Before 2020, Emmanuel Mutula, a dog walker in Nairobi, was interested in studying economics abroad. He applied for scholarships in universities in the US but was unsuccessful.
“I had all As and Bs on my transcripts, so I thought I’d give it a shot and apply for scholarships in some of the top American universities,” he tells Lifestyle.
Then he saw a job opportunity in dog walking.
At first glance, dog walking may not seem like a profession as people find themselves taking on the role out of necessity, helping friends or family care for their furry companions.
Yet, in recent years, dog walking has evolved from a casual favour to a full-fledged, high-earning occupation for those with a passion for the canines.
In Nairobi, where urban living lacks spacious backyards, professional dog walkers have capitalised on the demand for their services, creating businesses that generate substantial incomes.
“It’s like a dog lover’s dream out here right now,” says Mr Mutula.
The 25-year-old has always had an affinity for dogs. He grew up in a home where dogs were cherished, and he has continued to foster that same passion into a viable job.
Many people love their dogs, but with busy schedules, it can be difficult to find the time to properly care for their four-legged companions.
“People have to go to work and leave their beloved dogs at home, and when they get back home, they are usually tired. Taking their dogs out for a walk for two hours is probably the last thing on their minds,” he says.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, he has been walking dogs 12 hours a day, six days a week to serve the more than 50 clients that he has gained.
“Pre-pandemic, I used to get maybe one or two calls a month and at times never got any. Now, in a month through calls, e-mails and texts we get about 10 to 15 enquiries on dog walking services,” he says.
Most of his clients are expatriates and diplomats who travel abroad frequently for holidays, business trips, or relocation.
“My success was initiated by a client who found me through Instagram. Over time, word-of-mouth (marketing) has expanded my customer base, including embassies entrusting me to care for diplomats’ dogs,” he says.
Over the years, customers’ requests have grown from dog walking to being paid to be a dog nanny, and even taking the animals for hikes.
“My clients are typically aged 30 and older, and their dogs are considered part of the family. They place immense trust in the dog walker to care for their ‘baby’, as many affectionately refer to their pets,” he adds.
His constant dog walking means that Mr Mutula meets a range of breeds, from poodles, border collies, Dalmatians, Jack Russells, pit bulls, Rottweilers, Labradors, Kenyan shepherd dogs (mutina) to golden retrievers.
He recounts memorable adventures with some of the dogs. For instance, Bura, a poodle living in Nairobi’s Westlands, takes walks in Karura Forest.
“I fetch Bura from his home, a routine we follow every Wednesday. After ensuring he had worn his dog tag, we set off for Karura Forest for a five-kilometre walk. We typically take an hour to complete. I allow him ample time for sensory exploration and delightful ‘newspaper reading’ through sniffing. They get to find out who passed here and just pick up any peculiar smell,” he says.
So what does a dog walker’s day look like? Mr Mutula’s typical day starts at 6.30 a.m., when he collects the dogs from their homes and takes them on walks in parks or around the estates.
“I take the dogs off the regular path so they can get to know their surroundings. Each day, I usually walk eight to 15 dogs. I cover around 25 to 35 kilometres a day (on weekdays) of walking,” he says.
The best part of the job, besides money which he charges between Sh1,200 and Sh2,000 per hour-long walk, is getting to spend time with the dogs.
“I love to see them happy to be out and about,” he says.
His business is growing, and he now has three employees.
“If I told my younger self that I could make a living caring for dogs, I wouldn’t have believed it. I may not have the college degree from abroad that I dreamt of, but I’ve managed to earn seven-figure (amounts) a year...doing something I love. I make about Sh2 million to Sh3 million a year,” he says.
For anyone considering becoming a dog walker, Mr Mutula has some advice: “Remember that you’re responsible for the safety and wellbeing of the dogs. So, make sure you’re up to the task. Have patience and a passion for animals,” he says.
William Kimani is another dog walker. As the sun ascends over the Nairobi skyline, the 37-year-old is also up with his tail-wagging friends. His day starts at 5 a.m. when he picks up the first of the 35 dogs he walks daily. Today, he has already taken seven on their morning strolls but the day’s schedule is far from over. Mr Kimani operates his business solo.
“I’m living the dream. These animals are like an extension of my family,” Mr Kimani says with a smile, reflecting on his unconventional yet fulfilling career. “I’m providing a service that gives dogs the exercise they need while helping busy career people. And I always wanted a job that allowed me to be around animals.”
Over the years, he has learnt so much about his furry companions.
“I can tell when they’re feeling extra playful or when they need extra attention,” he says.
His client base spans a wide spectrum — from those physically unable to accompany their pets on walks to bustling families seeking to provide their canine companions with a healthy routine. He also takes packs of dogs out hiking, usually in groups of four or five that are compatible and friends.
His monthly earnings?
“Anything from Sh180,000 to about Sh250,000,” he says.
The dog walker recently bought land where he plans to build a dog park. “I want to make a place where people can come to take their dogs out for a stroll and also meet other dog lovers,” he says.
As Mr Kimani looks back on his journey, he acknowledges the impact the profession has had on his life.
“It’s been a blessing,” he says.
He charges from Sh400 to Sh700 per hour for puppies and Sh1,000 per hour for larger dogs.
Another dog walker is Mungare Ondieki, an agricultural economics and management graduate. After university, he worked as a DJ, and he is now earning from happy dogs wagging their tails.
“My business is all about dogs; training, handling, grooming, boarding and daycare, stud services, and even dog/puppy adoption services. I also help rescue and rehabilitate dogs whose owners have relinquished control or can no longer provide care,” he says.
He has hired six dog handlers. His monthly earnings range from Sh40,000 to Sh80,000.
Arnold Ochieng’ has also turned his love for animals into a profession.
When he stumbled across a stray dog while wandering through Kibera slums some few years back, he knew his life’s mission had been revealed. He started by rescuing stray puppies from the streets and slums. Now, Mr Ochieng’ is devoted to caring for animals as a professional dog walker, sitter, and animal welfare advocate.
Four years into the job, Mr Ochieng’ says his monthly earnings from dog walking can reach Sh50,000, although during challenging times, it averages around Sh30,000.
He walks about 70 dogs each week and charges Sh800 to Sh1,200 per dog for an hour walk.
On days when his steps are not tracing the trails with dogs, Mr Ochieng’ is mulling over plans to open a dog boarding facility.
“I’m looking to establish a dog boarding business in the long term,” he told Lifestyle. “I’m still in the early stages of putting everything together.”