We know that having a dog in a city is a uniquely challenging experience. Cities weren’t made for dogs (some days they feel like they were barely made for humans). So, we want to demystify what we can by talking to people in the communtiy and sharing stories, advice, anecdotes and everything in between.
This week, we got the chance to chat with Khrys Solano - founder of her own dog walking and training company Gotham Canine. She founded when she was 19 years old and has steadily grown the business over the last few years through word-of-mouth and referrals, staying the course and doing what she does best. She’s a native New Yorker who knows the city inside out, walking the streets every day with her own dog Butter and her clients’ full squad.
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You’ve basically run your own business since you were 19 years old. How is that even possible and where did you start?!
It wasn’t easy, and if you told me at 19 that I was going to actually be RUNNING a business 6 years later, I wouldn’t have believed you. It was definitely something that came out of a very organic transition from dog walker to running an actual dog walking business. I’ve rebranded a few times, bounced around trying to find the right assistants, had to put my foot down a few times, but in the end, this business is my pride and joy and I am so happy to see how it has flourished.
When did your love for dogs first begin and when did it become clear that this could become a real career?
I grew up with a dog, a German Shepard mix from Bidawee, who I believe I was adopted in 1992. I called Bidawee trying to find information on that but they don’t actually carry records that far back, unsurprisingly.
But anyway, I wanted to be a vet growing up. It was stuck in my head for my entire childhood. However, September 2, 2008 I had to put my childhood dog down. I had watched it happen and told myself I couldn’t be the person that performs it so things ended up changing around there.
I luckily have always been artistic and found solace in art, and with that I ended up and using dogs as my muse I found a lot to do, but after leaving college and just wanting to be around dogs, I was very content.
Do I feel this is a real career? Sometimes. I’m not sure about all of the time and I can’t say if I’ll be doing this forever but for now I’m doing great.
What do you love most about what you do? I mean, besides the fact that you get to hang out with dogs all day…
I’m constantly active. I keep fit, although my diet says otherwise haha. I do an average of 10 miles on a given day, my record was 17.2 miles on May 3rd of last year according to my phone’s Health app.
How has your business evolved over the last few years?
I do far more client based stuff and team managing over dog walking than I have years ago. I try not to be the biggest people pleaser to avoid burning out, but I love to see the dogs happy and when they are, my clients are happy! It’s created some huge dog friendships, a few of my clients actually have become friends through their dogs after connecting through me. There’s about fifty clients in total, so I do spend a lot of time working out schedules and accounting.
How does your schedule vary from day to day?
Let’s blame the MTA for it’s issues on any given day, but aside from that, I don’t know what each day will hold. Who will I run into? What kind of ideas will I have for future opportunities or endeavors? The city has a lot of influence everywhere and I can turn a different corner one day and my entire perspective can change.
What do you look for in team members as you grow your team?
Energy!!! It doesn’t matter to me what your favorite dog is, or if you have formal experience, but you need to be a person who truly loves dogs in order to do this job. There’s going to be days where everything can go wrong, your coffee isn’t made right, your socks are wet, you’re not feeling the best, but if you’re a person who sees a dog and has the drive from there because of their unconditional love and that huge smile, then this is definitely a job you can possibly grow with.
What should people consider when they’re hiring a dog walker?
The important thing is insurance. Make sure they’re insured. But also, don’t just look for someone who’s price and time works, you need to make sure your dog likes your dog walker. I had a potential client who got mad at me because on the first day the dog was terrified of me. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to force your dog to come out of its safe zone when they don’t know me. I’m not here to create a fearful experience for your dog, and there is probably someone out there who’s a better fit for them.
What’s one question someone should make sure they ask when vetting a new walker?
Definitely ask if they understand dog’s body language. I’ve seen my share of very stressed out dogs out with walkers.
What’s a sign that the relationship with you, your walker and your dog is going well and what’s a sign that it’s time to switch?
When it’s going well, here’s a true story that happened: you’ll be in the dog park with your own dog, and it just so happens your dog walker is also there. When they’re leaving, your dog looks semi annoyed that it got left behind, shows that your dog truly trusts the walker, they feel like that they belong with them.
Not well? Listen to your dog. If they look stressed or extra pumped when you come home, your walker might not be giving them the right amount of time for them. A good walker would take that situation and speak up that they think your dog may benefit from a little more.
What are some common characteristics of some of your let’s call them “challenging” clients?
Micromanaging. Nobody benefits from being micromanaged for sure. You may not think I know your dog, but I spend an adequate amount of time with them to know them.
And what makes for a really amazing relationship between you, the dogs you walk and their owners?
