Oftentimes, when to pursue your own dreams and interests you stop working for “THE Man” — as I did six years ago — you end up, unfortunately, without “THE Salary” and without “THE Benefits.”
That — the no more health insurance part — is why I haven’t seen a doctor in six years.
That — the no more salary part — is why, in addition to being an author, freelance writer, photographer and blogger, I recently became a bartender and, even more recently, a dog walker.
I suppose I should be thanking our President for finally being able to get myself some health insurance. He’s the one who made it possible. But Lily, sweet Lily, made it doable.
If being paid to spend time with Lily makes me a gigolo, then call me a gigolo. True, I come calling on her twice a day, three times a week. I knock on her door, give her a hug when it opens, and then wrap her coat snugly around her, making sure her fluffy white ears don’t get caught inside.
We ride the elevator down to the first floor of the assisted living center in which she and her owner live and go outside for a 20-minute stroll — during most of which she walks daintily along the top of the curb, like a tightrope walker. She fastidiously poops in the same spot each time, in the woods on a vacant lot. She stops when I stop, goes when I go, and has never once caused the slightest tug on her retractable leash.
After the walk — and I’ve never met a dog who’s easier to walk — we go back inside. Then we sit in the lounge area and snuggle for maybe five minutes. That is my favorite part and, though it may be vain of me to think so, her’s too.
My other favorite part is seeing the reaction of residents when a dog comes into the room, the smiles that instantly appear and the hands that reach out. It’s amazing the change in atmosphere one dog’s presence can produce.
I’ve often thought it would be great to run some kind of program that not only brought dogs into facilities for the elderly, but found them homes there, and provided support and help to residents who wanted dogs of their own, but had concerns about whether they could manage it.
That would be fun, and noble, and help homeless dogs, and assist in bringing immeasurable joy to people.
But it wouldn’t pay my bills — much less provide health insurance for me.
I charge Lily $6.50 for each session.
In a month, that earns me enough to pay my $137.67 monthly health insurance premium, as determined by the Affordable Health Care Act, based on my income.
That income pales in comparison to what I made as a newspaper reporter, back when I worked for THE Man. I left my last newspaper job in 2008 to write a book, but also because, amid continued shrinkage and cutbacks, it had become nearly impossible to do a story justice and give it the attention it deserved. After that my dog and I traveled the country, and I tinkered with another book, while continuing to write this blog.
We ended up in North Carolina, and last year moved to the little town of Bethania.
A few months ago I started working the bar and grill at a golf course down the street from my rented house. Not to bore you with my finances, but that two-day-a-week job, coupled with my newspaper reporter pension, makes it possible to pay my rent, bills and other debts. I wasn’t bringing in enough for health insurance, though, and — after countless hours wandering around healthcare.gov — I had pretty much decided I would continue do without, pay the penalty fee, and treat any diseases or disorders that arose with chicken soup and ibuprofen.
One afternoon, at the golf course, the aunt of another employee visited and told me about her dog-walking business — business maybe not being the right word. It’s sort of more in between a business and volunteering. She helps residents of an assisted living center with chores, ranging from shopping trips to dog walking, charging a rate that does little more than pay for her gas.
She, like me, feels strongly that dogs can improve the lives of elderly people, especially those who live alone. I told her if she was ever in a pinch, and in need of a fill-in dog walker, I’d be glad to help out.
A few weeks later she called, and I began walking Miss Lily — at first temporarily, then regularly.
The insurance plan Lily has enabled me to get is not the kind that pays for everything.
It’s more, as I understand it, the type that, after I spend $3,000 or so I don’t have on doctors, will kick in and pay 60 percent or so of my qualifying medical expenses. Even with it, one good medical crisis will probably still send me into financial ruin. But at least it’s something, and I’m abiding by the law, and it might make me more likely to visit a doctor.
And even if I don’t, I’ll still be reaping some health benefits – between all the dog cuddling, which is good for the heart, and all the dog walking, which is good for the heart.
I’m sure there will be much confusion, red tape and arguing ahead when it comes to my health insurance. There always is. And with my income being of the fluctuating variety — depending on the stories I sell, the dogs I walk, the beers I serve — I don’t understand how we will determine the premium I should pay in the future. Is it based on last year’s income? Or this year’s income, which I won’t know until the year is finished?
Just last month, two more dogs showed up at the assisted living facility. First came a Boston terrier named Punkin. I take him for three walks a day, three days a week. Then came Gretel, a miniature schnauzer who is 13, and the fastest walker of the bunch.
