Like most would-be writers, I’ve tried my hands at a score of ‘real’ aka paying jobs over the years. And like many other people on the autism spectrum, I’ve found it a challenge holding any of them. Until one day, sitting with my cats in my studio apartment, I went online at Craigslist and found an ad for a dog-walking agency. And that chance encounter put me on a path to a new career and the first one that really ‘fit.’
One night I started a regaling a family friend with stories about my work. She told me I should write a book and so I have. The Dog-Walking Diaries is a memoir of my first year as a dog-walker when I was living in the D.C. area. Since then, I’ve moved to Pittsburgh and now work mostly independently rather than through an agency. But I still spend my days in the company of pets. I’ve met purebreds living in high rise buildings who are trained in elevator etiquette to semi-feral mutts who chew up the yards. I’ve met tiny toy dogs who slept on embroidered pillows, and ginormous hounds the size of ATV’s. I’ve walked dogs who were raring at leash to go and dogs who hated any kind of exercise and dug in their heels at the same time. (In case, you’re wondering, yes my arms did get a good stretch on that one.) I’ve had to go out in when it was 100 degrees outside, and when it was freezing cold and the streets were caked in ice. I’d walked dogs when it was raining buckets and when I’ve been feeling sick. I’ve been barked at, growled at, and even bitten.
But for all that dog-walking/pet-sitting is the best job I’ve ever had. There are so many advantages flexible hours, limited contact with people, regular outdoor exercise, and best of all the wonderful four-footed friends you make. Being on the spectrum, I find animals infinitely easier to deal with than people. Consider the following reasons.
- Animals are much, MUCH cuter than people. Dogs and cats (typically) have the advantages of being furry, having tails, and even big floppy or pointed ears.
- Animals don’t talk back. Oh, they make communicate all right and they make noise but they will NOT bore you with small talk about their favorite reality tv shows or details about their weekend. Nor are YOU expected to keep up a flow of conversation with them. You can just stay quiet and enjoy the walk or the couch in peace.
- Dogs or cats don’t lie or send you mixed messages. If they’re happy they’ll let you know either by wagging tails or purrs. If they’re NOT happy, then they’ll make that pretty clear to you too. Human beings however, are famous for not always saying what they really mean, and are thus much more confusing.
- They’re much less complicated to form relationships with. Generally with dogs if you give them food and petting then they will like you. Cats aren’t necessarily as affectionate but it’s still pretty simple; feed them and leave them alone. People are far more difficult in this respect.
Though as it turns out, one unexpected benefit of my current line of work is that I often form relationships with the owners as well. Usually owners are happy as long as their pets are. Others have been ahem a little more challenging. Many of my current clientele live in the same apartment building as I do. Walking their dogs and feeding their cats has helped me get to know my neighbors better. I also find as I know more people, I attract more and more clients. And, I’m always looking for new clients. It’s a happy cycle all around. Even if you get shed on.