Cautious canine care: La Jolla dog walkers try to power through the pandemic

La Jolla dog walker Molly Ludwig is masked and ready.

Face masked and hands sanitized, Molly Ludwig takes five dogs for a walk three times per week amid rapidly changing coronavirus-related restrictions that have left her business struggling.

“There’s a big difference” in client numbers now, Ludwig said. Her La Jolla dog walking company, ‘Sup Dog, which she’s owned since 2017, normally walks 18 to 20 dogs a day and has more than 50 regular clients.

“We board and offer sitting as well as walking,” she said. “That’s changed; nobody’s traveling anymore.”

Ludwig said she’s down to eight to 10 clients now and has had to furlough her two employees due to the reduction.

Ludwig is not alone: Most similar companies in the area have likewise experienced reductions in clients, staff and revenue. Some have closed temporarily.

Mira Rubin, owner of Paradise Pet Care, which offers “all kinds of pet sitting services for all kinds of pets” in La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Clairemont and surrounding communities, said she has seen an 80 percent drop in clients.

In a normal week, she has 40 to 50 regular clients and 10 to 30 pet sitting clients on weekends, said Rubin, who has owned her business for five years and has worked with dogs for a decade.

“Typically, I have 10 to 15 people working with me, and I’m down to two part-time workers now,” she said.

Most of the clients who have stayed with both businesses are working on the healthcare front lines of the COVID-19 crisis or are otherwise especially vulnerable to catching the virus.

“I have a lot of doctors and nurses that are clients, that are working extra hard right now,” Ludwig said. “I’m still taking care of their dogs. I have a few elderly clients in La Jolla, too.”

Ludwig, who has more than six years’ experience working with dogs, said her canine customers crave routine, and as pandemic-related changes are hard for everyone, many clients “don’t want their dogs to miss out on their daily walk,” even when they’re working from home.

“They still have me come in,” she said. “I have a steady group I walk three times a week. We go down to the beach, and it’s really nice getting out. The dogs are happy; they still get to get out and socialize.”

Without such a routine, Ludwig said, “behavioral issues would be noticed, perhaps sadness or moping. There would be a mood shift, maybe loss of appetite.”

Mira Rubin and her son walk one of the furry clients of Rubin's Paradise Pet Care.

Ludwig and Rubin said they’ve established new measures to ensure the safety of their clients. Ludwig carries “medical-grade hand sanitizer that I’ve been using, and I wash my hands before and after each walk. I wear a mask while walking and I’ve been avoiding close contact with the pets. Some clients have asked me to bring my own leash.”

She also wears gloves “when necessary.”

Rubin said she also dons a mask, and clients will hand their dogs over a fence.

“But when home entry is necessary, we sanitize before going into the house,” she said.

To further reduce potential contamination, “sometimes we bring our own leashes and … we don’t let others touch the dogs,” she said.

Rubin, who has added home grocery delivery to her services to make up some of her losses, said the past several weeks have “been so humbling. I’m very grateful for [my clients’] continued support. This community has been very helpful and supportive.”

Ludwig said she is “looking forward to everything starting to reopen. I think that’ll be good for everyone’s morale. Even the dogs are being funny about everyone being home all the time.”

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