Sarah Lee Leslie is one of the most inspiring and interesting people I’ve met in the United States. For 10 years she worked as a book-keeper, but, tired of a job that was keeping her stuck behind a desk every day, she decided to start her own business. A beautiful business: to walk dogs! This year she opened Wag ‘n Walk, a pet sitting company. Although she is still at the beginning, her dependability, her kindness and talent in interacting with animals brought her numerous clients, so Sarah works morning til evening. The little time she has to herself is spent walking in nature with her dog, Kennedy, and her two-year old daughter, Emma.
Let me introduce you to Sarah Lee Leslie, a free and brave girl, who followed her dream and didn’t give up until she made it come true!
What’s the thing you most love about your job?
I get to meet interesting people and their animals. I’m helping the owners who care so much for their pets. Just knowing I’m helping them both feels great. Also, I get to be out in nature, I’m not stuck behind a desk all day. I like to be moving and being out in nature with the animals, to me that feels great, physically and mentally. And then, just developing a relationship with the owners and the pets. Over time I get to know them pretty well and their pets feel comfortable around me, so there’s a deeper connection there.
What about your schedule? Is it nice to have flexible working hours?
It helps to be flexible with my clients, but it’s actually a very demanding schedule. It’s pretty much working morning to night, every single day. But it gives me a sense of freedom to do what I love on my own terms. That’s very rewarding.
Even though you also work on weekends…
Yes, weekends are generally the busiest times, and holidays, because this is when people usually travel and they’re not able to be at home with their pets, so they need help.
When did you first get the idea to start a dog walking business?
I asked myself, what did I enjoy the most? What made me happy? What was I doing when I wasn’t “working”? My most enjoyable hobby is hiking with my dog Kennedy. It brings me peace.
I always knew I wanted to work with animals, I just didn’t know exactly how. I tried different things – I used to work in a kennel where I got a lot of exposure and knowledge on being a caretaker for animals. We walked them, bathed them, cleaned their cages, so that was really great. I also wanted to try out working in a clinic, and learn medicine behind animal care. But I asked myself, what do I really enjoy the most? And I thought it would just be awesome to be able to walk dogs all day long! J Of course, that is just a small part of the puzzle. So it grew from there. I started researching and became friends with other people in the business and little by little, the pieces came together.
How hard was it to see your dream come true?
Building up the courage and confidence took quite some time. Believing in myself was the hardest part. It was exciting to start, but also very challenging, and it still is that way. My business is still growing, it’s still new, it’s a baby.
When did you start?
I launched in June of 2015, and I have learned so many things that I didn’t know would be part of this business. Every single day is different. It’s constantly changing, I am meeting new people, new animals, new situations, new environments.
What was the hardest part, once you started?
Making myself known, getting to my potential clients. I thought I had this great idea, I knew I could help these people and their animals and I thought they would just… be there! But that’s not how it turned out. It takes a lot of work, thought, dedication and commitment to improve yourself every day and to get your name out there. You really have to get out of your comfort zone, because people don’t just knock on your door. You have to be willing to go get what you want.
Are there any downsides in this business?
I’m a solo sitter, I’m an owner/operator, so I’m responsible for everything – marketing, work, billing, accounting. It’s hard work, but definitely worth it. Trying to balance work and family time is difficult. Also, getting attached and going through an injury or death with a pet… That’s rough.
What was the biggest misconception you had before you started to walk dogs?
That it would be a laid back job and I’d have free time. I thought it was going to be easy. But if you’re going to be in business for yourself, you have to be passionate, because of how much dedication, commitment and time it really takes to get something going. It’s also very enjoyable, too, because you believe in something so much and nothing is going to stop you.
Did you quit your job as soon as you started working as a dog-walker?
No, when I first started, it was just an idea, I was putting everything on paper. I was a book-keeper for a bowling alley, so I would work during the day at my regular job, and then, as soon as I would put my daughter to sleep, I would begin to work as long as I possibly could, and that was my routine every single night. And still is, actually. When I’m not dog-walking and taking care of pets, I’m working on the business side.
Why are you suited to do this?
If I were able, I would offer everyone that may be in need of help my services. I’ve learned there are so many people out there who are going through hard times or may be sick and are unable to take care of their pet. Their pet may be all they have that’s getting them through.
What are the things you do for your clients?
I’m there when they cannot be. I offer flexibility and dependability. Walking, feeding, and giving medication (if necessary) is routine. I spend time with each animal and let them get to know me. Dogs and cats are social animals, they enjoy interaction. I’m also trained in pet CPR and first aid which gives my clients peace of mind, should an emergency situation arise.
What do you think of when you do your job?
I think of each smiling furry face, and how I can’t wait to see the next one!
Tell us about the first animal you loved.
My family had pets here and there, but I can’t really remember having a childhood pet. I got my first dog when I was 20 and she’s eleven now. Her name is Kennedy. She is priceless to me. From the moment I saw her, really. I’ll never forget that day. She’s family.
What was the most touching experience that you had with an animal?
I’d have to say when Kennedy had her pups. It was amazing to watch and she trusted me to help her through her labor.
How do you feel about raising your little daughter with Kennedy in the house? I personally think it’s wonderful, but there are people who would say it’s dangerous or not healthy.
It’s important to know that an animal is an animal and they do have instincts and boundaries that children need to learn. You have to respect them and know what they are capable of. So it’s important to teach a child from an early age how to behave and interact with an animal. But I think it’s great! I wouldn’t have it any other way. Kennedy is part of our family. Emma is learning how to interact with animals, and is drawn to them. We all spend time together and play, we go on walks, so Kennedy only adds joy to our family. I grew up in the Philippines and I don’t remember having a pet that I really got attached to, and I want Emma to have this.
It’s also great learning for Emma too. She learns to be careful, she learns to share, starting with food. When she wants to get a treat, she wants Kennedy to get one too. And Kennedy is a very unique dog, she has many behaviors that I haven’t seen in other dogs, such as barking at the TV and actually watching TV. Emma is learning the world around her, and Kennedy has a big influence in that. They are so close. And I can tell you, before Emma was even born, that Kennedy knew that I was going to have a child.
Really? You really felt that she knew?
Yes. Her behavior changed, even the way she would lay next to me when I would be sleeping, especially during the last few months of my pregnancy, when I was very pregnant. 🙂 She was different, more cautious, not as energetic as usual around me. And when I brought Emma home, it was almost no surprise for her. Then, when Emma was very little and she would be sleeping in her bed, Kennedy would lay beside her and watch over her.
Do you see yourself walking dogs in 20 years?
Absolutely. This is part of who I am. For me and Emma, family time means going on a walk with Kennedy. And you see, the world has changed so much, we spend so much time in front of the TV or the computer, or the video games, and that’s another thing that’s really important for me: for Emma to be out and enjoy nature and get moving, and see the world around her. And it’s just so much better when a dog is there too! 🙂
I will definitely, God willing, be walking dogs in 20 years, and I know for sure Emma will do it too!
In a few years she will actually be able to help you with the business!
Oh, yes! And I can’t wait.
One last question: have you ever eaten dog food?
Haha, maybe! It may have happened in my 20s, when I got Kennedy. I don’t remember exactly when, but I know that I’ve tried it. But I also like to make homemade treats for my clients’ pets and for Kennedy. They are natural biscuits, just pureed vegetables and fruit and flour, and I’ve tried that! 🙂
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Sarah, Emma & Kennedy