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To professional walkers, dog days are the best kind

It’s no secret that in many households, dogs are more like family members than pets.

And when pet parents are away, they go to great lengths to make sure Fido is cared for and happy. The services and activities available run the spectrum from simple dog walking to luxury perks. They can take the form of day care and camps, boarding resorts, training, grooming and even concierge services.

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But independent dog walkers in many ways have become like nannies, offering daytime and overnight pet sitting or more comprehensive service — some animals require insulin or have other medical needs.

Local pet owners can find all variety of such services.

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For instance, Kevin Burke, owner of Dog Republic in Newport Beach, served as an escort to a pet party. He recently accompanied four of his canine clients to a “Sip N’ See,” a puppy shower at the Newport Beach Tennis Club thrown by Scott and Hillary Simon for their 10-week-old pug, Eloise.

For some dog walkers, it’s a part-time job to supplement their income.

Kat Austin, who works full time as admissions coordinator for Toni & Guy Hairdressing Academy, juggles caring for her “fur babies” in the same way she would a family member.

The Newport Beach resident’s day begins at 5:30 a.m., when she picks up a neighbor’s dog, Harley, for a 30- to 40-minute walk before she goes to work. Austin then dashes home during her lunch break to tend to the pups in her care.

“I run more of a VIP service. I don’t take a lot of dogs, and they have to get along with mine, a Pomeranian and long-haired Chihuahua, which is why I ask for a meet-and-greet first,” she said. “My dogs go everywhere with me along with the dogs I’m sitting for. My husband and I even took the two that I was dog sitting on a recent road trip to Aspen.”

Word spreads about Austin’s dog-walking business as people see her out and about with extra dogs. She’s also a member of Rover, an online service that provides a list of independent contractors for pet walking, sitting and boarding.

Michelle Arino, also of Newport Beach, works in real estate and as an assistant at college planning seminars when she’s not staying with dogs in their homes. She prefers not to use her home because “I don’t let my two Pomeranian dogs get in the way of taking care of other dogs.”

Arino, who walks dogs and provides day and night care, doesn’t limit her territory or clientele. She’s willing to drive to San Diego or Los Angeles for overnight stays and has fed watermelon, grapes and even a platter of vegetables to other animals, such as a ferret, tortoise and chameleon. She draws the line, however, at sitting for tarantulas and snakes.

For other walkers, the business has become their livelihood.

Kim Jones began her full-time pet service, No Place Like Home, 22 years ago when she lived in south Orange County.

“No Place Like Home describes what I do,” said Jones, who now lives in Costa Mesa but continues to travel to clients in Lake Forest, San Clemente and Irvine. “Everything stays the same when the dogs remain in their home. It avoids the stress, the crying or thinking they’ve been abandoned.

“I love my clients and I’ve met some great people who have become my lifelong friends,” Jones added. “Animal care just makes your life fuller, and I love animals.”

Jocelyn Militante has a bachelor’s degree in English literature but has chosen a different path in a career where she found her passion — caring for animals. Ten years ago, she established a successful dog-walking business that she named East Meets West Pet Care — a reference to moving from New Jersey to Newport Beach six years ago.

“I can’t have a bad day in this business,” she said. “I could be sad when I walk into my first client’s house, and when the dogs greet me with love and happiness, it makes me so happy. It’s so rewarding to be with animals all day long.”

Militante works seven days a week because she likes to do the walks herself. She limits her walks to one family at a time, unless a client requests a buddy walk with another dog.

“Certain dogs, like rescues, can feel insecure or intimidated in a pack situation,” Militante said. “My biggest goal is to make sure the dog is happy, secure and comfortable, which is why I stay in their home for overnights. That’s where they are happiest.”

Dog walkers’ fees typically start at around $20 for a 45- to 60-minute visit. Overnights range, on average, from $35 to $95.

Susan Hoffman is a contributor to Times Community News.

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