Walking the Walk
It’s a dog’s life for Hermosa Beach entrepreneur Jen Carpenter.
- Edited byFabienne Marsh
The stickers on the Ford van parked outside her Hermosa Beach home say it all: “Happiness Is … Being a Dog Walker” and “I love my Japanese Chin.” That happiness is the result of the hard work and pluck that makes Jen’s business what America’s global future is about in microcosm. Reinvent yourself and follow your bliss. If there are not jobs out there, create one.
Her baby daughter, Macey, is babbling throughout this interview, with five dogs outside, then inside—a masterful choreography of motherhood, human and canine. Her own dogs, Buddy and Biggie Smalls, are heading for Macey’s Cheerios, while Macey is scooped up before reaching the dogs’ water bowl.
You graduated from UCLA with a degree in economics.
Yes. Then I was an HR recruiting manager for big companies for 12 years. When the dot-com bubble exploded, I ended up making cold calls as a head hunter, and I hated it. I dreaded Monday mornings.
So what did you do?
I had some savings and knew I wanted to work with animals. They had always been my first love, so I took courses and was going to open a shop for dog grooming.
I met a woman who was looking for a part-time dog walker on Saturdays. My father said, “You’re going to do what? Be a dog walker?!”
I agreed to do it if she would refer her clients to me. She became a friend and ended up selling her business to me in 2004.
What did that involve?
I was basically buying her clients. She was close to them. I was close to them. We wanted the transition to be seamless.
By the time she sold it to me, I was familiar with the rates, the billing and the clients. They consider me family. I put myself in the position of the customer.
During this period, you got married and had a baby. Did that change anything regarding your business?
I don’t think he realized what he was getting into. We grew up together, and I met him at my 20th high school reunion. We were married in a year, and two years later my daughter, Macey, came along.
A lot of people didn’t even know I had Macey. There was no interruption in service.
When did he realize that dogs were a permanent part of your domestic situation?
He’s a clean freak, and the dogs had to leave the bed. He asks when we can get away on weekends and, often, we can’t. It’s hard to take a vacation.
When I call you, you’re out of breath. How do you walk the dogs and balance that with your baby?
I walk about eight dogs at a time. I don’t walk in areas where there might be drama, like The Strand, because sometimes people get upset, which surprises me.
Do they think you’re a hoarder?
I don’t know. They get angry and comment, “You have too many dogs.” I don’t understand that.
How long have you known that you wanted to work with animals?
Forever. When I was younger, I thought I would want to own a pet shop and sell dogs, before I learned that it’s not a cool thing to do. I would think, “What else can I do?”
I didn’t even know that dog walking existed. Grooming was the only thing I could think of. So a whole world opened up.
You get to be outside. You get to exercise and be around dogs all day long–it’s great.
What’s the best part of your work?
I am extremely close to my dogs and their families. When I had got married and had Macey, my clients would send gifts.
They didn’t worry that having a baby would affect their babies?
Not really, because customer service is my most important thing, probably to a fault. I go above and beyond.
When one of my clients called me from out of state in a panic and asked me to drive to San Diego to pick up her dog, because the dog had been left there, I did it. I’ll do anything for them. Her dog is like my dog—a second mom.
What’s the most demanded time slot?
What’s the hardest part of what you do?
Seeing my dogs get sick and pass away. I cry along with the family. It’s really hard. Dogs don’t live as long as we do.
You’ve been doing this for eight years, so how many have passed?
At least 30.
How many clients got new puppies?
Almost all of them. Right away. And they’re ready to come back.
There are trendy baby names, but what about dog names?
I have five Rileys, Rubys and Lucys. A few Bellas and Lilys and one Eva, Emily, Dobson, Bubba, Bates, Tank and Oz.
How many dogs’ names do you have in your head on any given day?
At least 70.
What will you teach Macey about dogs?
I agree with Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer.” Until a dog warms up to you, no touch, no talk, no eye contact. After that, stroke the side of the body. Never the face.
On your van, there’s a sticker: “I Love My Japanese Chin.” What’s that?
It’s a breed. The sweetest, most gentle dogs—very quiet and regal. I’ve had them for years. My parents have them. I got him from Japanese Chin rescue. He was my first baby.