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Life Beyond My Wildest Dreams: Professional Dog Walker

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 27, 2024 3:01 am

Life Beyond My Wildest Dreams: Professional Dog Walker

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 27, 2024 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories,  Ryan Stewart went most of his life unsure of his purpose... But, there was one thing that kept him going -- dogs. He shares his story of how canines have helped him - in manageable doses.

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And to search for the Our American Stories podcast, go to the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. Up next, we're going to hear from Ryan Stewart. After going through life unsure of what he wanted to do for a long time, he settled on something quite out of the ordinary. Today, Ryan runs a very successful dog walking business in New York City. But a job isn't the only good thing in life that dogs have brought him.

Ryan's here to share about the many ways in which dogs have impacted his life and continue to do so daily. I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and I was given up for adoption, like immediately, like when I was three days old, I was handed over to a military family, and they weren't happy together, you know, it was one of those marriages where the woman was pregnant. And so my father thought the honorable thing to do would be to marry her, but they weren't really a good couple. So I think they tried to fill that with kids. And so they adopted me and then they adopted two other Taiwanese children. And you know, they had two of their own.

So then they had five. And when I was six, my adopted mother and my adopted father divorced and she left the house. And he raised us for a while alone. My father growing up, I always thought he was really, really boring. He didn't talk much. He did stuff like he ate the same food. I remember he ate like grape nuts and like almost every morning or oats or something like that. And he liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

And he, aside from his military outfit, he wore like jeans and a T-shirt and like a cheap windbreaker. And it never occurred to me that he was anything more than like a boring man. But later on in life, now he's my role model. I mean, he adopted me and two others from Taiwan and he put bread on the table. He took no credit, no glory, no limelight. You know, he was a church-going man.

The church loved him. I remember I spoke at his funeral at the church 10 years ago or so. And I told them, I told a church full of people that I would be pretty proud of myself if I could somehow become half the man he was. You know, they say blood is thicker than water. He adopted me.

So I always think now that sweat is thicker than blood because he put the work in, man. We were in D.C. for several years and I got the crap kicked out of me like on a daily basis growing up in D.C. So I toughened up.

I've had to fight every day, you know what I mean? So then we moved to Europe. He was reassigned and we were in Holland. And that was interesting too because then you're like, you're the Yankee, you know? I remember there was this big graffiti near like two blocks from her house that said, Yankee, go home.

I remember reading that every day of my life there. But for the most part, I loved Europe. You know, I got in a lot of trouble at first because I was used to fighting. So, you know, I thought, oh, you know what I mean? Like you solved your problems with your fists.

Well, you know, like in nicer areas you don't do that, you know? So I was in the principal's office. I was like his favorite, you know?

He's like you again. And then he would have like a bowl of candy and say like, have a candy, sit down. And then he wouldn't even discipline me.

He would just sit there and talk about his childhood and I would just listen to him. I also accelerated grades. So I apparently was very smart when I was young.

I don't know what happened, you know, where it went. But when I was young, I was very, very smart and I would be like that kid who you get an hour to take a test. I'd finish it in 20 minutes and slap it on the teacher's desk. And then all the kids would look up, you know, and glare at me, you know? And then I got beat up for that. So slowly learned that fighting wasn't the way to go.

And then we moved from Europe to the St. Louis area, St. Louis suburbs. And I got picked on a lot because I was small and young. But fortunately, my sisters were pretty popular, you know, homecoming queens, stuff like that. So a couple of the guys who became my friends wanted to get closer to my sisters, so they would sort of try to get close to me, you know? And so that helped me a lot.

I finally probably stopped getting picked on when I was maybe like a senior. So, you know, we had chores. One of my sisters would maybe be doing the dishes and my brother maybe has to mow the lawn, but I had to walk the dog. So I always had the dogs company. And something that sort of saw me through my solitude was my relationship with dogs.

And I don't know what I would have done without them. Years later, my girlfriend at the time got a new puppy and she got a trainer and I watched the trainer. You know, I followed the directions and the trainer looked at me and says, you have a natural talent with dogs. You know, have you ever thought about working with dogs?

And so what I did with that is nothing, but I did read some dog books and I taught that dog maybe 40 or 50 tricks, like walking on its hind legs or walking or belly crawling like an army soldier or turning circles one way or turning circles the other way, or, you know, playing dead or rolling over, you know, all kinds of tricks. And we used that dog for like commercials in New York City and stuff like that. And that got me hooked up with a commercial agent for animals.