For the record, Republican leaders, that doesn’t sap me of any incentive. I still want to have as much money as you. I’d still like to have the kind of health insurance you have.
But at least I can take a rebellious sort of pride in the fact that I’m not working for THE Man.
No. Not me. I’m working for a kind and gentle, polite and refined, sweet and loving curbwalker. I’m working for THE Poodle.
Posted by John Woestendiek March 4th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: affordable health care, animals, assisted living, benefits, costs, dog walking, dogs, dogwalking, elderly, escort, gigolo, health, health care, insurance, lily, newspapers, north carolina, obama, obama care, pets, poodle, premiums, president, salary, the man
Dogs. (Then again, they see the bright side in pretty much everything.)
With their owners spending more time at home, the pets of furloughed federal workers are likely getting more attention, more dog park time, more time to snuggle while watching daytime TV on the couch.
Let’s just hope no one gets too used to it.
The shutdown, while already hurting some pet-related business, is helping some others. The Huffington Post reports that business is booming, for example, at Muddy Mutt, a self-serve dog wash next to Shirlington Dog Park in Northern Virginia.
“I’m getting more business because people aren’t working,” said Andrew Low, owner of the Muddy Mutt, where dog owners commonly bring their dogs in after romping in the river. Low said the business is usually quiet during the week. But since the furlough? “Twenty-five on Monday, 14 on Tuesday, 23 yesterday… We don’t even ever come close to that.”
The furlough might be bad news, though, for professional dog walkers in the DC area.
Christina Bell, owner of Doggy Daze DC, said that business is down by about half since the shutdown went into effect. JJ Scheele says her business, Dog Walking DC, has also taken a hit.
“All the walkers are down anywhere from one to three dogs,” Scheele said.
At Just Walk DC, a dog-walking cooperative, Meg Levine said the decrease of customers, three days into the shutdown, has been slight. But between government-employed pet owners having more time, and less income, a protracted shutdown could hurt dogwalkers badly — not to mention the rest of the country.
“There certainly is a sense of frustration from a lot of my clients, who feel that this is just needless roadblocking,”Levine said. “For the most part, we are continuing to chug along and feeling very hopeful this will end soon. I like D.C. when it functions. Oh, this town.”
(Photo: Dog walker Meg Levine, courtesy of Just Walk DC)
Posted by John Woestendiek October 4th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, business, dc, dog walking, dogs, dogwalkers, dogwalking, economy, effects, employees, federal, federal government, furlough, furloughed, government, government shutdown, home, pets, politicians, ripple, shutdown, washington
I want Muttens.
A friend sent me the link to the website for Muttens, which are basically retractable gloves that allow you to pop your fingers out and do what you need to do with them — pick up poop, tie your shoe, answer the cell phone — then recloak them in warmth when you’re done.
But they’re made primarily for dog walking – developed in Chicago (necessity is the mother of invention), by Jim Devers, who got tired of freezing his hands off everytime he had to scoop up the poop of his Pomeranian, Bailey. You know the drill — you take off your mittens or gloves, or at least one of them, pick up the poop, tie the bag, toss it in the trash can, then realize you have only one glove left.
With Muttens — sort of the convertible version of mittens — you can free your hands for all those tasks that require some nimbleness — like hooking and unhooking the leash, poop disposal, getting your key out of your pocket. You can even hold the leash — even a retractable one — inside the mitten.
The cleverly named hand warmers run $19.95 a pair, or six pair for $60.
(Photo courtesy of Muttens.com)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 16th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: chicago, clothing, cold weather, dog, dog walking, dogs, dogwalking, fingers, gloves, hands, jim devers, mittens, muttens, poop, products, retractable, scoop, tasks, warm, winter, winter wear
I’m not going to make fun of this study. I’m not going to make fun of this study. I’m not going to make fun of this …
Ah, I can’t resist.
If that sounds like a no-brainer — one of those things that perhaps man could figure out without an expensive study – consider this: “An early look at the data shows that the dogs who walk the most steps have a better body condition score.”
In all fairness, there’s more to the study than determining whether exercise is good for us and our dogs; and dog walking habits could, if properly approached, make for some pretty interesting reading.
Basically, I see three types of dogwalkers: Those who jog with their dogs, clearly getting exercise; those who hike or walk laps with their dogs, also getting exercise; and those who take their dogs to the park and let the dogs get all the exercise while they sit on the bench, yap with fellow dog walkers, smoke, or talk on cell phones.
