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Dog walker interview: Josh Schermer of Downtown Pets in NYC

by Therese on April 28, 2010

in Dog walking, Pet Pros Interviews, Pet Sitting, The Pet Care Biz

Josh Schermer is a professional dog walker and pet sitter, and the owner of Downtown Pets in New York City. They offer dog walking and pet sitting services in Lower Manhattan. Downtown Pets is a green dog walking company and is based on providing a personal approach to clients and their dogs. Josh is also the author of the Dog Walker and Pet Sitter Bible, which I reviewed last week.

You offer pet sitting and dog walking services in New York City, but do you do one more than the other?

The major service we offer is dog walking but we have performed well over 1,000 in home pet sits too! Our newest service is long distance dog running and we’re very excited about the impact the runs have on anxious, aggressive and overweight dogs.

How does a dog walker manage dogs from different households?

At Downtown Pets we almost only walk dogs individually. We’ll walk up to two dogs at a time but we walk them on opposite sides of the walker’s body. It’s our belief that when you walk more than two dogs at a time on one side of your body you do not have full control of the outermost dog.

What prompted you to start a dog walking and pet sitting business?

My connection with animals was formed at a very young age. When I was in 4th grade I spent months trying to lure a stray cat out of an abandoned building in my neighborhood. Two days after I was able to get the stray out of the abandoned building some construction workers blew it up! From that point forth I have felt a role as a protector of animals. And the cat I saved? It lived eighteen wonderful years with my family. 🙂 Starting a pet care business felt very organic to me.

What do you enjoy most about owning a dog walking / pet sitting company?

I love helping my clients with their dog’s issues. It’s definitely the most rewarding part of the job. We’ve helped house train and leash train hundreds of dogs as well as helped endless dogs with separation anxiety.

I also love providing a living wage for my employees to live in New York City, not an easy place to live. I’m very engaged in seeing my employees do great here and then seeing them move onto a career oriented job.

How do you screen potential employees to ensure your clients get the best care for their pets?

  • We have initial criteria they must pass to even get called for an interview.
  • We look for college educated, talented people  who are pursuing a career.
  • We ask for multiple references.
  • We perform electronic background checks.
  • They must go through 3 weeks of very intensive training.
  • They are monitored walking dogs without them realizing it.

What advice do you have for pet owners who are using a dog walker or pet sitter for the first time?

I would recommend you consider the following questions:

  • What are their philosophies?
  • What is their plan for if things go wrong?
  • What happens if the pet sitter falls through? Are there backups in place?
  • See if they ask you to fill out an application and if so do they ask for health information? Allergies? Vet info? Emergency contacts?

On a side note I wouldn’t necessarily base the pet sitter / dog walker on how your dog reacts to them while they are there. Unless you see an amazingly adverse reaction to the person I’d keep in mind that the dogs can feel the energy of your meeting and they probably know you are talking about them. 🙂 Some dogs will also defend their house and you the owner from this stranger entering the home.

The pet sitting / dog walking industry is growing by leaps and bounds. Do you think it will continue to grow and what do you think that growth will mean to the industry?

I do think the pet sitting & dog walking industry will continue to grow because first time pet owners are skyrocketing. Because of this I think it will become increasingly hard for companies to hire good dog walkers because more people are looking to dog walk for themselves. On the positive side I think the industry is attracting more talented people than it ever has before.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Cindy Nevarez April 29, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Fantastic post Therese!
And what a great inspiration this man Josh is! I wish every starter in this business, and everyone veteran could read this interview and think about why they do what they do.
Thank you for sharing!

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MPetPals April 29, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Great post! Nice to see another pet sitter doing well. And, since I am hoping to hire soon I am grateful for the info on that. Do you know if he has employees or ICs?

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Therese April 29, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Hi Mel,

They’re all employees – no ICS.
http://downtownpet.com/about-us-dog-walkers.html

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Robert April 30, 2010 at 4:18 pm

What an awesome interview – thanks for sharing this on your blog Therese!

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PT November 14, 2011 at 11:12 am

We switched away from Downtown Pets after a less than stellar experience. We were informed our entire route was being eliminated. Then we were told it wasn’t. Then we were told it was probably going away. As a dog owner with a regular job, I need stability in a dog walking service. Downtown Pets was not stable.
Downtown Pets likes coordinate all communication through Josh rather than directly with the walkers. On several occasions we were told not to leave notes for our walker (i.e. “Please use her coat today”). Josh also seemed surprised that we wanted to meet the walker prior to starting. Maybe other owners are different, but I like the idea of being able to meet and contact someone that has the keys to our apartment.
On several occasions Josh revealed personal information about the walker, which was both unprofessional and disconcerting. If our dog walker is having “personal issues” as Josh said, why should we trust the walker entering our home or trust Downtown Pets’ hiring?
We thought the responsibility of the walker was to walk our dog. We were informed our pup needed additional training because our dog walker had trouble getting her away from our building. It turns out our neighbors are very quick to say hello. Instead of bringing the pup past the neighbors, Josh blamed the pup for being too social.
After being told we needed to change walkers, we met with many other services and individuals. Downtown Pets pricing is definitely at the high end of the spectrum, even for services.
Our walker was a very nice guy and we wish him the best.
For other pet owners, we recommend you look elsewhere for dog walking services. We value stability, service and a reasonable price. Downtown Pets failed on those fronts.

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