Radio New Zealand Interview

Kate Macdougall: London’s No1 Dog Walking Agency

From Nine To Noon, 10:08 am on 14 September 2021

Evian water, security guards and post-walk story time were part and parcel of the job for a London dog walker.

Kate Macdougall has written a memoir, London’s No. 1 Dog Walking Agency, about her time as a London pooch companion.

It was a chance meeting with a cocker spaniel in a London park that set Macdougall off at a career tangent, she says.

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“It was a spaniel owned by a well-known British actress and she was on stage at the time on a Saturday afternoon and I was at a picnic in Hyde Park with some friends and met this guy who was holding this dog.

“I’ve always been someone who’s sees a dog and has just gone straight up to it and said, ‘can I say hi to your dog?’

“And he told me that he was walking it and it’s funny because dog walking just wasn’t a thing back then, it was 2006 and no one really had a dog walker. So, I was instantly intrigued.”

Macdougall had been working at auction house Sothebys, but was ready for a new challenge.

“I did spend some time in my late teens in New York and dog walking was a big, big thing, you were constantly having to sort of stand back as sort of armies of Chihuahuas walked past you down Fifth Avenue.”

She started a website and began to build a customer base, she says.

“I just sort of thought, well, how hard can this be? And just very much jumped in the deep end without really thinking it through.”

She quickly realised that there was an infinite variety of dogs and owners in London.

“Fabio was a very flamboyant dog. I’d like to say he was a dog that seemed to be aware of his heritage and his upbringing, he was brought up in Rome and came from a distinguished line of spaniels and was always turned out immaculately.

“He came to stay with us in our little basement flat in Vauxhall and I think he wasn’t very impressed by our neighborhood.

“He was the kind of dog who would turn heads in the park, which, was very amusing.”

Fabio has been raised to be Hindu and had special dietary requirements, she says. Which all went wrong when they gave the dog left over spaghetti bolognaise.

“It didn’t go very well with his digestive system, or his religious beliefs.”

She says the job gave her privileged insights into London’s dog owners.

“It’s a fascinating job really, on the one hand, you think oh, it’s just walking dogs. But actually, you’re getting this little insight into people’s lives and how these different families across London work.

“And I never sort of forgot what a privilege it was really to be such a trusted member of a household and to sort of pick up all these little bits of information about people’s lives along the way.”

She eventually became immune to some of the bizarre requests she got – from owners who insisted on bottled water for a pug, a Shiatsu massage for a poodle and walking a Pomeranian while it was dressed in a fairy costume

“I think the requests at the beginning were just so gob-smacking because it was just such a new and strange thing that I was doing, I sort of found them all just completely unbelievable.

“We had a dog quite early on that quite liked having a bedtime story at the end of a walk. And was quite into Harry Potter and Enid Blyton.

“I mean, it just sounds completely bonkers. But you know, if you break it down, it was probably just the sort of soothing voice that those books kind of instill in the reader.

“So, it was probably just a nice way of calming the dog down after a walk.”

She had a Welsh border collie that couldn’t shake off his roots, she says.

“He liked to sort of herd up commuters on their way to the tube because it was used to being up a mountain in Wales.”

Despite being one of the world’s major cities, London is very dog friendly, she says.

“I think London is really blessed with its parks. There are some fantastic open green spaces and I think for dogs, it’s an absolute paradise. If you’re going to live in a city as a dog, then you couldn’t pick a better one than London.”