People & Living | Unusual professions
‘As a dog sitter, I need a thick skin’
Zurich people with unusual jobs: Claudia Zander is a dog sitter. She looks after other people’s dogs, including the pets of VIPs. With her dog-sitting service ‘gehlaufen’, the former marketing manager has spent the last 17 years ensuring our four-legged friends have loads of fun and exercise. When she’s out and about with her pack, she sometimes attracts some hostile comments. But despite this, she can’t imagine a more enjoyable job.
Claudia Zander (46) specialises in dogs, offering daycare and a walking service for our four-legged friends. She picks them up in the morning and drives them straight to the start of the walk. After that, the dogs spend time in her specially equipped doggy daycare centre before heading outdoors again to run and play. Up to eight dogs spend the day with her.
‘If you think a dog sitter has an easy job, you’d be wrong. Of course, it’s nice to be outdoors, but my job also involves a lot of responsibility. It goes without saying that I have to keep the dogs safe, but I also have to make sure they don’t harm anyone else. This also means respecting nature and other animals. I have to be constantly alert when I’m out and about because if a jogger, horse rider or tractor approaches, I have to be able to call the dogs to me straight away. That’s why I always have my phone in my pocket when I’m out. I just carry it for emergencies.’
‘If you think a dog sitter has an easy job, you’d be wrong. Of course, it’s nice to be outdoors, but my job also involves a lot of responsibility.’
Many of Claudia’s charges live in the same neighbourhood, the Englisch-Viertel in district 7. And she also welcomes one or two full-day guests from nearby Zumikon, Zollikon and Küsnacht. Proximity is important because it means the dogs spend their time walking rather than in the car. Some of her clients belong to Zurich’s high society, and others work long hours, leaving them little time to give their pets the exercise they need. Some are elderly and are no longer able to walk their dogs. And some simply want their pets to socialise with other dogs, like children at a playgroup.
‘All my clients are equally important. They are entrusting me with a much-loved family member, and I appreciate that. The fact that I have different breeds in one pack is no problem, they all get along fine. If a new dog comes along, I take it and its owner on a trial walk to see if it fits into the group.’
Claudia Zander clearly loves her job. She enjoys working with the dogs and values the trust and appreciation of her clients. These were things she missed in her previous work in the marketing departments of major companies and in the film industry.
‘I always loved my work, but in these jobs there was too much focus on commercial success while the human aspects fell by the wayside. So I was looking for a job where this was different and that would allow me to have a dog of my own.’
She was inspired by the dog-sitting services she observed when she lived in the USA. On her return, she set up her own business shortly before her 30th birthday in 2004 – ‘gehlaufen’, the first professional dog-sitting service in Zurich. A whole day’s care costs 90 francs, while a long walk is 49 francs.
‘Certain ‘friends’ couldn’t understand why I would trade the film industry and my high heels for being a dogwalker in rubber boots.’
‘I have a successful business and a rewarding job, because I’m outdoors with the dogs all day and my own husky can be with me all the time. But at first people ridiculed my new job. Certain ‘friends’ couldn’t understand why I would trade the film industry and my high heels for being a dogwalker in rubber boots. But I’m proud of what I do because, at the end of the day, I’ve been running a successful small business for 17 years and I would urge everyone to follow their dream.’
Claudia always attracts attention when she’s out with her pack. Keen walkers, local farmers and the gamekeeper all know her and understand she’s doing an important job. But when she meets people she doesn’t know, things can be more awkward.
‘As a dog sitter, I need a thick skin because people can be quite hostile. It was especially bad during lockdown when lots of people were out in the woods who don’t normally go there. They were upset that dog owners let me take care of their animals or complained about the smell of the dogs, even though we were outside. I ignore comments like that. I’m more interested in the gamekeeper’s praise when he tells me I’m doing a good job. But the best reward of all is looking into the eyes of the tired, happy dogs at the end of the day.’