The Lords of Dogtown

Walkies! Dog walking is big business in Victoria, with some owners spending as much as $10,000 a year.

Douglas Magazine - The lords of dogtown - Feb/Mar 2024
Leader of the pack: Tamara Castle of Adventure Dog wrangles her charges with gentle authority.

Dog walking has become a professional service for as many as 100 companies in a region where there could be as many as 60,000 dogs.

There are some 36,000 licensed dogs in Greater Victoria, but because many pet owners forgo purchasing the metal tag, the number is thought to be nearly double that. Same with the companies offering dog walking. Only 33 hold permits for Capital Regional District parks, but those in the business agree there are dozens more operating.

“Those of us who have been around a long time started to see companies pop up because, on the surface, it does look like you can make a lot of money,” says dog walker Tamara Castle. The business of walking all these dogs — since Castle started Adventure Dog almost 20 years ago as one of only three such operations — is thriving and has grown faster than a chocolate Lab gobbling a bowl of kibble.

Adventure Dog now employs seven people to walk 60 dogs a day, making it one of the regionʼs largest such businesses. As with most of the dog-walking agencies, pooches are picked up and dropped off after a couple of hours in the woods with a pack of their hairy pals. 

Typically, fees are in the $30 to $40 range per excursion.

Kym Spencer of Ruff Coast Canine reveals it’s not uncommon for pet owners to run up big bills.

“Twenty-five per cent of my clients are every day; another 25 per cent are three times a week. People can spend $10,000 a year on dog walking.”

Spencer is one of the original members of the Capital Region Association of Dog Professionals, a collection of 36 dog walkers formed in 2016.

The group has come up with a code of best practices and offers members medical and dental benefits.

“We wanted to make this professional and responsible,” says Spencer, “and have standards to get rid of the riff-raff who are irresponsible.”

It’s not exactly easy money ensuring Fido gets his day in the park. Overheads can include $3,700 a month on fuel for a couple of vans; $800 for insurance; $110 for a business licence; and a $465 CRD permit allowing access to 33 parks.

But according to Bailey Côté of Local Bark Adventures it’s relatively easy to enter the market. Just don’t expect riches.

“I always tell people who are interested in dog walking, you definitely don’t get in it for the money, especially living in Victoria … but if you really love dogs it doesn’t feel like work.”