And so she would always call me. And so I've done, you know, I've been the trainer on set for dogs on stage, dogs on runway, dogs on commercial sets, dogs on short film sets. So I wasn't really full time into it at that point. I was just kind of beating around the bush, you know, picking up some commercials here and maybe like sometimes waiting tables. And then I'm not sure how appropriate this is, but I started selling mushrooms.

So this is like eight years later. I was going out with a different woman now. And she said, what are you doing with your life? You know, like, what are you doing?

It's not that she was a nice person, but she was smart. And I said, well, what should I do? And she said, well, you're good with dogs. Why don't you try working with dogs?

And basically she said, if you don't quit all this nonsense that you're doing, I am going to break up with you. And so I almost got forced into the dog business. I looked into working in a dog daycare. It just the money wasn't good enough.

Training wasn't steady enough. And I looked into dog grooming. I just wasn't into grooming.

You know, it just wasn't me. And so I just settled on dog walking. And you're listening to Ryan Stewart share his own stories, not only about his passion for dogs, but about everything else from his father to his girlfriend telling him to essentially grow up. When we come back, more of Ryan Stewart's story here on Our American Stories. Here at Our American Stories, we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith and love. Stories from a great and beautiful country that need to be told.

But we can't do it without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love our stories in America like we do, please go to OurAmericanStories.com and click the donate button. Give a little. Give a lot. Help us keep the great American stories coming.

That's OurAmericanStories.com. There's a lot happening these days, but I have just the thing to get you up to speed on what matters without taking too much of your time. The Seven from The Washington Post is a podcast that gives you the seven most important and interesting stories.

And we always try to save room for something fun. You get it all in about seven minutes or less. I'm Hannah Jewell. I'll get you caught up with The Seven every weekday.

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Betterhelp.com slash OAS. And we continue with our American stories and Ryan Stewart, owner of Ryan for Dogs, a successful dog walking business in New York City. When we last left off, Ryan's girlfriend was pushing him to grow up and to get a life and we'll get serious about his life.

Let's pick up where we last left off. Being a dog walker, it's scalable. Like if you walk three dogs at once, that's three times the money of walking one dog. Although I wasn't really like the goal wasn't to make money, the goal was just to get a regular job so my girlfriend wouldn't leave me. So it was a little slow going at first because you're going to go into someone's house with their keys and take their precious dog out for a walk. So the most important thing is having the people who hire you trust you to go into their house. So you start off slow and you have to build a reputation. So the first couple of years are kind of slow and they're not making a lot of money. But as the years progress and you do a good job and you work hard and you don't kill any dogs or lose any dogs, then you get more of a reputation.

Then more and more people hire you. And it's just I didn't imagine this would turn into like, I mean, it's 15 years later now. So it wasn't how I imagined it would turn out to be, but it's what's known as life beyond my wildest dreams.

I actually like who I am finally. I work with dogs every day, seven days a week, and I haven't taken a vacation since 2008. It must be because dogs are great. So when I first started walking dogs, it was a bit of a novelty to get large groups together, you know, because then it's sort of fun because, you know, like, wow, how many like you want to stretch your limits.

Parents out there, that's why your teenagers drives 95 miles an hour and gets arrested because they're testing their limits. So when I first started, of course, I'm like, huh, I can walk three dogs together. Let's try four.

Let's try five. And so I would go up to 12 all at once, sometimes on a bike. Sometimes I would be riding a bike with like 10 dogs on one side.

The thing is, that's really hard. So I would prefer not to make my job harder because what happens is if you have like 12 dogs and one of them stops to poop, you sort of have to kind of shift all the other 11 to one side. You've got 12 leashes and you have to get your poop bag out. And then you have to somehow reach over and get the and still keep the other 12 from fighting each other and pick up that poop and then get it to a trash can. And then like, whew, that was like two minutes of hard work getting that poop up.

Let's be on our way. And you take three steps and then another one starts to poop. So like three or four or five, you get a lot more done.

Plus, people don't stare at you and take your picture. There was an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, you know, where the guy scoffed at dog walkers and said, anyone can walk dogs. Let's not even call it a profession. And he might be right when it comes to one dog or maybe even two. But if you want to walk six or eight or 10, you have to be good.

You have to have some talent. There's certain types of customers who like me because I'm no nonsense, like at all. I'm actually considered a bit rude, but I'm not trying to be rude.

I just don't feel like BSing. And I've noticed that amongst a lot of good trainers that I've known. Good dog trainers are so to the point that it's almost considered rude. Like we would be at dinner.

My mentor, her name was Linda. She would like in the middle of dinner, she'd say, I'm not feeling very well. I'm going to go home.

And she'd stand up, you know, throw $60 on the table and leave. And I'm in the middle of like my quesadilla. You know what I mean? Dogs are to the point. That's what dogs understand. So if you work with dogs for years, you're just to the point.

