It's a Dog's Life!
by Noma Faingold
At 9 a.m., Megan Brezovar, 33, briskly walks into Peet's Coffee at the Potrero Center wearing what could be described as a dog walker's uniform: cargo pants, knit cap, athletic shoes, long sleeve knit shirt over a T-shirt, accessorized by a nylon treat bag, and a large set of keys hanging from her belt.
Two minutes later, the athletically built dog walker, who owns K9 Safari with her husband, Jay, walks out with a coffee, not that she needs one. She enthusiastically gets in her SUV and drives to pick up her first dog (of 10) in the first of three packs she is walking today.
"I usually only have two packs each day," she says. "But one of our independent contractors is on vacation, so I'm picking up one of her groups."
When the Brezovars, who have been married for six years, started the company nine years ago, it took only a year to make a profit.
"In the first four or five years, Jay and I did three runs a day. It was kind of crazy. That's why we have four people working with us now," she says.
Like most weekday mornings, Megan and Jay, who each have their own vehicle, will meet at Fort Funston with their respective packs and walk the dogs off leash for an hour or so. While en route, they call or text each other to update their status.
Megan picks up her first dog, Bella, a three-year-old Basset/Shepherd mix, in the Castro at 9:20 a.m.
"I'm about to run up 72 stairs," she says.
Bella, a rescue from Grateful Dog Rescue, is actually a pro-bono client.
"I volunteer for the organization and I'm her case worker," says Megan. "I'm volunteering to walk her until Bella's mom finds a job. We want her to keep her dog."
Cash, a black pitbull mix, is picked up next near Duboce Park. He leaps into the back as soon as Megan opens the hatch.
"He loves his walks more than anything in the world," she says. "He is pretty new to the pack but he'll play with anyone."
The next few stops are in Cole Valley, near Buena Vista Park and the Inner Sunset to pick up Zachary, a very friendly Wirehaired Fox Terrier puppy, Chumly, a lab mix who "gets into a lot of trouble," Lily, a more passive lab mix, Lucas (Rhodesian Ridgeback mix), along with two from the same home, Otis (Shepherd mix) and Enzi (Black Lab mix), a 10-year-old who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Megan stands behind Enzi helping him climb into the now crowded back.
"Good boy, Enzi!" she says.
The seats are folded down in the back to create a flat bed covered by a bright-colored Mexican woven mat. There's a spill-proof plastic water bowl off to the side. The only barrier to the front is something resembling a child-proof gate. She keeps a large container of natural lamb and rice jerky dog treats in the front.
With each pick-up, Megan checks off the name of the dog on the printed master list she keeps on the windshield visor. While driving, Megan glances back to make sure the dogs are comfortable.
"Enzi, you're OK," she says. "I know it is a little tight back there, guys, but we're cool."
Driving is not Megan's favorite part of the job, but she seems to be able to pay attention to the road, the dogs and her Blackberry all at the same time and with ease. Corporate executives have nothing on her ability to multi-task.
"What I do is comparable to being an elementary school teacher," says Megan, who completed the San Francisco State Elementary Education Program, yet "dropped out" shortly after she started student teaching. "These are my kids and they are learning. They need to behave or they are in trouble. If something happens, their parents get notified."
A former bartender, Jay, 38, who also completed the Elementary Education Program at S.F. State, goes a step further, saying: "You pretty much talk to a drunk, a little kid and a dog in kind of the same way. You have to be patient, sweet, clear and precise."
Megan arrives at Fort Funston before 11 a.m. and parks away from the main parking lot. Jay and his dogs are already there, as are two more packs and their dog walkers. At least 35 hyper dogs start their walk at the same time.
"This is a safe place to park," Megan said, as her dogs pour out of the SUV. "It disturbs less people."
The scene seems frenzied at first. Megan counts her dogs for the first of many times on the hour-long walk.
"It's called chaos management," she says.
Jay has nine dogs in his pack. Tuula, a lean Corgi mix, belongs to Jay and Megan. Another is a rambunctious, mostly white female pitbull puppy from Grateful Dog rescue they are fostering. They're calling her Frankie, although her name was Punky. Jay keeps Frankie on a leash for the first 20 minutes of the walk because she keeps trying to mix it up with various dogs.
"She needs structure right now," he says. They don't walk on the main path on purpose.
"We don't want to bother individual dog owners, so we take this back trail to stay out of trouble," Megan says.
At first it seems like they are picking up dog poop every few feet, even if it's not produced by one of their dogs. The Brezovars are friends with most of the dog walkers who frequent Fort Funston. It is a close-knit network. They wave when they pass each other or they catch up for a minute and they look out for each other's dogs.
Toward the end of the walk, Zachary starts to wander off and finds himself among the pack of another dog walker not far ahead of Megan. She gets a phone call from the dog walker, who walks Zachary back in Megan's direction. Megan calls out to Zachary like a yodeler and he runs toward her. As she pets him, she coos, "Who is so good? Who is a genius?"
Back at the car, Megan loads the dogs and fills the water bowl. It's 11:30 a.m. She checks in with Jay to coordinate when they will meet back there for the afternoon walk. They kiss.
As Megan drives down Sloat Boulevard, she gets a call from another Fort Funston dog walker. She pulls over to answer the call. One of the walker's dogs, a brindle bulldog named Mickey, is missing.
"He lost him on the beach and he (the walker) is running along the beach now in the direction the dog was going. I'm going to drive to the end of Sloat and look for him," Megan says.
According to Megan, such drama doesn't happen that often, but when it does, "the world stops until you find that dog." She recalls her own two experiences of dogs going M.I.A., luckily to be found within 24 hours.
"That's one of the worse things that can happen in this job," she says.
Megan texts at least 10 Fort Funston dog walkers to be on the lookout for the bulldog. She makes several stops along the beach, gets out of the car and walks closer to be able to see the dog if he is on that part of the beach. The tide is high.
"He might be stuck somewhere with the tide the way it is," she says. In less than 20 minutes, she gets a call from one of the dog walkers who found Mickey.
"That's the best news," says a relieved Megan. "He was on the beach going the opposite way. Sometimes dogs just want to go to the beach. They have their own agenda."
She sends a text message to the rest of the dog walkers letting them know the dog was found. As Megan starts dropping off her crew, all seem more mellow and content than before the walk.
On the hardest days, Megan jokes to friends: "Just give me a cubicle."
But, in reality she would almost always rather be outdoors galloping in the sand with her clients.
"I get to work with dogs all day," she said.