In defense of the latter group, it should be pointed out that we they, are still getting exercise by virtue of walking to the park, and that, rather than being total slouches, they may prefer to let their dogs playfully romp and socialize off leash with other dogs — thereby getting even more exercise (the dogs, anyway) than they would by being walked in boring circles on a rope.
It should also be pointed out that members of the more sedentary latter group — while violating leash laws — are also allowing their dogs to gain social skills, and, perhaps, honing their own in the process.
But back to the study. Cornell researcher Barbour Warren says they are analyzing everything from how much dogs and humans actually walk together to human attitudes, and the decisions to walk the dog or not walk the dog.
“We’re trying to get people to make small changes in the amount of food they take and the amount of physical activity they take,” says Warren, “and finding out how dog walking might be involved and how typical veterinary practices might be involved in helping more.”
Warren says the study stems from the rise of obesity in the USA and obesity-related illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and arthritis. More than two-thirds of the people across the nation are overweight and one third are considered obese. Dogs are increasingly falling into those categories as well.
“We became interested in trying to prevent weight gain,” he says. “Dog walking offers two of the key elements for regular physical activity, purpose and companionship. Dogs can provide both of these in spades.”
The goal of the study is to develop the necessary data and tools to build a program to combat obesity by increasing dog walking as a form of family exercise.
Posted by John Woestendiek August 18th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: cornell, date, dog, dog walking, dogs, dogwalking, exercise, humans, obesity, overweight, research, skills, social, socialize, study, university, walking, weight gain
The Maryland town of Mount Airy has opened its first dog park.
In the works for 18 months, the Mount Airy Dog Park, located on the grounds of Watkins Park on state Route 27, will hold a grand opening Wednesday, but is already open to dogs and their walkers, according to The Gazette.
Use of the park is free to town residents, whose taxes paid to build it, but they are required to register and get a pass. Residents should bring a water bill to prove residence, and have a county registration tag for their pet.
Non-residents can get passes allowing use of the park for the rest of this year for $15. The fee is $20 starting in 2010.
At 5 p.m. Wednesday, town officials will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The town has spent about $12,000 on the park, mostly for fencing and signs.
Additional improvements – including landscaping, a pergola and pet waste posts, are expected in the future. Routine maintenance will be handled by a nearby resident volunteered to cut the grass in exchange for his two dog’s 2009 entry fees.
Pet owners must sign a waiver when registering their dog, as well as review the rules for the park, which include no aggressive dogs, picking up after their dogs, and not leaving pets unattended.
The special tags required for admittance to the Mount Airy Dog Park. are available at The Pet Loft in the Mount Airy Shopping Center, 309 E. Ridgeville Ave., Mount Airy.
Posted by John Woestendiek March 28th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: dog park, dogs, dogwalking, hiking, maryland, mount airy, mount airy dog park, new, opens, pass, tags, the pet loft, town, walking, watkins park
Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Daniel Rubin was taking his dog Harley for a short morning walk. You know the kind. Hurry up and do your business … It’s cold … Gotta get to work. But — as will happen when new dog meets freshly fallen snow – the short walk turned into a long walk, an acquaintance turned into a friend, and, more important for Dan, taking the time to go down a new path or two turned into a column. Here’s what he posted on his Facebook page, which he later condensed into a column, which appears in today’s Inquirer.
Harley’s first step out the door is up — straight up — all 100-or-so loping, furry, orsine pounds of Bouvier twisting, leaping, soaring into the air. He looks back, wild-eyed and grinning.
To be a dog in the snow.
The idea was to walk him long enough so he could do his thing, then I could excavate the car and drive into town, where bad roads and deadline awaited.
But everytime this dog sees a blanket of snow, he’s seeing it for the first time. I’m not sure how bright he is. But he does know how to live.
We took the middle of the road, usually a whoosh of morning traffic, but there were no cars, no sound. There were no sidewalks yet either at 7 o’clock, just slight furrows in the virgin snow.
In the next block a lone figure shoveled the deep, airy powder. He was pink-faced and wore a beret, a field jacket, sweats and Wellies.
“Nice day for a walk,” he said, happily stopping for a moment.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 5th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: age, bouvier, column, columnist, daniel rubin, dog, dog in snow, dogwalking, exuberance, friends, harley, morning, neighbors, philadelphia inquirer, routine, snow, walk, walking, weather, winter, woods, youth