Tails are wagging at Chicago dog walking businesses because the need for temporary pooch pals is returning as the pandemic eases its grip and more people set their sights on returning to offices and airplanes.
“We have seen a massive uptick,” Leanna Quartuccio, owner of Hyde Bark Dog Walking, located in (you guessed it) Hyde Park. “It was very slow. Business had been down 90%. And then, all of the sudden, around the beginning of March, it was like all at once the floodgates opened, and now we’re about back to what we were pre-pandemic.”
She went from employing 21 dog walkers pre-pandemic to three. She’s now at 18 and looking to hire.
Quartuccio said calls for dog sitting services were through the roof, especially people seeking a temporary home for a pet over Memorial Day weekend.
“I’ve gotten 21 calls this week for care this weekend, and we’re at capacity. Outside of Christmas, this is the first week we’ve been at capacity for boarding ever,” she said.
Denise Ardizzone, business manager of Chicago Dog Walkers in Bucktown, said the company employed 60 dog walkers who each worked with about 10 dogs a day when the pandemic hit.
“Business fell by about 75% during the heart of the pandemic. But now people have relaxed a little bit, and what we’re seeing is they’re heading back to the office once or twice a week with an eye on three to four times a week in the fall,” she said.
“We’re pretty darn excited about it. Our trajectory has completely followed whatever is going on with the pandemic,” she said.
Tony Schreck, owner of Windy City Dog Walker, which walks dogs from the South Loop to Logan Square, said he’s fielding a lot of calls — many from people who bought a puppy during the pandemic to ward off isolation — and expects business to pick up significantly in June and July.
“It’s been a long hard year, and we’re anxious to get back out there and get busy,” he said.
Kim Bohstedt, owner of Kim Walks Dogs, said she’s fielding more and more inquiries from new clients seeking a meet-and-greet to help ease the separation anxiety they expect their dogs will experience once they return to the office after being home full time for more than a year.
“Things are inching back, but business is still down. I still have a long way to climb back up to pre-COVID numbers,” said Bohstedt, who mostly operates in and around Logan Square. “Some clients moved away, others found they were able to manage on their own. I’m hoping for the best.”
For Carine Mininni, owner of Urban Tailz, calls from people looking to have a dog stay with one of her employees while they go on vacation have been more frequent than people seeking dog walkers.
“Everyone is vaccinated and wants to get out of here,” she said. “Walking is coming back a bit slower for us.”
To make her services more attractive, she’s pushing what she calls “adventure walks” where she’ll run a group of dogs at a forest preserve for a few hours.
“I’m optimistic,” she said.