EUGENE, Ore. - Dog walking is a popular activity in Eugene, especially during the dry months.
During the rainy season, dog walkers step in to care for animals for customers, often taking them to one of the four off-leash parks around the city.
Alecia Johnson walks up to 15 dogs off-leash in the rural hills of South Eugene.
Johnson began her work after quitting a job working as a designer and coordinator for airplane upholstery.
“I started a house keeping business and a dog walking business,” she said, “and I really hoped the dog walking would take off.”
Ten years later, she pays her bills by walking between 10 and 15 dogs each day, with double sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
But she also concedes that the work is messy and not for weak stomachs.
“I’ve had dogs poop in the car, pee in the car, throw up in the car,” she said.
Johnson owns two vans. One transports her two children, the other her dogs.
While most walks go smoothly, Johnson has had her share of close calls.
Despite the costs of her work, Johnson returns each day due in no small part to her love of the animals.
“I really like the dogs, and I think the dogs like me,” she said. “When you spend enough time with them, you get to see parts of their personalities that the owners don’t see.”
Despite the costs of maintaining her vans and looking after the animals, Johnson has persevered for 10 years. To her, the satisfaction comes from working with the dogs and seeing them grow up.
Johnson’s work has given her a much deeper understanding of the needs of dogs, and she believes that off-leash walking fulfills a crucial need for dogs to forage and spend time in an open, sprawling environment.
“It’s really important for the dogs to spend time where they can chase and play and run,” she says. “It’s very different from walking them in the neighborhood on the sidewalk.”