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Recession move: Her business has gone to the dogs

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Recession move: Her business has gone to the dogs

Judy McGovern makes the rounds with “Kota” at Woodward Park.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED June 14, 2013 1:27 a.m.

Kota trots eloquently down the path, his short hair glistening in the sun.

His owner follows faithfully – the leash completely unnecessary – just as relaxed and proud and in control.

It’s a fitting snapshot of Judy McGovern’s love affair with her 14-month-old red Doberman Pinscher.

After all, Kota has been the inspiration for McGovern’s latest venture: Judy Pinkeys Dog Walking Services, a fledgling business still looking to gain traction across the Central Valley.

“I love animals. I trained my Doberman. I’ve been training him since he was a 4 ½,” she said. “I’ve always had this love for animals and I’m pretty good with dogs.”

Her love of the four-legged animal – and the confidence gained during Kota’s training – led to a bold career change in 2012.

The 65-year-old left a 40-year career in the medical field to open a multi-faceted dog walking service that also offers its customers in-home babysitting and a pet taxi, as well as caters to the senior citizen and disabled pet owner.

Leaving for a week-long vacation but don’t want to board your Yorkie?

For $18, McGovern will make a daily 30-minute in-home visit, ensuring your pup is fed, hydrated, walked and medicated (if necessary). She’ll even clean up the bedding area.

Need help transporting Beethoven, your space-eating St. Bernard, to the pet groomer?

McGovern will gladly shuttle the lovable beast.

“I’m older,” she said, “but I’ve got plenty of energy.”

McGovern is fascinated by Man’s Best Friend.

Always has been.

But it wasn’t until Kota began formal training at about 4 ½ months old that her interest blossomed into a business venture.

McGovern says she studies new techniques online for an hour each day and talks routinely with other walkers around the country. She is licensed in three cities and carries insurance to cover her clients.

She takes time to get to know prospective clients and their owners. Each new appointment is subject to an interview process so that McGovern can understand “what they want for their dogs, what kind of schedule they want to keep. Do they want me to walk the dog, or are there other things they want me to do?”

“If they want me to do a little bit of training, like walking or heeling, I can do that. That’s what the customer and I need to talk about first.”

Dog walking is not only vital to sustaining her way of life but your dog’s, too.

“Dogs need to be exercised instead of being stuck in the backyard,” she said. “They need to be challenged physically and mentally. It keeps them happy and behaved. There’s less mischief if they’re exercised.

“They need that challenge or they just mope around. Walking them once in a while just isn’t going to do it. Even if you’ve got a big backyard, it’s not enough for them.”

McGovern’s rates are reasonable and her expertise may be unmatched in the area, but she is learning that owning your own niche business is no walk in the park.

She has just two clients – a German Shepherd and terrier – and together the two don’t come close to covering the bills. There is in-town competition, and she’s seen very little return on her advertising and marketing investments.

“I’m trying to build it up. … I’m licensed and bonded, and now I just need to get the message out there,” McGovern said. “So far I’ve put more money into it than I’ve been getting out of it.”

Frustrated but stubbornly optimistic, McGovern isn’t giving up hope.

She believes her business has a place in the fabric of a small town, especially pet-loving communities like Manteca, Lathrop and Escalon.

“It’s usually the first thing to go when people don’t have money, but I think there is a place for (dog walking),” McGovern said. “I think there is a need for it.”

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