Being a pet care specialist entails spending slivers of each day with different dogs and cats. Most of our visits last about thirty minutes, which means that we are only present for a small portion of the pet’s daily life. Oftentimes, we don’t get to focus on the “fun stuff” with these pets, like playing and snuggling (though we definitely do that when we’re able), as we are either helping reinforce their training, coming across as an authority figure rather than a friend to the animal, or we’re busy taking care of other tasks like preparing their food, replacing their water, handling their litterboxes, or cleaning up after messes they’ve made.
However, with the dogs and cats we do see on a daily or weekly basis, we still form a bond and get to know each animal fairly well, getting to witness the various habits and quirks that make up each pet’s personality. There are pets that have behavior issues we get to help correct, pets with unhappy pasts that we get to see come out of their shell, and pets who we start visiting as puppies or kittens and get to watch grow into mature dogs or cats.
This is where our job is most rewarding, especially if we play a particular role in helping someone’s animal evolve into a happier, healthier, better behaved companion. Some key clients that come to mind for myself include an Alaskan Klee Kai, a Whoodle, and a Beagle/Terrier mix.
The Alaskan Klee Kai I’m thinking of is a young dog that is crated during the day, meaning that it’s my job to release him from the crate to go for a walk. His breed is already very suspicious of strangers, and this particular pup dislikes when his home and his crate are entered. He used to react aggressively upon my arrival and my attempts to coax him from his crate. In order to get him to cooperate, I had to work on how I approached him. As time went on, I practiced exercising control of how I responded to him, and he gradually went from seeing me as a threat toward his space to seeing me as a friend whose lead he could follow. Getting him out of his crate was once a careful chore, but now, he happily leaves the crate whenever I open it and is eager to follow my commands. We are able to go for longer walks and even play upon returning when time permits. Not only has this progress helped me gain more confidence in handling dogs that display aggression, but I have watched him become better socialized, as he has become quicker to trust new staff members.
There is a Whoodle I began walking when he was only a few months old and I first began my job as a pet care specialist. Like many puppies first learning to walk on a leash, he would sit down and balk at my attempts to take him anywhere. Just getting him to the end of the street was a challenge in that he kept trying to resist walking where I directed. He would also jump up fairly frequently and would bite at the leash or pull on it with his mouth as if it was a toy. While his antics were funny and somewhat adorable, I had to ensure that I didn’t encourage this behavior or play back. Instead, I needed to show him that our time together was about walking at a steady pace. Now over a year old, this particular Whoodle has come quite far. He walks at an equal pace to mine in the heel position without pulling, sitting down, jumping, or trying to play with the leash. His progress allows him the opportunity to take a break from his crate each day to get outside and get some exercise while his family is at work and school.
Though she and her owner have since moved out-of-state, I used to walk a very sweet but shy Beagle/Terrier mix who was once easily overwhelmed when out in public with anyone but her owner. I learned when I began visiting her on my own that she was usually fine walking through her building but would freeze once getting outside, sitting down and planting herself while staring at me with wide eyes. Her apartment building was also located in a busy, noisy area with many restaurants, so several people were usually outside and various work trucks were always coming and going. After some months of showing her that she could walk in different areas with people besides her owner without anything negative happening, she seemed to gain more confidence in herself. She routinely followed myself and my other team members without hesitation by the time it came for her to move. I felt much better about her departure knowing that she had the ability to adjust to a new pet care specialist upon reaching her new home.
Getting to participate in a pet’s progress and form relationships with them is perhaps the most rewarding aspect of being a pet care specialist. While dogs and cats are not as complex as humans and we cannot communicate to the same extent, I imagine that the satisfaction derived from training and handling them is much akin to teaching children. Everyone may not truly understand the appeal of this job, but I think the idea of shaping better futures and enriching daily lives is one that resonates with many, regardless of on what scale.