my friend."
The only downside to her business is when a dog dies or moves away. "I always cry. Most of the dogs I walk feel like they are my dogs," she says.
Someday, Neyens hopes to own her own dog, but she is currently committed to her finicky cats.
"I would love a Great Dane. They are goofy, lovable couch potatoes," she says. "I've been told I really have a way with dogs. Even when I'm not working, I go up to every dog I see and I love to hear from their owners where they got their dog, what kind of dog it is, what their quirks are. I'm almost to the point that I like dogs more than people."
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