PORTLAND – Walking two dogs along the sidewalks of the West End on a sunny weekday was not a problem for me.

It was the stopping that presented challenges.

I first noticed this on Spring Street, near Thomas Street. Schooner (a 1-year-old golden retriever) and Jack (a 4-year-old corgi) had been strolling along happily until they spotted a large Bernese mountain dog on a leash on the other side of the street.

Both Schooner and Jack stopped and started to stare pointedly at the bigger dog. Then they started barking and pulling on their leashes.

“The best thing is to just get them moving. Sometimes if you correct with the leash right away, that helps,” said Melissa Letourneau, owner of the dog-walking and pet-sitting service Portland’s Paws.

So I “corrected” with the leash, which Letourneau taught me earlier was a tug on the leash away from where I don’t want the dog to go. After a couple of tense seconds, the dogs were walking straight again.

Then we got to a shady corner and stopped again, for Schooner to relieve himself. Letourneau handed me a pink plastic bag and told me to set myself, and the dogs, before attempting to scoop poop while still holding onto the leashes.

I told the dogs to stay while they were standing a few feet in front of me. Then I kneeled down and slowly scooped poop. I twisted the bag closed with two leashes wrapped around my right wrist. Then I kept walking, with two leashes in one hand and the bag in the other.

Until we stopped again. For Jack to relieve himself.

“You want to try for two?” said Letourneau, handing me another pink plastic bag.

Not really, but I figured if I was walking these dogs alone, I’d have to.

So I did.

MORE DOGS, MORE CHALLENGES

As Letourneau and I continued to walk (she was holding two other dogs), I realized that professional dog walking meant that the more dogs you have, the more challenges you face. Letourneau said she and the other dog walkers she supervises have to have, or develop, good reflexes to deal with unexpected dog emergencies.

“One time, I was walking four dogs and some snow fell from a roof and they all did something different,” said Letourneau. “If I hadn’t gotten control right away, they could have pulled me all over the place.”

For most of our walk, the dogs practically walked themselves. These dogs all live in the West End, and are used to getting walked together.

After we picked up Schooner and Jack, Letourneau said to them, “Let’s get Rosie,” and both dogs headed in the same direction — toward the home of Rosie, a 7-year-old Portuguese water dog.

At first, Rosie seemed a little out of sorts, snipping at the other dogs. So at one point, I had three of the dogs, with all three leashes in one hand, and Letourneau advised me to keep the other dogs from getting too close to Rosie.

Later we picked up Parker, a 12-year-old Australian cattle dog who was home with his owner. He did not want to leave his owner for his walk, but came, very reluctantly. He was dragging along with his head hanging low, when I remembered what Letourneau had said earlier: she talks to the dogs constantly as she walks, to keep them engaged.

“Other people probably think I’m crazy, but I think the dogs like it,” she said.

So, as we stopped at a corner to cross the street, I bent down to Parker, rubbed his head, and started giving him a pep talk in a high-pitched tone. I called him a “good boyyyy” a dozen times and threw in some nonsense baby talk for good measure.

As we walked, Parked seemed more confident. Could my pep talk have worked?

“I think it did,” said Letourneau.

LICENSED, CERTIFIED, INSURED

Letourneau, 38, is a longtime animal lover who sort of fell into dog walking and pet sitting. She had met a dog walker while walking her own dog, and became interested in it as a job.

She started working for the previous owner of Portland’s Paws, then bought the business and took it over about two years ago. Eight “independent contractors” walk about 30 dogs a day as part of Portland Paw’s business.

But Letourneau also offers pet sitting, pet visits, off-leash “adventure outings” for dogs and puppy training.

As a small-business owner, she does a little of everything, including drumming up business, scheduling visits and walkers, and filling in for walkers. She was filling in for a walker on the West End route when I met up with her.

Like other small businesses, dog walking requires various licenses, certifications and insurance. Letourneau is also certified in pet first aid by the American Red Cross, and is a member of the National Association of Pet Sitters.

Of course, it’s not all a walk in the park. In winter, walking dogs can be treacherous on icy sidewalks. And if she’s walking five dogs (the maximum she’ll walk at one time), they could easily take her for a ride if they wanted to.

“I love animals, and I think I’m good with them,” said Letourneau.

She has to be, or they would have led her to another job by now. 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]