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He began walking service to cure unemployment
Nate Kankelfitz currently services the neighborhoods near Shasta Elementary School, offering his dog owners walking and sitting services. - photo by James Burns

Nate Kankelfitz had exhausted all measures.

He had applied for every job imaginable, only to be told he wasn’t qualified, told he was too late or told nothing at all.

 “I put in applications for places to do the most simplest of positions. I guess it was a lack of job experience,” said Kankelfitz, a well-spoken 29-year-old. “No one ever wanted me.”

With seemingly no options, he turned to man’s best friend for a solution.

He became a professional dog walker, servicing the neighborhood around Shasta Elementary.

“The love from the dogs is something you can’t explain,” Kankelfitz said. “There’s also an appreciation. Before this, nobody knew who I was.

“Now that I walk around this park with these dogs, people and the kids at Shasta know who I am.

Well, sort of.

“They don’t know my name,” he clarified, “but they call me The Dog Walker.”

With his long blonde hair pulled in a ponytail, Kankelfitz is a staple on the pathways and hills of Shasta Park.

Some days he can be spotted trotting alongside dogs no bigger than a football. Others, he’s being dragged over hills and through low-hanging trees by an American Bulldog.

In all, Kankelfitz has eight clients: A cotton-ball Bichon that answers to Casper, a Pomeranian, a pair of Chihuahuas named Nacho Junior and Pancho, an American Bulldog, a Rottweiler/Labrador mix and German Shepherd.

Each has their own personality. Each must be handled differently.

Tank has to be wrangled like a bull at the front door. On Friday, the Rottweiler/Labrador mix pulled Kankelfitz around the rim of the park for an hour, stopping only for a gopher excavation.

Then there is Mimi – a bulldog terrier – who makes the most of her afternoon stroll.

She grazes through the grass for about 45 minutes and then spends the final 15 minutes locked in a staring contest with Kankelfitz’s cat.

“He’s very personable with his pets,” said Rose Bueno, one of Kankelfitz’s original owners. The Buenos have three dogs: a German Shepherd named Taz and the two Chihuahuas. “They all love him. My dogs love him.”

Kelly Dowell has noticed a drastic change in Casper, her one-time flight risk. 

“Casper doesn’t run out of the house anymore. When you’d open the door, he’d dart out,” Dowell said. “Since we’ve had Nate, he doesn’t do that.

“I told (Nate) he has to be a part of this family, because he helps with the dog so much.

“Casper needs him.”

The feeling is mutual.

What began as a temporary solution to his unemployment has become his calling.

The Manteca High graduate has high hopes for a business venture unique to this area.

He’d like to expand his footprint, growing the business beyond the Shasta neighborhood he calls home. He’d also like to add a grooming service and potentially hire help.

Kankelfitz charges his owners a base rate of $15 per session, and the price will vary according to the number of dogs, a dog’s behavior and size.

It’s the equivalent of a full-time job – and then some. He walks dogs Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

He even handles service calls. He’s lured stray dogs off the porch of the Dowell residence, provided house- and dog-sitting for a few of his owners, and even retrieved the body of the Buenos’ first Chihuahua. The dog was struck by a car.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry, Rose. I’ll go get him,’ ” Bueno said. “He went to pick up my dog. He didn’t hesitate at all. He just did it. That goes above and beyond a dog walker.”

That’s his pledge to his clients and their two-legged owners. He’ll exhaust every measure.

“They always say do a job that you’re going to love,” he said, “and I love doing this.”