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Dog walkers Karen and Brittany Alwerud of DogZenergy have provided pet services to La Jolla’s favorite dogs for 10 years. Brittany, who started the business as a way to earn extra cash as an UC San Diego student, recently moved to Los Angeles, but drives back regularly to check on her business. Karen moved to La Jolla Shores in 2011 to help her entrepreneur daughter.
How did you end up in La Jolla?
Karen (K): “I was born in Los Angeles. I lived in Mission Beach while I went to college, did that whole scene ... I left and was a flight attendant for about eight years. I started a family and quit my flight attendant job to raise my kids, and we raised them in an avocado horse ranch in Temecula. But kids grow up! Brittany went to UC San Diego and she started the business walking a few dogs in the Bird Rock area while she was at school. I’d done a lot of work with horses, we always had about six dogs on the ranch, tons of animals, so it was just natural for her when she went off to college to say, ‘I’m going to walk dogs to make some extra income,’ I said, ‘OK, just not in freshmen year, but maybe in your sophomore year.’ ”
Brittany (B): “It just started as a hobby, a way to make extra cash … and then it got so busy! We were walking dogs on almost every street in La Jolla, and I was like, ‘Mom, I need you to come help me!’ ”
K: “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’ So that’s how I ended up in La Jolla, moved to La Jolla Shores, it’s been an awesome dream come true, working with my daughter, and (sharing) our love for animals.”
B: “It’s been a dream come true because when I was younger I would sit on my mom’s bed after school and I would talk to her about how I would love to have a business together one day. And I wanted her to move to La Jolla because I knew she would love living here, it’s such a beautiful place and community.”
How do you like La Jolla?
K: “I love it, there’s no better place.”
B: “I was here for 10 years and then I had to move, and it was really hard. I moved because of my husband’s job. We met here at UCSD, when we were 19 and 20, and then we ended up moving in together at the Shore Colony Apartments before they tore them down at WindanSea Beach. We loved living there. He’s a big surfer, I surf, and it was awesome living here.”
(To Brittany) Where do you live now?
B: “I live in Topanga Canyon, in L.A., so we traded the flip flops for cowboy boots and now we’re able to have dogs and horses and tons of animals. But I come down here quite a bit, at least once a month, to see my mom and take care of my business.”
How many people do you employ?
K: “We employ about 12.”
B: “Most of them live here in La Jolla, or nearby.”
Are most of your dogs La Jolla dogs?
K: “Yes, although we have some in Del Mar.”
B: “Some of our dogs we’ve (walked) since they were puppies, and now they are 8 or 9 years old. So we’ve been very lucky, there’s at least six dogs that we’ve had for nine years or so.”
Do you have any funny stories about walking dogs around town?
B: “I used to walk a high energy German Shepherd around Scripps campus, (and the owner) also had Segways (self-balancing scooters), so I asked him, ‘Would you mind if I took the Segway out and actually ran your dog?’ And sure enough, I ended up using the Segway to run the German Shepherd and I would bring other dogs with me to get a lot of energy out. Dogs here in La Jolla, they love the beach, but because of leash laws and everything else, the dogs are really cooped up and have a lot of energy that doesn’t get out in beneficial ways, and it can come out in bad behaviors. That’s why we believe that getting dog’s physical and mental energy out is so important to they can be Zen and balanced.”
What’s the maximum amount of dogs you walk at a time?
K: “Our average is four. We’re not one of those dog walkers that tries to get as many dogs in one group because it’s all about the money. It’s all about the experience for the dog (with us). But we offer playgroups, one for big dogs, one for small dogs. We pick up these dogs (in a van), take them to the dog park, and they love it.”
B: “The (dogs) get to be off leash, it’s really fun. There are these dogs that go every day, and they know where to sit in the van, is like a little school bus.”
Where did you get your love for animals?
K: “It’s within me, ever since I was a small child. I brought home every stray — lizards, snakes, you name it, I had it.”
B: “Growing up on the ranch was really great because my mom would see a snake on the road and she would stop and pick it up so the kids could see it.”
(To Karen) How many kids do you have?
K: “Two, they’re both entrepreneurs, my son Sven-Anders started a skateboard company called Jelly Skateboards in La Jolla.”
(To Karen) Are you married?
K: “(I was but) we parted ways about the time we sold the ranch.”
What do you do for fun?
K: “My most favorite thing is riding horses with my daughter up in Malibu or Topanga, with her mini donkey and her two dogs. Nothing makes me happier. I’ve played tennis most of my life. I love going to the beach with friends, being active.”
B: “I’m pretty much the exact same (both laugh).”
How do you handle dogs who misbehave?
K: “I’m a dog trainer, so if any clients have misbehaving dog problems, I can help them. But honestly, we don’t take on any aggressive dogs. I do a meet-and-greet with every new client to make an assessment. I want to know for the safety of my dog walkers because they are usually young, female, college graduates, and I want to know that the home they go into is safe.”
Do you have a favorite dog that you walk?
K: “Every week I do a walk and train with these two amazing gray Pyrenees, Thelma and Louise, and I don’t know what it is, I’ve been doing it for two years at least, and we’re so connected it’s just amazing. It’s almost a spiritual connection ... it’s very awesome.”
B: “Every dog is different, and we have our favorites for different reasons. Like Murphy here (pictured), he’s like a little human, a man trapped in a dog body, he even has very humanistic eyes. I’ve actually known him for about seven years now, his mom, Becky, is a local artist.”
What’s your favorite breed?
K: “I just love them all.”
B: “A really popular breed now in La Jolla is the Golden Doodle.”
K: “And ‘Frenchies’ (French bulldog)!”
B: “I’d say those are La Jolla’s favorite dogs.”
K: “And Golden Retrievers! People love seeing them in the truck on the way to the park (makes excited dog sounds), they can’t wait to get there!”
B: “I have two Golden Retrievers, so I’m partial to them (laughs).”
Is there something common to all the La Jolla dogs?
B: “La Jolla dogs are very loved and very much a part of the family.”
K: “They’re people’s babies! If I come back as a dog, it has to be to somebody in La Jolla.”
Is it true that dogs look like their humans?
K: “No, not really.”
B: “I don’t know, I look like my dog and my husband looks like his dog. I think you get attracted to a certain dog because they have characteristics similar to yours, you see yourself in that dog. So I guess even if (human and dog) don’t look physically alike, their lifestyles match, and when their lifestyles don’t match, that’s when we see problems.