Legend… wait for it….. Every fan of American sitcom How I Met Your Mother will immediately hear Barney say “dary”, but in this case Danielle Raja, a third-year student of Psychology from Canada, actually has to wait occasionally. Things just don’t move quite as fast anymore with Shepherd mix Legend, who’s a whopping sixteen years old. “This is the oldest dog I’ve ever walked”, says Raja afterwards. In other words: it’s important to take it easy and take a short break every now and then.
Dog walker is an ideal side job to be covered in this Observant series. Unfortunately, Raja doesn’t have any assignments in the coming weeks. That’s why we decided to hire her to walk Legend, editor CF’s dog.
When she comes in, Raja first greets the owner and then almost immediately crouches down to greet the dog. He ‘jumps’ up from his spot and wags his tail slowly but enthusiastically. He’s ready for a nice, long walk. Well, long… He’ll manage for about “twenty to thirty minutes”, says the owner. “It depends on the day. But I only went for a very short walk with him this morning, so he’s saved up some energy.” That’s about all the instruction we need, so off we go.
T-shirt, flip-flops, sunglasses: it’s a nice day for a walk, about 23 degrees. It’s windy, though: sometimes the old dog struggles to keep his balance. Legend sets the pace. We walk to the small park between Tamboerijnstraat and Widelanken, one of Legend’s regular routes. Near the entrance to the park, Raja and Legend walk up and down a few times to pose for a picture. Legend decides it’s time to ‘go’ during the photo session. Raja picks up after him with a dog poop bag. “It’s not the most enjoyable part of the job, but it is part of it.”
Raja usually gets her assignments through the Pawshake app and first has an introductory meeting with the owner and a trial walk with the dog to see if it’s a good match. With Legend, this isn’t necessary; he’s a retired service dog who ‘clicks’ with everyone he meets, people and dogs alike. Near the end of the park, two women with a number of yipping lap dogs are engaged in conversation. Legend doesn’t react to their barking. There are way too many bushes and posts for him to sniff. Legend is an “above-average sniffer”, according to Raja. Contact with other dogs we run into also goes well. “The owners usually let me know in advance if ‘my’ dogs aren’t very friendly.”
Raja is used to working with dogs; she had the same job back in Canada. Especially on weekdays in the summer months, she walked dogs for people who work a lot. “But it’s usually on a regular basis, rather than a one-off. I’ll have a key of the house and take the dogs for walks. During the walks I make sure they don’t eat any plants or garbage, but Maastricht is quite a clean city. After that, I feed them, check the water level, pet them for a bit and then leave again. They make me happy, they’re so affectionate. It’s a great job. It doesn’t feel like working at all.”
In some cases, Raja even stays in people’s homes as a dog sitter. “I once had this dog in Canada who was super sweet on walks, but at home he attacked the cats and ate everything he could get his paws on: bags, paper, et cetera. I usually had to distract him so I could take it away from them and the cats could find a safe place to hide.”