The Dog Walker

Interview by
Danny Calvi
Photography by
Brandon Wickenkamp


Anderson Cooper is a busy man. With his charitable commitments and the BF opening the new club, he hardly has time to feed Molly, let alone groom and walk her twice a day. That's where the new breed of dog walker, 36-year-old Ryan Jedlicka, steps in. Sure there are loads of gays in the pet-care industry, but Ryan (with Happy Tails co-owner Brian Pizza) has been walking dogs in Baltimore — so you know he's not squeamish when it comes to picking up poop or dodging syringes — and now in New York since 2005. I wanted to know more about the secret social world of dogs that Ryan is privy to on his daily walks, and some of the more unusual requests he gets from their masters.

Danny: Besides walking dogs, I see that you’re also a certified yoga instructor.
Ryan: Yes, I am.
Have you seen this adorable video of the Chihuahua doing yoga?
Oh totally, yeah.
Can dogs really do yoga?
I’ve seen the video you’re talking about, and that’s a one-on-one bond with the owner and that dog. If you spend enough time with the dog, you can train them to do anything. The furthest I might go is maybe some reiki massage, just giving the dog some extra love. It can be a little scratch on the head before or after a walk. When your dog goes to stretch down, it’s basically doing the downward dog.
Reiki for dogs?
It’s something I just made up. It’s definitely not legit. But with my knowledge of yoga and adjusting students, you could say it’s good for any animal.
How many dogs will you be walking this week?
Usually, I have about five dog walks a day, five times a week.
And how many dogs can you walk at the same time?
I think I topped off at seven, maybe eight dogs that I walked once together. Initially, they get very, very excited, but once that excitements done, they just kind of ignore each other and go for their walk.
What do you do with the dog that doesn’t work well with groups?
That dog, he would need to be walked alone, and I’m totally fine with that. I have a soft spot in my heart for troubled dogs. I walk a troubled dog in Long Island City, and I really see progress with him. He’s not getting crazy when he sees another dog, or not jumping and spitting and barking in circles when a big truck goes by. When those issues start to diminish, I feel like I’m helping a dog to relax and be happy.
Do you use any special tools in your line of work?
I carry an extra leash with me, but I don’t tell my clients that.
Just in case they forget Fifi’s diamond-encrusted leash.
Other than that, I have the necessary plastic bags to clean up after the dog. I don’t really carry treats with me. I know Brian does carry treats. I use treats only if the owner provides them. Some dogs are just like people, and their diets are so crazy these days. It’s all gluten-free and whatnot. And some owners are pretty picky about what types of treats you can give their dogs. There is one particular dog that gets treats to reinforce his good behavior. He’ll bark at anything on wheels. Trucks, skateboards, scooters…
Can we talk about poop?
Sure. I’m always, always picking up after pets.
Have you ever had to pay the $250 fine?
I’ve never been approached by the police for poop.
Have you ever heard of anyone having to pay that fine?
I have heard of friends being charged for skipping a subway fee or getting parking tickets, but I’ve never heard of people being charged with a poop fee. I have heard of people getting charged for having their dog off the leash.
Oh really. Is it ever okay to have a dog off the leash in the city?
I personally always keep my dogs on leash because it’s a lot safer. In New York City, there’s a silent agreement that anyone that’s bringing their dog out has a friendly dog, and that dog is going to get along with the other dogs there. There are certain parks that are fenced, in which there are off-leash hours. Usually very, very early morning or later in the evening when the park isn’t as populated with children or runners.
Where do you tend to walk your dogs?
Brian mainly works in Chelsea. I’ve always liked Brooklyn, it reminds me of Baltimore. The streets are wider in Williamsburg, and there is not as much traffic at any given time. I don’t have to walk for more than three or four blocks from any client, and I can find a park. Most dogs aren’t picky though, they will go on the sidewalk or on a tree. I’ve also walked dogs that need a big area, and are a little bit more demanding.
Of course, some owners spoil their pets, and I wonder if that creates any unique challenges for you?
Well, that bond that they have with their pet is special, and they sometimes expect their dog to bond exactly that same way with a dog walker right away. I’m walking this one dog and she’s a little timid. When I come in, her tail is down and she is a little on guard, but she’s really great when we’re on the walk. That particular owner texts me several times a day, requests photos, and asks a lot of detailed questions about the dog’s mood during the walk. That owner also wanted me to wipe the dog’s ass.
That’s a bit much, no?
I think nature has a way of taking care of itself.

BUTT - Dogwalker_reiki_web
Ryan gives Kade a bit of tender loving paw reiki in Prospect Park.

