I recently signed up to be a walker on a popular app—think Uber but for dogs—as a way to make a few bucks here and there while I look for writing work. I like dogs. I've walked dogs before. What could be easier?
Yesterday was my first walk. It was scheduled for 1:00 p.m., just a few miles from my apartment. I timed my departure carefully; you have to click a button in the app that lets the owner know you're on your way and your ETA.
At precisely 12:45, I get into my car.
"On my way! ETA: 5-10 minutes."
I drive two blocks and promptly get stuck behind THE MOST ENORMOUS OVERSIZED TRUCK I'VE EVER SEEN. I mean, we're talking the kind of truck that has to take up about a half a block just to turn a corner.
The truck had just gotten stuck behind a somewhat smaller truck parked in the middle of the street while two men unloaded cases of neon-green beverages. Their juxtaposition was such that any attempt to swing, however momentarily, into the left lane to pass them would surely be to invite certain death by unseen oncoming traffic.
I sit and ponder.
The delivery guys stand and ponder.
Three angry, honking drivers behind me risk life and limb to zoom past the whole clusterfuck.
Six minutes later, the delivery guys had packed their wares and moved up to give ENORMOUS OVERSIZE TRUCK room to pass. Shit. I was going to be late for my first walk.
At precisely 1:01 p.m., I park in front of the client's house. Her neighbor stands in his doorway, smoking something and glaring at me. I look at the notes on the app.
"Lockbox in back."
"Strong puller; keep away from squirrels, cars and people."
"Won't want to go back upstairs when done."
OK. No problem. I make my way around the right side of the house and am faced with a fenced-in dead end. I backtrack, shoot an awkward grin at Glaring Neighbor and walk around the left side, doing my best not to look like an incompetent burglar.
AHA! There it is. The lockbox. I swipe open the app again, locate the lockbox code, punch it in and pull. Nothing. I double-check the code; it's correct. Pull. Nothing. Pull. MASSIVE FRUSTRATION.
Thinking about how I'm now well past the 15-minute grace period for the start of the walk, I tap the "contact owner" button. The app politely reminds me that it discourages contacting owners in order to preserve the best customer experience possible. Fuck it. I tap and send a polite text explaining the code must be wrong.
No response.I sit down on the porch, the cold rain adding a nice sense of patheticism to it all, and text the app support line.
I'll sum up the next 20 minutes of back-and-forth with support with a mental image: me, screaming internally with rage when I realize that the lockbox opens by pushing the key panel out, not down. I take a moment to properly appreciate my total incompetence before entering the house.
Now I'm in the kitchen. No dog to be seen. I kick off my rainboots and tentatively begin to explore. That's the bathroom. There's the linen closet. I wonder if the owner has security cameras watching me at this very moment?
I finally locate the staircase leading to a small alcove where Max, a very large and excitable lab mix, awaits. For a moment, it all seems good. Max is so happy! He loves me! I MATTER to Max!
I open the baby gate and he runs downstairs. Now the leash. Thankfully I'd Googled how to attach a gentle leader beforehand because this leash looks like a confusing BDSM accessory—if such things were a shade of cheerful, robins’-egg blue.
Now, a gentle leader has a loop that must be placed around the dog's snout. To do this, the dog must sit relatively still for at least a quarter of a second. This is an impossible task for Max, who is now ricocheting between the lower cupboards and the fridge, sending magnets and greeting cards flying with every lap.
I bait him by kneeling on the floor and calling his name. Max proceeds to leap onto my back and lick my head.
Again, I wonder if there are cameras.
I manage to attach the leash after about 10 minutes. There are no poop bags in sight but at this point, we're so extraordinarily behind schedule that I say “fuck it” and we take off.
Ah. This is nice. I'm walking a dog! So what if it's raining and every step requires tiptoeing around ice chasms and small rivers of meltwater with the precision of a mountaineer, or that Max seems to prefer snowbanks to the sidewalk, alternately leaping between them and sprinting toward the yards of innocent houses. I'm doing it!
Now, I'm aware that I'm new to this whole business. But it seems to me that if your dog cannot witness a squirrel, human being or automobile within 400 meters of his (dog)person without exploding in a fit of canine fury, you probably shouldn't hire strangers to take him for walks.
We walk. Max chases. I root my heels into the ground, muttering soothing and pointless pleas. I guiltily ignore a pile of shit so substantial there's no leaf in the Midwest large enough to collect it. We take so many sudden turns to avoid all matter of moving things, living or not, that I soon realize we are lost.
How can one be lost with a smartphone, you ask? Very easily. Especially when you combine rain, a poor connection and an innate inability to read maps, digital or otherwise. Thirty-six minutes later, we return home. Wet and cold, but triumphant.
I take a picture of Max, as per app protocol. Now it's time for the Battle of the Stairs.
The notes weren't kidding. Max does NOT want to go to his room, so to speak.
A previous walker wrote that she got him to cooperate by shouting his name enthusiastically while sprinting up the stairs herself. I try it. Max observes this indifferently from his perch on the couch.
Spotting a bowl of dog food on the table, I grab a few kibbles and present them to Max, holding them just beyond his reach and beckoning to the stairs. He's far too experienced to fall for such shenanigans.
I succeed about 10 minutes later by pretending we are going on ANOTHER walk, hooking his leash halfway and guiding him up the stairs.
You'd think my story would be done at this point. It is not.
For I have one final battle: Babygate-Geddon.
This is the old-fashioned, wooden type with all sorts of metal bits and bobs. Turns out they're easy to open but utterly confounding to close.
I sit before the gate, fiddling with its buckles and levers. Max sits on the other side, staring at me. He's so uncharacteristically calm and quiet that I'm sure I've rendered him speechless with my incompetence.
I can get the gate to fully extend, but it won't lock into place. Max retreats to his crate, seemingly out of boredom. THIS IS MY CHANCE! I tear through the gate, hoping to lock the crate before Max is any the wiser.
But I've been had—classic move. Hats off to Max, who immediately bolted for the ill-fitting gate as I made toward the crate.
I channel the 11-year-old soccer sweeper in me and block him with my knees, nudging him back behind the gate. I pull out my phone and proceed to watch a seven-minute YouTube video on how to use a wooden baby gate. Max watches with me.
In the end, I manage to wedge the gate with some sense of security between the wall and the alcove ledge. I'm positive Max could knock it over with a wag of his tail, but I just have to hope he doesn't know that. And that his owner doesn't come home to a sitting room full of shattered knick-knacks.
I lock the door, return the key to the lockbox (with a reasonable amount of struggle) and go to my car, where I finally hit "walk complete" in the app. I check my schedule. I have another walk booked next week—same day, same time. The dog's name?