In Lincoln Park and Lake View, dogs are often considered a member of the family, and owner of dog-walking business Windy City Paws, Katie Pape, knows why.
“I think dogs really give such an unconditional love,” Pape sad. “I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
Pape, an avid animal lover, used a dog-walking service for her two dogs when she worked 10-hour days in financial services job. So when she was laid off in 2009, she decided to post an ad on Craigslist to be a part-time dog-walker while she figured out her next move.
“After six months, I had almost ten clients myself,” Pape said.
At that point, Pape had to hire another walker to keep up with the workload, which contributed to the growth of what would become Lincoln Park-based Windy City Paws.
“Finally having the time in the office to market and advertise was really what we needed,” Pape said. “We’ve been going strong ever since”
Now, Windy City Paws employs 20-25 walkers.
“We’ve got a couple hundred clients, and I would say we are walking about 100 dogs a day.”
The dog-walkers will visit their client’s homes and take the dog on a 30-minute walk.
“We can come in, let them out, keep them company, give them some exercise and take that burden off of you so when you come home you can just have fun with them,” Pape said.
It’s a service that most pet owners don’t seem to be able to live without. According to the Yellow Pages, there are over 175 dog-walking businesses in the Lincoln Park neighborhood alone.
Nikki Kushner has used Windy City Paws to care for her dogs for almost three years.
“It’s a really great service. I felt very lucky to find Katie. We went through a couple of walkers and pet sitters before we found her, “ Kushner said.
Kushner said she loves the consistently good quality of the dog walkers.
“[Katie] obviously had some good kind of interview techniques because we’ve always had really good people,” Kushner said. “There was not a lot of turnover – it was people who really loved our dogs the way that we loved our dogs.”
The rigorous screening process before hiring new walkers is an extremely important aspect of why Windy City Paws has been successful.
“They go through a phone interview, they go through an in-person interview, they then shadow a regular walker for a full day on their right, then they go through a background check. If it’s a good fit, then they start,” Pape said.
Lauren Meyer has been a dog-walker with Windy City Paws for just over a year. She walks between four and five dogs each weekday.
“I think as long as you treat them like your own, I think the clients really appreciate that – love them like your own and protect them on the street,” Meyer said.
In addition to having dog-walkers who love their animals, pet owners can utilize the online-portal to schedule walks, see when the dog walker has visited and read a status report on the walk for the day.
The online system is something pet owners like Kushner depend on.
“Because [Katie] had the online tool it was a lot easier for me to make changes back and forth because you just request them in the system, and then I could see the walking notes within like 45 minutes after a walk, which was great.”
Meyer thinks this is a huge asset.
“It’s nice that they can track when exactly you’ve come and gone and how long you were actually with the dog,” Meyer said.
Windy City Paws continues to grow in their service areas, expanding to include Lincoln Park, Lake View, River West, Gold Coast and the South Loop.
“A lot of it’s word of mouth. In any service industry and especially this one, it is so much about who you are trusting them with – these are their babies – the dogs and cats for that matter,” Pape said.
Lincoln Park and Lakeview continue to be the area where Pape sees the highest demand. She wants young professionals to know that it is still possible to have a dog while working full time.
“We’re trying to capitalize on areas where it’s young professionals who want to be able to have the flexibility of staying at work late or go to that happy hour and need someone to come in. They have the money and Lincoln Park and Lake View have proven to be the top spots for that.”
And their clients are thrilled with Pape’s services:
“She went out of her way to always make sure that our dogs were really well taken care of,” Kushner said.
To Pape, having a dog is worth the expense of a walker.
“It’s just such a happy feeling to come home and have an animal there that wants to lick your face, go on a walk with you, cuddle on the couch with you – do anything,” Pape said. “They are so agreeable. It’s a beautiful feeling. In this city, it’s such a dog-friendly city, it just feels like a no-brainer.”
Windy City Paws also offers pet sitting and care of cats. For more information on services and rates, visit their website at http://www.windycitypaws.com