Eventually, after several years passed, I was popular enough where I had too many dogs to walk myself. And so I hired a guy and then, you know, another couple of years passed and I hire another one. And I looked at it and I knew I could hire more and more and more and I could become a manager or owner of a large operation. And very quickly, I saw that when you have people working with you or for you, they're human beings.

So they have their flaws. So some of them are late often or some of them don't communicate well or, you know, and so that can be very annoying. So I thought, well, gee, like if I keep hiring people, I'm going to be annoyed all the time. And I'm like, that's not what I signed up for. I signed up to work with dogs.

And so I held three people. I also do dog training on the nights and weekends, and I could do that like a lot. But training is difficult for me because I will go and meet a dog owner and their dog and I will tell the dog owner what to do. I will give examples and they will nod their heads and say that's completely makes sense. And then they will go back to doing exactly what they were doing before. So that's not easy for me to get paid to be ignored.

And that's what it feels like. So I'm not overly fond of training, but I do it. I have a Rhodesian Ridgeback that came first, a German Shepherd and a little he's like a little terrier mix. They were all owner surrenders, so they all have their little problems. I had known this little terrier. They hired me to walk their dog and the owners finally gave up on him. After five years of trying and trying and they knew they wanted kids and he's he's a biter. He bites them. He bites other dogs. He was going to bite their kids. And they said, we can't keep him. We're going to turn him into a shelter. And I knew that like he's going to he's going to be killed, you know, because he's going to bite his next owner.

So I kept to myself. He's not my favorite dog. Sometimes I wish I didn't have him. Often I wish I didn't have him. He's a pain in the but I see a lot of myself in him. I was given up more than once like him.

And it's like personal, like I'll be damned if I'm going to give up on him. Now, I take dogs into juvenile detention facilities for a job. And they tried several people before me and they don't last very long, like a week or two, because you can't just want to help. You have to be able to mingle with like 18 year old convicted murderers and be comfortable with them. And coming from a tough background, you know, that helps me a lot. And also having made so many mistakes in my life helps me not judge others.

And I've been working there for about a year and a half now. I'm trying to get youth to engage and to bring them out, you know, and get them to talk about themselves and try to get some of them to learn something. And sometimes that's not easy because they're very guarded. I'm working with teens who have shot someone. Most of them have killed. I bring the dog in and it grounds them, you know, their feet don't touch the earth anymore and the sun doesn't kiss their face. So if I bring a dog and they can touch the dog and then they touch the earth by touching the dog and perhaps just for that for that minute, they feel human again.

You know, despite the horrible things that they did, they're still children of God. And I'm not saying I want them out on the street to kill again, but that's what dogs did for me. They kept me from straying too far off base when I was in my darkest. I think they have helped me be very in the moment.

So that's what I use. I use that ability when I'm in the juvenile facility because I don't care what they did in the moment, like a year ago or like six months ago. I just try to get them to engage with me now. These are hardened murderers, but some of them are still 15 or 16. So there's still a child in there. And so then you get the dog there and sometimes you can see the child come out.

And that's that's pretty heartwarming. Like one time I saw this big guy, you know, he always acts tough. And I brought in a French bulldog and French bulldogs are like kind of, you know, kind of interesting looking. They look like little frogs. And he stopped acting cool because he just forgot who he was. He was jumping up and down off the ground.

This big six foot two guy who killed someone and he's jumping up and down like a little kid. And I looked at that. I'm just like, yep, some of them are still kids, you know. So dogs have done a lot for me and also like dogs. I was taken from my original mother and rehomed immediately. So all dogs are that. So basically I'm a dog, you know.

It's not really glamorous to be a dog walker, but I find that I care about that less and less. And a beautiful job on the storytelling and production by Madison and a special thanks to Ryan Stewart, owner of Ryan for Dogs. And what a story, starting with his dad, who at first he thought was a boring man and soon came to see his dad as a role model. And right up to his girlfriend, pushing him to get a job, to him admitting I like who I am finally and helping these kids who have done some bad things in their life and using dogs to make their lives better. I still have a picture of 12 dogs on a bike.

I don't know how the heck that happens. Glad he got down to three and four and five. The story of a professional dog walker and how dogs changed his life and shaped it. Here on Our American Story. An October morning in a quiet suburb in a town in Scotland, a man is walking his dog when suddenly shots are fired from a car.

The man falls to the ground and the car speeds off. An ordinary residential area. But extraordinary things happen in ordinary places. The instinct right away was it was a political thing. We're talking about Russian trained, high ranking officer in the secret service.

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