Guest post by Ruth Schechter
Visitors to the sprawling metropolis of Buenos Aires often run into a sight that can warm the heart of any dog lover. Throughout the shady streets in the upscale neighborhoods of Recoleta and Palermo you can spot professional dog walkers, called paseaperros, exercising as many as 20 beloved pets at a time.
An estimated 1 million dogs live among the 15 million people in Buenos Aires. Since most people work long hours and live in apartment buildings, passeaperros are in great demand. For a set fee, they will provide door-to-door service, escorting their wards to a nearby park where the animals can play and the humans can visit, drink mate (a popular herbal beverage), and share the responsibilities of grooming, watering, and keeping the peace.
“You really have to love animals to spend so much time every day with them,” says Jane Stalofi, who started her dog-walking service 12 years ago. She picks up nine customers each weekday morning at 8 am and brings them to a large run she and some fellow entrepreneurs constructed behind the landmark Flor de Metal park in the Recoleta, where the dogs get to mingle minus leashes until it’s time to head back home about two hours later.
Nearby, Roberto Crespo unfolds a complex chart that he uses to organize his 16 dogs as he works his way through his pickups. After three years, his clients include Weimaraners, Labs, golden retrievers, and a malamute. “I decided to specialize in larger breeds because it made it easier for them to all keep the same pace,” he says. “When I see a Yorkie trying to keep up with a Great Dane, I feel sorry for the little guy.”
While there are no set qualifications, the law requires walkers to register with the city and set a fine for failing to clean up after accidents. But like so many laws in Argentina, the canine code is rarely enforced, and visitors are wise to keep their eyes on the pavement.
According to the walkers, the job is a lot harder than it looks. There’s a tremendous amount of walking and the stress of keeping control of different personalities vying for the alpha dog spot. “I feed them, play with them, groom them, teach them manners,” says Jane as she pats Essa, Mora, and Lola, all Jack Russell terriers. “It’s a lot of work, but I get to spend my time outdoors having fun with dogs.”
If you’re in Buenos Aires with your pet:
If you need to hire a paseaperro, your best bet is to ask a local doorman or a local pet store owner for a recommendation, or look around the neighborhood . Rates run from about US$8-$25 per day. While few of the better hotels in the Recoleta will allow dogs, those that do can arrange dog-walking services on a day-by-day basis. Here are a few of them, but contact the hotel directly for confirmation and details.
Park Hyatt offers a canine VIP service, with special treats, pillows, and toys for dogs up to 12 kilos (26 pounds).
Unique Hotels, a boutique chain, will accept smaller dogs for a fee.
Alvear Palace and Ulises Hotel will allow dogs (and cats) of less than 10 kilos.
Ruth Schechter is a freelance writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area who specializes in education, health care, and travel. Her great aversion to cold weather has induced her to spend her winters in Buenos Aires, where she continues an ongoing struggle to master Spanish. Ruth previously wrote about the confiterias of Buenos Aires for Traveling with Sweeney in Life is Sweet in Buenos Aires.