Dog walkers add companionship, remove guilt By Paul Andrew It’s not just the people and the village that have changed in Whistler’s last 10 years. According to the experts, dogs are different now, too. The Whistler dog is an active, happy pal which rarely takes a back seat to anything. And it is well taken care of now that there are at least two dog walking businesses established in the valley, one of whom will gladly water your plants, feed your cat and pick up your groceries in between morning and afternoon dog walks. That is, if you have a good interview. But even then, exceptions can be made because behaviour is one of the mandates of Powder Hounds and Trail Dogs, two successful businesses in Whistler that offer year-round, daily exercise for your dog. Rachelle Dorward, who recently celebrated her first year in business with Trail Dogs, said at least two types of dog owners exist: one who cannot bear the thought of leaving their dog inside or tied up all day; the other who doesn’t think twice about it. Dorward says Whistlerites will now buy a dog knowing her service, along with Powder Hounds, is available. "There’s a different dog in Whistler now. Very active, like their owners," Dorward said. "I’ve been working year-round and I don’t see it slowing down. I had to hire my first employee the other day because I haven’t had any time off in months." And there seems to be plenty of dogs to go around. Jim Vaitekumas discovered there was some 700 dogs registered in Whistler last year, and another 700 unregistered. "I could see the business growing exponentially for someone who wants to take it on," Vaitekumas said. "I take on enough dogs to make a living. Places like Vancouver or Toronto, the businesses get so big that they begin turning dogs away if the dog and the owner don’t pass the interview." For a price, both of these businesses will pretty much care for your dog for the day. You could compare it to a babysitting business, with one big difference: The whole point is to take your dog for some exercise and companionship. Along with that come the manners necessary in the 1990s. Dogs are everywhere in Whistler and they must be well behaved in social situations. "All my dogs wear bear bells with pager numbers on them. But I’ve never had a dog take off on me. I’ve obtained a lot of knowledge since I began," said Dorward. "But sometimes my interview with parents will last more than an hour because I want to know all about the dogs and they want to know about me. It’s all about trust. I’m going into these people’s houses and picking up their dogs, getting their groceries. Sometimes I’ll even feed the cat." Dorward said it isn’t just the wealthy who pay for her service. Most of her clientele are working folk making average salaries. For about $20 a day, she will walk your dog twice a day with the group. One hour private sessions are also available. Vaitekumas’s prices are similar. "A couple of months ago, I read in People magazine that it’s a real trendy thing to have your dog walked," Vaitekumas said. "And people depend on you. Once they start they don’t know how they ever got along without the service. The fact is, they don’t feel guilty anymore because they know their dogs are happy. It’s just like a member of the family." Both Dorward and Vaitekumas agree having a yard for your dog is better than leaving it inside tied up all day, but a yard alone doesn’t provide the spiritual fulfilment of companionship and exercise — and that is the bottom line in their business. "A lot of people wouldn’t even think about having a dog if we weren’t here. A yard is great but it’s not the end-all-to-be-all," Vaitekumas added. "I started this business because I felt guilty about leaving my dog inside for eight hours," Dorward said. "People who neglect their dogs are probably the same people who won’t be able to have kids either. "I feel sorry for those dogs but there’s nothing we can do about it."