From customer to walker – a new ‘leash’ of life!
Sarah lives with partner Steve and four year old Collie Retriever Domino on the maze more correctly known as Manor Farm, North Hykeham. For around three years Sarah has been a customer of VIPPIES, happy in the knowledge that when Domino is in VIPPIES care she is going to be looked after by people Sarah could trust and who go above and beyond to make Domino’s stay enjoyable. What’s more Sarah said; “They share their knowledge and experience with owners and help with any little issue, for example helping solve Domino’s sensitivities by introducing us to the raw food diet”.
A former press photographer, Sarah still freelances and is gradually moving more into pet, wedding and corporate photography as YellowBelly Photography, but her bread and butter these days is from her new ‘hobby with benefits’ as a part of Team VIPPIES. “It was back in the winter of this year (2019) when Sheena suggested I join the team. At first I was a bit concerned because I could get photography jobs at fairly short notice but because VIPPIES is a team effort Sheena did not see this as a problem as there is always back up.” Sarah is pretty much a fully fledged dog walker thanks to the training given to her by Denise, one of the most experienced members of Team VIPPIES; and she hopes to be able to foster dogs eventually, “Obviously that will depend on how Domino feels about having guests to stay!” she said.
Dogs have always been a big part of Sarah’s life and she fondly remembers Chloe, her parents’ dog who lived to 161/2 years – another Collie, featured on the coffee mug Sarah was drinking from. Domino was chosen because she had Collie in her genes, Sarah didn’t want a pure collie in the hope Domino might be less of a handful. Like all collie owners she has had to take her training very seriously – her own, not Domino’s! Help was given by a friend – a former police dog handler, plus about three years of obedience classes and some occasional flyball; finally Domino has pretty much got Sarah and Steve trained and they can all relax calmly at home.
It is fair to say that Sarah didn’t think she would enjoy any breed as a much as a Collie but she soon found herself loving the varying traits of different breeds. She makes sure she reads up on the characteristics of any dog breed before she meets them for a walk so she can have some idea of what to expect. Jake has helped her settle in with new dogs, and the VIPPIES team – especially Sheena – is only a phone call away if there is something she can’t fathom. The owner’s notes and, of course, the VIPPIES agreed care plan are essential to making walks run smoothly (as long as the owners keep them up to date). Things like the commands they respond to best, their funny little habits, which dogs they don’t like etc. all need to be recorded alongside special dietary or medical needs.
Her first walks with a couple of English Bulldogs followed by a Frenchie – couldn’t have been more different from a Collie. Brilliant snufflers, a steady pace, letter shredders and absolute pooping machines! “I take the two bulldogs together as they live together. I have discovered that there is quite an art to clearing up on a walk when you have a couple stocky dogs on retractable leads and a cyclist comes haring towards you!” she observed; Sarah never thought she would spend her days discussing doggy deposits with her boss.
It didn’t take long for Sarah to find that, once dogs are used to you, they greet you with absolute delight for their walks and fuss. But it can take a few visits to build that trust. One great tip Sheena gave her for reluctant walkers was to sit on the floor with a treat and the lead until the dog decides you are OK.
Sarah revealed, “I’ve certainly been sleeping well since working for VIPPIES and actually getting out of the house walking the dogs is good for the mind too. When you work for yourself at home it is sometimes so hard to motivate yourself to do all the mundane business tasks like marketing, admin and web design and this soon takes its toll on your mental state.” On a busy VIPPIES day Sarah’s itinerary looks a bit like this:
- Get up and go for a swim (usually 6:30 / 7:30am depending when the first walk is booked )
- Go home, have quick breakfast, walk Domino
- Do the morning walks
- Nip back home to spend half and hour with Domino early afternoon
- Do any afternoon walks/visits
- Go home and do some work for the photography business be it anything from Editing, Marketing, Social Media Posts, Admin, Web design Etc
- Four out of seven days she will then either run or cycle
- Cook tea, eat tea, clear up pots
- Watch 1-2hrs of TV, shower then bed
Quite the fitness fanatic Sarah started running in 2010 to lose weight and ran the Lincoln 10k in 2011 which gave her running bug so she signed up for the 10k again the following year. Sadly less than two weeks before the race her Dad got rushed into hospital with a problem with his blood, which turned out to be a rare from of Leukaemia. The night before the 10k she watched him pass away. They were very close, with many common interests and he too was a photographer.
Later that year Sarah went on to do her first half-marathon raising money for Leukaemia Research and is now is contemplating her third triathalon, hence the swimming and cycling in her schedule each day. So you could say the new work with VIPPIES is an additional part of her training regime!
One interesting aspect of being a walker with your own dog at home is the guilt trip only a dog can give you when you come home smelling of other dogs. “If I have a busy day with VIPPIES sometimes I think I might be neglecting Domino but the way the walking pans out always gives me time to drop in on her regularly. And she always gets the first walk of the day.” If Sarah is walking a dog Domino knows and likes Sarah’s partner Steve will sometimes tag along with Domino, having made sure it is OK with the other owners. “They always have to wait outside or in the car until I come out of the house with the dog. The look on Domino’s face when she sees me with another dog is almost – ‘How dare you’ , but it is OK in the end”. From Sarah’s photos it is easy to see that Domino ends up having a great time with new friends and it adds some brilliant socialising for the dogs whilst keeping the individual attention for the client.
VIPPIES is a great employer in Sarah’s opinion reflecting their family values; even though she had been working with them for just a few weeks she got a birthday present. As they are so flexible with her business she is very flexible with them and is willing to walk for them from dusk to dawn if necessary.
Needless to say Sarah’s phone is crammed with dog walking photos, you can see it is bringing real joy to her and the dogs she cares for.