Dolly is an eight-year-old Pug rescued from Lort Smith Animal Hospital. She only has four teeth, but she won’t let that stop her from eating anything and everything she can get her paws on. Which isn’t much, to be honest. She’s pretty small and far too lazy to get creative in seeking out food. She just relies on you taking pity, which you do. How could you not? She has four teeth yet so much spirit.
I walk Dolly three times a week. When I say ‘walk’, I mean sometimes I force her to walk around the block, but she starts breathing so loudly and heavily that I’m worried someone will report me to the RSPCA for animal abuse. So sometimes we just go to the park across from her house and she sniffs around a bit and greets people then asks to go home and have a treat, thanks.
Dolly’s owner pays me $20 for a walk. When I started I just asked for $15, because I still couldn’t believe someone would actually pay me to hang out with their dog. But she insisted I get more, then told me to help myself to soft drinks in the fridge. I send her lots of crying-from-laughter emojis when Dolly is being particularly funny or particularly lazy, and she responds with, ‘that’s my girl!’
The first job I ever had was waitressing at a Salsa club. I remember precariously trying to balance trays of drinks while tiptoeing around the edge of the dance floor, people sashaying in front of me, too engrossed in their elaborate costumes and exaggerated moves to notice that someone was trying to clear a table. I got cash at the end of the night that never felt worth it, and I still haven’t quite forgiven salsa dancing as a whole, and everyone involved in it.
Sparky is an 18 month old Labradoodle, and the happiest dog I have ever met. Our walk is her favourite part of the day. She loves other dogs, but is so submissive with them that she just embarrasses us both. I groan inwardly every time we pass another dog in the street; she will immediately flop onto her back so they can sniff her belly. If I try to keep her going I just end up dragging her down the street on her back. When we eventually get to the park she runs around to every dog there, rolling onto her back for the initial greet, and then furiously licking their face until they tell her to fuck off.
Mid-way through my undergraduate degree, sick of being a broke student, I took a gap year and got an office job in the city. It was well paid, but I simply adjusted to my new income: buying nice clothes to wear to work, a gym membership because I was sitting down all day, and organic super-foods, because they were having their heyday and I needed to feel better about myself after selling my soul to a company that leased cars to BHP. Cars and mining was a strange deviation from my global studies degree that I had chosen as a teenage activist for social equality and environmental protection. I was sick a lot that year. I passed out at the tram stop on the way to work once. I got tested for the various malabsorption syndromes my doctor predicted, but they all came up negative, and once I quit my job I got better. Turns out stress can make you really sick.
Poppy is a fourteen-year-old terrier. At this stage in her life she is pretty cranky about most things––other dogs, other people, hills––but she still wants to go for her walk every day, no matter how bad her arthritis or how poor the weather. Poppy’s owner forced a pile of cash on me in advance. Extra, because she wanted me to take the very best care of her precious little terrier while she was away. I would show up at her mother’s house where Poppy was staying and start smiling and nodding and gesturing to Poppy or her lead because I don’t speak Greek. I would walk ever so slowly next to Poppy until she stopped and looked up at me, telling me she couldn’t go any further. Then I would pick her up and carry her home.
Two months ago, I was working in a retail store selling backpacks. It was an iconic Melbourne brand that was made locally twenty years ago, and the customer base is still hanging on to that fact. These days, a $200 backpack probably cost about $2 to make, if that. A new area manager had just come in, the kind that thinks he needs to whip everyone into shape because declining sales are a direct result of poor performance and not an industry-wide reaction to the online marketplace. I’m pretty tolerant, but when he suggested there are too many women working in our store I cut my losses and ran.
I’ve never quit a job impulsively before, and I’ve never quit without something else lined up. I desperately asked everyone I know if there are any jobs going, and my friend Max suggested Pawshake––an app that connects dog owners with dog walkers. I signed up pretty quickly, and the next day I was riding my bike down the road to walk Robbie and Rosie, two wiry little rescued terriers whose elderly owner is unable to walk them. They pulled me down the street on the first day, so excited for the walk––a treat they never get. Two months in they still want to take off down the street at a gallop, but instead of trying to slow them down I just wear exercise gear and run along with them.
I’ve lost so much weight since I started, and I’m powering through podcasts and audio books. My wage has been cut in half, but I learned years ago in that stress-inducing office job that you adapt to your earnings. I sell more clothes than I buy, I ride my bike everywhere to save on petrol and tram fares, I’ve deleted my food delivery apps and just eat in every night.
Like many others of my generation, job insecurity is something I have gotten used to. I’ve had ten different jobs in ten years, which is strange to consider since I stayed in many of them for multiple years at a time. But most of them overlapped with each other; I very rarely worked one job at a time. My dad has only ever worked the one job, and it is the job he is still in today. I know my situation scares him––sometimes it scares me too. But I try to think about all the different experiences this career amalgamation has afforded me. It may be stressful, but it’s also freeing. I haven’t had ten jobs because I couldn’t keep one, I’ve just been able to change my mind and my situation as much as I want or need. And ultimately I have a much clearer picture of what I’m looking for now. In the meantime, dog walking is pretty damn fun.
Sally Gearon is a perpetually employed publishing student who walks dogs, reads books, and regularly wonders aloud whether it is too late for coffee or too early for wine.