Dog-walking diaries: 'Copes well under pressure'

Image of dog with a ball
It's all fun and games until somebody loses a paw
"In the midst of a dog-walking crisis, I can't just run away"
  • | by Rachel England

When it comes to everyday stress levels, I’m pretty lucky.

Being self-employed and working from home is pretty low down on the pressure scale. Sure, I worry about money and the fact that I haven't had a holiday in years, but setting my own hours and being my own boss means the only things that usually get my blood boiling are emails addressed to ‘Rebecca’ and having my train of thought broken by delivery men that can’t read door numbers. Trivial stuff.

That said, I am no stranger to workplace stress. In previous lives I worked in-house for a woman that made Miranda Priestly look like Mrs Claus; in a bar where slaps on the behind were the accepted method of requesting a top-up; and as a bookings minion for a global company where ruddy-faced business plonkers would storm into my office screaming that if I didn’t get 27 German delegates to London within three hours on a budget of £60 it would be my fault that the entire company collapsed. Sure thing, Bill.

But not one of those nightmare jobs ever presented the moments of sheer heart-in-mouth panic that I’ve encountered while walking the dogs. And yes, I realise this makes me sound like the most incapable person ever, because really, what possible stress could four dogs really cause?

Well, ask me that again the next time I turn around in horror to see Alfie the spaniel hurtling at full speed – ears flapping around his head – towards a main road.

Ask me that again the next time Roger the geriatric Westie starts vomiting on my shoes before lying down and closing his eyes and looking just a bit too peaceful when I’m miles from veterinary assistance and have three other dogs looking at me like I’ve actually killed him.

Ask me that again when I have to stick my bare hands into a frantic, snarling mess of claws and teeth because Rufus, the world’s most terrifying-looking Doberman, is just so done with Buster the pug’s relentless tail biting.

Ask me that again when Wilson the bulldog kicks his turds into my actual EYES before slipping his lead, running into a bush and somehow emerging on the other side of a set of train tracks, metaphorically giving me the finger while I use my dusty physics GCSE to figure out how I can get myself and three other dogs across to him before the 12.44 to Victoria hurtles past.

The reason my previous jobs never resulted in a ‘Falling Down’ moment was because, in the back of my mind, I knew I could just get up and leave if I really wanted to. Miranda Priestly could find someone else to shout at, those sexist barflies would get their drinks some other way, and Bill the ruddy-faced account numpty could learn how to use the EasyJet website himself. It would be inconvenient for them, but that would be the worst of it.

In the midst of a dog-walking crisis, though, I can’t just run away. “Your dog ran under a train. Sorry about that” doesn’t really fly. The dogs’ owners trust me to take care of their precious pooches, but, more importantly, the pooches in question trust me to take care of them (although I’m clearly still proving myself to Wilson).

It can be fraught and hugely stressful, but it brings a satisfaction I’d never find in an office. Still, it’d be great if someone could remind me of that next time I’m coaxing a Chihuahua out of a pond.

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