Running with the pack

Life goes to the dogs for North Toronto couple

It’s 12:15 in the afternoon, and professional dog walkers Heather McCarty and Dan Simon are already leading their second pack through Sherwood Park.

Surprisingly, neither partner in the husband-and-wife team is being dragged by any of their mostly large and lively clients, which include a Burmese mountain dog, a tough-looking English bulldog, a gigantic Great Dane, and their own medium-sized mutt, Gemma.

All are relatively placid on the walk. They save their raucousness for the off-leash area.

“Once they’re bonded to their walker and their other playmates, they stay in the group,” explains McCarty, gripping a metal carabiner looped like a keychain through six four-foot leashes. “You use harnesses and training tools to help if there are dogs that pull, but generally they get along quite well and it’s not as hard as it looks.”

McCarty’s day typically begins at 8 a.m., when care begins for her own dogs: poodle-haired Gemma and Goliath, a Rottweiler-Saint Bernard mix. By 9 o’clock she’s driving her first group of dogs from Lawrence Park to an hour-long romp in the off-leash area at Sherwood Park.

They will run free there between 9:30 and 10:30, one of three groups she’ll deliver there that day.

Delivering the second pack to the park for a 12 noon to 1 p.m. run, she meets Simon leading his own group. After returning their second groups they pick up one more pack each and bring them to the park for a 2–3 p.m. romp.

In all, they walk five groups of up to six dogs each before their workday is over at 3:30.

“Most of the time just flies by because we’re having such a great time with the dogs,” McCarty said.

Simon spent 10 years in the advertising industry before joining his wife as a dog walker. He designed the slick website for their company, Heather & Pooch. The heatherandpooch.ca approach is a play on the 1989 Tom Hanks movie Turner & Hooch.

“It looked like a pretty good deal compared to what I was doing before,” Simon said in jest, while playfully rubbing the head of Fitz, the bulldog. “My clients are better — very touchy-feely.

“They’re much more enthusiastic about the work we’re doing, and always very happy to see me.”

Heather & Pooch is a city-licensed service, so McCarty and Simon are permitted to walk up to six dogs at a time. Most of their canine clients are part of the same group, taking part in the hour-long walks at the same time five days a week. They also do private walks on a per-case basis.

And yes, they stoop and scoop. Simon has even started the Karma Poop Initiative at nearby Sunnybrook Park, encouraging visitors to clean up after other dogs in addition to their own.

“Dog walkers pick it up as they find it anyway, because we don’t want to be blamed for it, we don’t want to step in it and we don’t want the dogs touching it,” McCarty said.


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Posted: Jan 7 2015 12:07 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto
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