ALIX NORMAN meets Cyprus’ professional dogwalkers – the people who have packed in high-flying corporate careers to pursue their passion for puppies
“’You went to university to pick up dog poo?’ That’s what my friends always ask me!” laughs Maria Charalambous. “They can’t believe I studied so hard, spent years in marketing for a top luxury goods company, and then gave it all up to start a career that involves picking up dog waste! And yet,” she adds, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been!”
Limassol-based Maria, who founded dog walking and pet sitting agency For Cats, Dogs and Love, is one of a new breed of dog walker who confound our expectations of the job. Highly educated veterans of the corporate world, these are the people who have renounced seminars, suits, and stress to live a joyous existence around animals.
“This is,” says Maria, “my dream job. Against all my friends’ advice, I made the change. Yes, I go out for hours in the freezing winter or the boiling summer heat. I have to deal with crazy hours and aching legs and, of course, dog waste! But I’m doing what I love most in life: making dog and pet parents happy.”
In September 2018, 42-year-old Maria packed in her high-flying corporate job to launch her own dog walking and pet sitting agency. It wasn’t an easy decision, and she spent months deliberating. “But I’d stopped being in love with my job,” she acknowledges. “And the constant travel meant my own animals – Kaza the Labrador, Pepi the poodle mix, and my two cats – were at home alone all the time; I was worried about them.”
Like so many other pet parents in a similar position, Maria spent months hunting for the right person to devote the time and care to her animals that her job wouldn’t allow. “But I couldn’t find someone reliable,” she admits. “Our pets are our children; we need a professional who shows up on time every day, knows about animals and cares deeply about their welfare.”
This stress, this worry, was what prompted For Cats, Dogs and Love. “It was a bit frightening at the start,” Maria acknowledges, “but I had faith because I knew there were so many pet parents out there who felt just as I did. And four years on, I’ve been proved right: our dedicated dog-walking and pet-sitting team are fully booked, month after month.”
Organised, reliable, and truly devoted to canine welfare, Maria’s four-person team are hand-picked for their skills; all have completed courses in training, medical care, and pet psychology, and have pets of their own. “I get a lot of emails from people saying ‘I love dogs, can I work with you?’” she continues. “But can you love dogs on New Year’s Eve when you want to go out and your pet needs you? Will you notice if something is wrong with their eyes, and know what to do or which vet to call? Can you love dogs when its pouring with rain and they need exercise?
“For Cats, Dogs and Love isn’t just a job,” she adds. “It’s a philosophy. It comes from the heart and the need to help other pets and pet parents. And that includes caring deeply about animals, being organised, reliable, and very knowledgeable.”
Nicolas Nikolaou feels the same way. Another professional who eschewed a punishing career in favour of helping animals, he founded D.W.S. Dog Walking Services in January 2020, and has never looked back.
“I went straight from university into the family business,” he reveals. “I was a store manager, working 12 hours a day, with one day off each fortnight. The stress was incredible. But even worse was the fact that my husky, Eclipse, was at home alone all the time – she deserved so much more of me.”
Like Maria, Nicolas searched endlessly for a decent dog walker. “There were plenty of students dog walking part-time to fit in with their schedule. But I needed someone professional, reliable, and trustworthy – someone who would show up on the dot, commit to ongoing work, and know how to look after Eclipse. But that person didn’t exist in Nicosia…”
One evening, exhausted by work and heart-broken his dog hadn’t seen him all day, Nicolas made a decision. “I went home, and asked my partner what I could do to make our lives – hers, mine, and Eclipse’s – better. The idea of a dog walking service sprang immediately to both our minds and, within weeks, I’d quit my job…”
Starting with just a few clients – “my first dog was Snoopy, an 11-year-old poodle whose owner was a busy auditor” – Nicolas and partner Styliana launched D.W.S. Dog Walking Services. “In the beginning, it was all word of mouth,” he recalls. “We didn’t advertise at all, because I wanted to build the service slowly: I was just one person, I knew my limits. But over time, as my clientele grew, things really took off.”
Nicolas offers monthly packages and, like Maria, also provides pet sitting, pet taxi and grooming services, as well as more adventuresome outings. “Dogs get bored easily,” he explains. “So we change our locations daily, taking them to dog parks, out to the fields, into the park. But we also offer extended outings – we can take them on a hike or down to the beach; somewhere new and exciting.”
Today, D.W.S. has 65 dogs on the books, most of whom are walked three to four times a week. And the five full-time dog walkers have all completed in-depth dog training courses with Stephanos Severis, seminars on pet behaviour and first aid, and – since they’re often entering the houses of owners who are away – are subjected to stringent criminal checks.
“We’re trying to educate not just dog walkers, but also owners about what it’s like to have a dog and how it’s best to treat them: what their dog really needs,” explains Nicolas. “It’s not an easy job,” he adds. “We walk miles and miles per day; we get up early and walk in all weather. But the excitement when a dog sees us, helping people ensure their pets are well-cared for and enjoy quality companionship; the amazing feedback from clients – all these are more than worth it.
“I can’t ever imagine returning to the stresses of the corporate world,” he concludes. “This job is such a pleasure. Dog walking is its own reward.”