If you’re a dog owner who doesn’t work from home, you know one of the hardest parts of your day is leaving your pooch to go off to work (personally I may have cried a bit the first time I left my puppy at home by himself.) And unfortunately, for most city dwellers, you can’t stick your pet in your nice fenced-in yard so they are stuck in the apartment. That is why in most cities, especially New York, you may find yourself crossing the street with a dog walker and one, two or six of their charges. With approximately 600,000 dogs living in NYC, dog walking is a pretty good business to be in. We were lucky enough to talk to two young women, Heather Doll and Stacia Anderson, who started their own dog walking business, RuffCity, in 2010. They opened up about the difference between New York City dogs (and their owners), the challenges of canine clients, running a small business and Hurricane Sandy.
How did RuffCity come together?
We started living together on the Upper East Side in the summer of 2007. Heather was working at an ad agency in Soho and Stacia was
finishing up her Bachelor’s Degree at the New York School of Interior Design. Heather’s pup Blakely was the 3rd roommate and that
continued for three years. We quickly realized that we weren’t the only people in NYC obsessed with their dog (and everyone else’s) and that it was very possible to combine our biggest passion with our career paths. In 2010, recently after Stacia graduated from NYSID and armed with fantastic resources from Heather’s ad agency, we pulled the trigger and RuffCity was finally born. With a logo, a website up and running, newly found free time on both of our hands (Heather quit her job to focus on RuffCity full-time), and eager and excited ambition, we hit the streets (and the interwebs) to promote, promote, promote.
It’s been two and a half years now and we couldn’t be happier with how things are going. We’ve proved that our model of dedicated personal attention to each owner and pup (no matter how little sleep it causes us) is what sets us apart from other dog walking companies. We now have 12 walkers (excluding Stacia and I) and over 90 clients between RuffCity Uptown (Stacia) and RuffCity Downtown (Heather). But we bet if you were to ask any of our clients, they wouldn’t believe that. New client requests are now 100% based on word of mouth and review sites like Yelp.
What is your daily schedule like?
We’re up early on our busiest days, Monday-Friday, handling any schedule changes or requests, preparing the team for their routes that day, walking our own dogs and basically just making sure the day is set to run smoothly. There are A LOT of moving parts daily.
Between Uptown and Downtown we handle about 60 walks a day, which very from dog park fun, vet visits, daycare pick-ups, or simple
strolls through their familiar neighborhoods.
They are all individual walks, with the few exceptions of pups that are neighbors and friends and whose owners like them to be walked together. We don’t believe in pack walks as we think they take away from the dog’s experience and from our ability to build the relationships we want with them.
Then there’s invoicing, payroll, overnights coordination, and meeting and setting up the new pups in the RuffCity family. And when we can find the time, of course we’re brainstorming ways to improve and grow while still maintaining the family feel that draws so
many owners to us to begin with.
Do you think walking dogs in NYC is a little different than walking them in other places?
Isn’t everything in NYC different? We absolutely don’t think dog walking is any exception. Unlike in the suburbs, the importance of
socialization is first-tier in their training for the dogs of the city. Contrary to a lot of people’s opinions about owning a dog in a big city
and a small apartment, NYC dogs live the life. Constantly stimulated, never bored, and always surrounded by a plethora of fellow four-legged friends. And the relationships between owner and dog, and walker and dog are stronger because we are their only connection to the outside world.
Not to mention the “head-on-a-swivel” technique we have all become experts at to avoid the various leftover treats on the streets of NYC!