The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Callib Carver
For The LOG 

Personal Pooch Pro

Seward runner finds niche market for unique business

 

Callib Carver | For The LOG

Heidi Sinclair's workplace ranges from trails to rivers, streams to lakes, mountains to ocean. There is no office cubicle. Sinclair gets kisses from two of her clients, Duke and Banjo during a personal pooch exercise "class" last week.

"I prefer to think of myself as the Jillian Michaels of dog sitting," Heidi Sinclair jokes as we begin what is her second hike of the day, up the Lost Lake trail. Sinclair is no stranger to trails in and around Seward, and neither are some of the local dogs thshe takes hiking with her.

Sinclair owns the Seward Pet Lodge, where she is laying the groundwork for her dream job of working with dogs on a daily basis, from lodging to walking and providing a host of other services, such as grooming. But for the time being, she only offers one service, and that's dog walking, or perhaps dog hiking is more accurate.

"Dog's need a change from walking the same block," Sinclair said, "They've peed on all those trees, and smelled all the smells. This let's them experience new smells and new places." She explain how the dogs she hikes with respond to their experience and how they react to the change of pace.

"Charley is a completely different dog from when I first met him." Sinclair said. She describes Charley as out of hand, wouldn't listen, and bribing him with a treat was the only way he would come to her, get in the van or obey a simple command.

Now, Charley is a great dog to work with, said Sinclair. He responds to verbal commands, and even a hand motion. He is calmer during the day, especially after a hike.

Yen Ly, Charley's owner, rescued Charley.

"We've all worked with Charley," Ly said. "But Heidi has been a key part."

Ly said they don't know his entire past and what he's been exposed to.

"She's helped him socialize with other dogs and people," Ly said. "He has his good days and bad days, but he's more focused now."

Sinclair used to live in Minneapolis, where she was studying to become a vet tech, before deciding she wanted to do more with animals outside then inside, even if inside she would be helping them get and stay healthy. Sinclair has worked with other companies that care for dogs, but always wanted to open her own business.

"I've got to be my own boss, you know. But I didn't want to live in Minneapolis," Sinclair said.

"Dog walking is a thousand dollar business and it's growing," Sinclair said. "It's different in Anchorage, but no one offers it here."

During our hike Sinclair brought four dogs along. Her dog Otis and three client dogs, Banjo, Duke and Charley. Instantly they assume a kind of pack mentality. They're friendly with one another, and they respond well to Heidi's presence and command, never leaving her sight though they are not leashed.

Like any dog owner, Sinclair does have her worries during the hike, for example, encountering a bear, or one of the dogs being quilled by a porcupine.

"You don't have a protocol for something really, until it happens," Sinclair said. "I'd get down off the mountain, with the dog as fast as I could. I'd drive them into Anchorage if I had to." Fortunately there haven't been any such problems.

Callib Carver | For The LOG

Heidi Sinclair's office is wherever she is at any given time. She makes doggie exercise and hiking appointments from the trail and takes pictures for her dog clients' owners. Sinclair takes her own dog, Otis (above left) out for a hike and a dip with clients Charley and Banjo. Below left, Sinclair receives a call from the Chamber of Commerce about helping with a tourist's dog. Below right, Charley flies up a trail during one of Sinclair's boot camp sessions.

Each dog, before going on a hike, is put through a kind of application process. She meets the dog in a one-on-one to get a feel for the dog and it's personality. From there she determines which group of dogs he or she would work best with, or even builds a group around said dog in certain cases. Then slowly she introduces the new dog to the group. At first on a leash and then, with the owner's permission, she will eventually allow the dog to move freely without a leash during the hikes.

Not every owner wants their dog to go on a hike. Some dogs simply can't make the two to three hour hikes that Sinclair takes them on. So she also handles the simpler walks. Checking on the dogs and letting them out for tourists that are staying in their RVs and campers. She also adds other small touches to the hikes, such as sending photos to the dog's owner showing their dog working out and having the time of their life.

In the future Sinclair plans to offer more services, as she expands her business and builds it from the ground up. Winter does't slow Sinclair down. In the winter, she also boards dogs in her home, not in kennels. But for now she is content with offering the only dog walking service in Seward that she describes as "not your ordinary around the block service."

 

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