Have you ever done any pet matchmaking?
I’ve been responsible for making dogs some really great friends.
That sounds like a yes.
Well, when your dog is friendly and can walk with other dogs, there’s like this secret social world between dogs. I would keep notes like, ‘Gypsy walked with Mr. Bean and Tyler and Joey,’ and then I’d get a phone call weeks later from Gypsy’s owner at the park where Gypsy looks over and Mr. Bean looks over, and then they run to each other. They even fall into their own little packs where one dog is always in the front, one dog is in the middle, and one dog is off to the side.
Are any of the dogs you walk gay?
I recently found out that this dog, Dina, might be gay. But I think animals just do what feels good.
Have you ever had any unplanned pregnancies occur on your watch?
No, but I found out recently that one of the dogs I walk is in heat.
How can you tell when a dog is in heat?
They make more noises or are a little destructive. Their rears are a little swollen and they give off an odor.
Have you ever been in the awkward position of having to rescue an abused pet from its owner?
I have never had to call animal control or the SPCA. There have been situations where I’m pet sitting and there’s no food, or the house is not fit for a dog. Maybe their food bowl needs to be cleaned, or maybe the dog is just dirty or has an infection, something like that. Maybe that owner is working so much that they need more walks, or maybe they are just not meant to own a dog. Not everybody can. I would love to have a dog, but I’m too busy taking care of other people’s dogs. One day I would love to have a Boston terrier. I can put him in a basket on my bicycle.
What should one never feed a dog?
Immediately chocolate comes to mind. When I was a kid, my mother got a bunch of fudge from one of her students and our dog got into it and was terribly, terribly, terribly sick for days. We had to take her to the vet. I am a firm believer in no human food for dogs. It leads to your dog stopping eating its dog food.
Can dogs get anorexia?
There are owners who say their dogs just won’t eat. Once the dog tastes a cookie or a cake or bacon, they look at their kibble and they are like, ‘hell no’. I suggest putting down the kibble, and then leave it down for twenty minutes. If they don’t eat it, then you take it away and don’t put it back out until their next meal. You keep doing that and eventually — no sneaking food under the table — they will get the idea that the only thing they are going to get is their kibble.
Do you have any advice for keeping gainer dogs slim?
I would say at least two half-hour walks a day. There are some of these people with these retractable leashes — I call it fishing — they just open the front door, let the dog go out, and then they retract them back in. That might be great for before bed, but it’s not very good exercise.
What about dogs on Clomicalm for like separation anxiety? Do you have any experience with dogs on meds?
I have met dogs that are on anxiety medicine, yes. A lot of what I see is destruction. The owner leaves and the dog gets so helplessly crazy that it will rip the carpet, it will rip curtains, and it will destroy couches. On my end, sometimes they get so over-excited that they’ll have accidents.
Sorry, what do you mean ‘accidents’?
They will pee on the floor.
Do you know pet first aid?
I know a little bit about how to perform CPR if an animal stops breathing. I guess you could think of it as child CPR — it’s with less pressure. Also, I know how to remove something that’s lodged in a dog’s throat if it will allow me to.
Do you talk to the dogs?
I do. I’m not expecting any response, but the dog starts to notice words. It’s funny to see the reaction it has to the owner’s name, like if you say ‘daddy’, or maybe if you mention another dog’s name that they walk with. One particular dog I walk, Vernon, he has different names for his biscuits. His dad calls them ‘boneys’. If I say ‘Do you want a boney?’, he makes a certain face and sits down.
When you’re pet sitting, do you do both in and out calls?
I can stay with your dog at your house, or I can keep the dog with me at mine. I don’t tend to keep a dog at my apartment unless I know that dog very well. And I only like to stay at dog’s houses where I have already developed a relationship with the owner. Or, say you are gone for a weekend, but you don’t want me to stay at your house, or you don’t want me to keep your dog at my house — I simply provide several walks, plus feedings in a day. In that case, I might see your dog morning, midday and afternoon. I have visited some dogs four times in a day.
Besides walking and feeding, what does a pet sleepover involve? Will you entertain my pet?
I never promise that I am going to entertain the dog from the moment I wake up until I fall asleep — no owner does that. The owner goes to the grocery store, or the owner meets friends for coffee. I’m not a huge TV person, but if I’m house-sitting and there is a TV, I will totally become a couch potato and hang out with the dog, or let the dog sleep with me. I have had to give insulin to a diabetic cat before.
There is such a thing as cat diabetes?
There is, yes. You can do drops or sometimes it requires a needle. Some cats are really great with it, some cats are horrible, and get a little crazy. I have had to wear gloves, heavy gloves, to protect myself.
Do you also walk cats?
I have never walked a cat. There are people that do like to walk their cats in other parts of the world. I had a friend from New Zealand, he saw a lot of walking of cats down the street. I’ve also walked a pig before.
You walked a pig?
I walked a pig, yes. I showed up and this guy had a pot-bellied pig and, actually, he didn’t get walked to go to the bathroom — he used a litter box just like a cat would. He walked for exercise and he walked for grazing.
How did the pig get along with the dogs?
The pig was fine with the dogs, but the dogs would be very strange towards the pig.

Want to hire Ryan or Brian to walk your dog or pet sit this weekend? Find them on Yelp or their site on the world wide web.

Published on 26 September 2014