Walkin' The Dog

00:00 February 26, 2013
By: Dean Shapiro


[Where Y'At Staff/Provided Photo]
"As a child I looked into the eyes of my dog and saw a soul as real as my own."

How ironic is it that someone who learned to walk by holding onto her family's pet collie should end up walking dogs for a living? According to Julia Trawick, that's exactly how it all began for her.

And Trawick, who started her company, Walkin' the Dog Professional Pet Services, after losing her last 9-5 job due to Hurricane Katrina, has never been happier. Growing up as an only child in Mobile, Ala., "My siblings were my animals," she began. "I had everything from horses to turtles. I had parakeets, guinea pigs, hamsters — even a rooster named Rhubarb. The constants were my dogs and cats. My lifelong love affair with all creatures great and small has prepared me for my true calling. This was a 'natural' for me."

In a big city of busy people and thousands of pet dogs, many dog owners simply don't have the time to walk them. Professional dog walkers have been commonplace in larger cities like New York for many years, but not in New Orleans. The need hadn't really existed until recently. Now, as canine owners fi nd themselves working longer hours or devoting more and more time to volunteer activities, taking the family dog out for his or her daily stroll through the park becomes increasingly diffi cult to fi t into a busy calendar. That's the niche Trawick fi lls for them.

"I pinch myself every single day to think that I've built a successful business by just doing what I love. How much better does it get than that?" she asked.

Trawick begins each day with a "pack walk" in Audubon Park, an area around which most of her clients live. The pack walk, she explained, "stimulates the primal instincts and activity of dogs who, in the wild, travel together in search of food and water. When you exercise them sideby-side they accept each other as pack members and they all get along. They absolutely love it. We recently had a toy poodle that was rescued from a shelter join our 'variety pack.' In the beginning, she had fear-based aggression with the other dogs, but they helped rehabilitate her better than I ever could. She's come a long way now and is learning to trust the world around her."

With a dazzling smile, perpetually cheerful demeanor and highly polished people skills, Trawick was ideally suited for the hospitality industry when she worked for prestigious French Quarter hotels. Her outgoing personality also lent itself to advertising sales for a local publishing house. However, the media group she worked for shut down after Katrina. So how did she go from the formal business attire of professional sales to the jeans, T-shirts, and ever-present pick-up bags of dog-walking? Here's how she explains it.

"I was displaced to Houston for six weeks after Katrina. When I returned to New Orleans I met this guy at a friend's party who told me he'd decided to close his dog-walking service and leave town for awhile. I couldn't believe there was a need for the service here, and he sort of planted the seed with me. I've always been passionate about dogs, so I thought I would give it a try."

"I took on my fi rst client in April of '06, and it has just snowballed from there, mostly by word of mouth. I get calls at least once or twice a week from people who've been referred to me by other clients, which is the highest praise of all. And now, on any given day, I'll have nine to 12 dogs on my pack walk."

Another fortuitous gift post-Katrina has been meeting her close friend, Lisette Oser, a local interior designer. About fi ve years ago, she stopped Trawick in Audubon Park to inquire about her services for her own dog, Zach, a shelter rescue. Not only have they become the best of friends, Oser also assists Trawick every day with her pack walk and has even helped her redecorate her home.

"Walking through the park is the best way to begin our day. It is truly a physical, mental and spiritual exercise for ALL of us, including the dogs. We enjoy greeting our 'park friends,' both two-legged and four-legged, and giggling at the antics of these silly, wonderful pups. We've had so many people take photos of us that we now joke that 'the pup-arazzi' is hounding us,'" she laughed.

"A lot of people see us with the pack and how much the pups enjoy it, and they say, 'I want my dog to have this experience too,'" Trawick added. "People are becoming more aware of the socialization dogs long for. They are pack animals and have an innate desire to be with each other."

Trawick also boards dogs at the "Magic Cottage," which she lovingly calls her century-old, Victorian shotgun home Uptown. "I offer a true home-away-from-home experience. I let them have the run of my house and privacy-fenced back yard. They sleep in my bed, I prepare healthy snacks for them, we watch Animal Planet and more. It's like going to Grandma's house - maybe better. I spoil 'em rotten and love every single minute of it."

Trawick also offers short walks around her clients' neighborhoods, chauffer services to-andfrom the groomer or vet, behavior modifi cation tips and in-home care for all types of pets. She house-sits as well.

House-sitting people's pets has provided Trawick with some interesting experiences. "I recently house-sat with two dogs, a rabbit and a cockatiel. Charlie, the cockatiel, rode on my shoulder while I walked the two dogs. In fact, he stayed on my shoulder nearly the whole time unless we were sleeping. I would also let the rabbit out of his cage and he'd get into the bird's cage and eat his food. We were one big, happy menagerie there."

When she's not caring for her charges, Trawick spends time trying to place abandoned and stray animals in loving homes. "I am fortunate to be in a position to see pampered pets who receive the very best care. It's important for me to counterbalance this by working to help the less fortunate animals of our community."

She uses Facebook and email to post pictures and info on shelter animals whose time for fi nding a home is running out. She is not shy about asking people she sees walking their dog if they might be interested in another. "People might not know about them otherwise, and I've had success placing dogs and cats this way. That's as rewarding as anything I do."

The more Trawick talks about her love of animals, the more the animal rights activist in her comes out. "These sacred creatures are not damaged goods," she declares. "They are simply the victims of bad situations and each of them just wants to be loved. If you can't adopt, maybe you can foster. Fostering is a great way to socialize animals and help them to become more adoptable."

She notes that an estimated eight million dogs and cats enter animal shelters in the U.S. each year due to overpopulation, of which approximately four million - 11,000 each day - are euthanized. "We have to get the message out: adopt, don't shop, and please spay and neuter your pets," she strongly advises.

She also helps promote fundraising events and served on the auction committee of the LA/SPCA 2012 Howling Success.

A resident of New Orleans ("and lovin' it") since 1978, Trawick has passed her love of animals on to her two daughters and grandson, Miguel, who often helps her with the dogs. "He is my CIO, Chief Inspirational Offi cer, and even has his own business cards." Since the age of 6, he has boldly handed out cards to people with dogs that they run into, and most recently has offered to build a website for her business.

And, as one might expect, there are jokes from friends and others about what she does, like her business "going to the dogs," etc. With characteristic good humor, Trawick laughs it off before seriously responding, "Some people who aren't animal people just don't get it. I can't believe I get paid to do what I love. I am truly living my bliss."

And she concludes with a favorite quote from Anthony Douglas Williams:

"When I lock eyes with an animal I get a special feeling. A feeling of togetherness. Not human to animal, not animal to animal, but being to being."

To contact Walkin' the Dog call 909-7280 or email [email protected]

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