Kirsty McCole set up Charlie Brown’s Dog Walking (named after Snoopy’s owner) after watching an in-flight movie. Being a flight attendant working out of both Gatwick and Heathrow, the films didn’t usually catch her eye, but with a love of dogs and outdoor exercise, this movie – about a woman who sets up her own dog walking company – tugged a particular heart-string.
“It sounds funny doesn’t it?’ Kirsty says, between gusts of February wind, “but I’d had a particularly bad day at work. They were offering redundancy and I thought: That’s it! That’s what I’m going to do.” So she sold her sports car and bought a small van, then painted it striking pink and black, printed some cards and then endured a nail-bitingly slow start. “People weren’t used to the idea back then,” she says. “It was more common in America, but after six months it snowballed and we knew it was going to be successful.”
That was thirteen years – and three vans – ago. Now she has five walkers (some of whom are students on animal management courses) and a great track record of creating happy, sociable, well-mannered and fit pooches.
“Dogs are pack animals and they love to be with their friends. It gives them a lot of sociability that’s great for a pet, both with people and other animals. But it also makes them happy. They’re so pleased to see each other every day. And they’re good at welcoming the ‘new kids’ because they’re used to dogs coming and going. With our regulars there’s a real feeling of family and I’ve seen some from puppyhood to the rainbow bridge: that’s heartbreaking for us, but at least we know they’ve had a great life bouncing about in the Surrey countryside.”
Of course there ARE downsides: some dogs have a particular love for rolling in VERY stinky things like fox poo, while others are habitual puddle bathers, so you really have to like the dogs as if they were your own dog. Or child.
“We start early with pickup,” Kirsty explains. “And even though I love it, there are some cold rainy mornings when it doesn’t seem that enticing. We have different dog groups based on age, health and ability: it’s no good taking the seniors for the same kind of walk the younger dogs need, but they all get an all-day walk and care. Once they’ve had their walk, we wash off anything revolting they’ve rolled in, and then drop them back at the owners. It keeps them really fit and it’s funny when you go and pick up a dog that’s had a week or so break: they’re definitely a bit more rotund! But they soon run that off.”
Reigate, she says, with its fast commute to London, and the two big airports also being big employers, is a great place to run her business. “Lots of people want a dog because Reigate is a very family focused town. But if everyone is out all day – at school or commuting to the City or elsewhere – then Charlie Brown’s helps them have that family pet.”
Added to that Reigate is slap in the middle of some wonderful countryside. “I use Reigate Hill, and the North Downs. It’s great having them on the doorstep.”
Originally from Chepstow, South Wales, Kirsty moved to Reigate twenty years ago to work with the airlines, but it proved to be a random movie that changed her life into the fit, happy, business woman she is today. “Reigate is a great place to run this business, but it’s also a great place to live,” she says. “It’s sociable, busy, with great coffee shops, and Priory Parks… Reigate’s basically brilliant.”
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