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Putting The 'Fur' In Furlough, Dog Walkers Say Shutdown Is A Drag

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DOG WALKER
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WASHINGTON -- Sure, canine Americans are happy that furloughed federal workers are spending more time at home. But what about their usual daytime companions, the dog walkers whose services aren't required as long as government employees can exercise their own pets?

Three days into the government shutdown, Meg Levine said her Capitol Hill-based dog-walking cooperative -- the business is employee-owned -- hasn't suffered too badly yet, even though many of her customers are federal employees currently on unpaid leave.

"It's affected us slightly," she said. "It's just kind of a headache."

Like other small-business owners in the Washington, D.C., area, Levine does have "ongoing concerns" that the customers of Just Walk DC will lose their sources of income for extended periods. Mostly, though, she's just "very angry" with politicians and thinks her clients feel similarly.

"There certainly is a sense of frustration from a lot of my clients, who feel that this is just needless roadblocking," she said. "For the most part, we are continuing to chug along and feeling very hopeful this will end soon. I like D.C. when it functions. Oh, this town."

JJ Scheele, owner of Dog Walking DC, said her business has already taken a hit.

"All the walkers are down anywhere from one to three dogs" per day, Scheele said. "Because walkers don't get paid very much and they work week to week, it's going to make an impact on them, especially if it goes for more than a week."

And if the shutdown is really protracted? "I don't know what I would do," she said. "I think they can handle a week. But after a week ... I honestly don't know what I would do."

Christina Bell has an idea of what she'll do if her dog-walking clients don't need her for much longer, and she doesn't like it.

Bell, who has her own dog-walking business, Doggy Daze DC, as well as taking on clients from other companies, said that business is down by about half since the shutdown went into effect -- from about five or six hours of work per day to two-and-a-half hours.

"I just hope this is a short period," she said. "If it's longer than a month, then I'll have to find something else to do. Which really kind of sucks. Because I really enjoy my life the way it is right now, you know -- having my business."

Getting a "quick job," Bell said, would have disadvantages beyond merely giving up the pleasures of self-employment. "Working at a grocery store or something would be cutting my pay in half," she said. "Hopefully, when one door closes, another one opens."

There is one dog-related company thriving this week: It's a self-serve dog wash adjacent to a Northern Virginia dog park, which is adjacent to a river. Dogs who go to the Shirlington Dog Park often find that their favorite thing, swimming, is followed by their least favorite thing, a bath. The pairing is happening with uncommon frequency these days.

"I'm getting more business because people aren't working," said Muddy Mutt owner Andrew Low. He added, "Usually we're dead during the week ... Twenty-five on Monday, 14 on Tuesday, 23 yesterday. That's a lot during the week. We don't even ever come close to that."

But despite the record crowds, even Low is unhappy about the shutdown's ripple effects.

"It's been stressful for me because I've been sick," he said. "I wish it would slow down."

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