Clients who appreciate the things I do! The simplest thing that can be done to form a very positive relationship is just to say “Thank you!” to me. If you are appreciative and grateful of what I do, I am much happier to be a part of your dog’s routine.
You also have a dog of your own! Can you tell us a bit about Butter - when did you first get him and when did you decide you were ready for a dog?
Butter is an ASPCA alumni. Adopted back in Feb 2012. He was a family dog, I had just turned 18, he wasn’t really a single person’s choice, more a family decision (that my mom was against!). I think emotionally we were ready, he grew into more my dog over a family dog, I was home a lot and spent a ton of time with him when he was young.
A lot of people are afraid of pit mixes. You said that was one of the main reasons you moved to Brooklyn, so you could find an apartment that would take him. What are the biggest misconceptions about pit bulls and what are they actually like?
I spent ten hours a day, five days a week with dogs. There’s definitely an adequate amount of small dogs who are much more dangerous than Pit Bulls and various “aggressive breeds.” Larger dog owners, from what I have seen and worked with, take MUCH more precautions on making their dog a positive part of a community if they aren’t friendly rather smaller dog owners will, most of the time, not properly respond to aggressive behaviors in the dog, but because they’re small, landlords think it can pass.
Being around a large share of Pit Bulls, the main thing you have to worry about is they take up far too much space in bed, they want to always be around him, and speaking with Butter in mind, he’s a huge momma’s boy. Wherever I am, he wants to be.
You not only walk dogs though, you also board them. What’s it like having so many dogs in the house at one time?
Queen sized beds are far smaller when there's a ton of extra bodies. Plenty of love to go around, and a little extra working around routines with feedings and walking, you want to make sure everyone has an adequate amount of stimulation and isn't overwhelmed or underappreciated.
How do you balance time with Butter with time with the other dogs you walk and board? Does he ever get jealous?
He has his favorites haha. But he definitely gets his share of one-on-one time with me when there’s other dogs present. He is much happier when he has a furry friend around versus being by himself.
What are some of your favorite activities to do with Butter in your free time? Any particular hidden gems that people should tackle on New York weekends with their dog?
Butter and I are unfortunately lazy haha. We do go on hikes when it's warm or to the beach in the summer but we do just go shopping or out for food when we actually go out. Definitely try to experience Central Park and the Hudson River Park if you can.
You told me that Butter hates being alone, but does pretty well if there’s another animal around. When and how did you figure that out?
I knew something was up when I would take him on a very long walk in the morning, be gone for at most four hours and have to clean up accidents when I got home! I figured it had to be separation anxiety and adopted a cat for him haha.
How does Butter get along with your boyfriend?
Sometimes I wonder if he actually likes my boyfriend more because he’s definitely the one who gives him very serious belly rubs and will gladly play hours of tug of war with him, but if I leave, and my boyfriend is home, Butter will cry for a few minutes!
My boyfriend says, “I think he likes me. I hope. He’s cute.”
What’s the most challenging part of having a dog in New York City? Either for Butter or for the dogs that you walk and board.
Not all dogs are fit for the city, and it is something that has to be taken seriously. There is a lot here to take in and not all dogs can manage it.
For the dogs who are currently here? Salt when it ices over, I feel so bad during the winter. That and I hope everyone is getting enough exercise without a yard!
Does Butter sleep in your bed?
I sleep in his bed! It’s his house, I am just lucky enough to be a roommate. We snuggle every night, and he’ll go under the covers. Oh, and he snores. Terribly loud.
What time do you guys get up every morning?
He doesn’t have a set schedule. He’s up when I need him up! He’ll sleep in all morning on weekends and won’t ask for a walk until noon at least. I have to force him out of bed on weekdays. It’s dramatic.
Walk before or after breakfast?
After on weekdays! He gets a little herbal anxiety supplement with his food, takes half an hour to settle, so after he’s eaten, time to empty that bladder and wait for the supplement to take effect. He’s also a social eater, I have to be present for him to eat, so I usually work on my skincare routine or do dishes while he’s having breakfast.
What do you listen to while getting ready for the day?
Oh man, that depends on my mood. I have a few Amazon Echos in the apartment so either a current Daily Mix playlist on Spotify, or NPR. I listen to a lot of Post Malone, Halsey, and 6LACK so my playlists reflect that.
You are New York born and raised. Would you ever live anywhere else?
I’ve been thinking about that recently and it scares me. I’ve never actually been to the west coast so I would love to experience that one day, who knows, maybe I’ll love it, and my boyfriend talks about Texas for its low cost of living so honestly who knows! I’m 26, life can take me anywhere although I’m very happy to be in Brooklyn and wouldn’t mind staying.
Our morning routine series is designed to showcase the diversity of experiences that come with having a dog in the city in all the ups and all the downs.
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