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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 11:22 GMT
Dog walking business leads off
Charlotte Hanson and Candice, a poodle
Charlotte has made Pet Perks' branded jackets to keep dogs warm

By BBC News Online's Sarah Toyne in Leeds

Dog walking may not seem the obvious choice for a business, but for Charlotte Hanson it is proving to be a successful venture.

Charlotte, 30, set up Pet Perks in September 2000 with the help of a Prince's Trust Loan and now walks 80 dogs a week.


Whenever the rain and snow get to me I think I am not stuck into a nine to five job in the rat race

Charlotte Hanson

In February 2001 she will draw her first proper salary. Over the past 16 months, she has been living on 50 a week, and concentrating on saving cash to develop the business.

She is now at a crossroads, and is deciding whether to employ someone or set up a franchising network for her business around the UK.

Charlotte also wants more time to care for her own dogs. She already has Polly, a greyhound, but would like some more.

Pet Perks

Charlotte graduated from Leeds University in 1998, with a BSc in Animal Physiology and Nutrition.

Charlotte walks the dogs
Charlotte walks Lassy, Candice, Ramario and Gypsy

Working with animals seemed a natural conclusion for someone with an animal-related degree.

But it took six months of working as a temp and various other jobs, including driving the Leeds University bus and shopping for pop stars, before her true vocation dawned on Charlotte.

She grew up on a small holding in south Devon and has always wanted to work with animals, but she found it difficult to get a job in the field and wasn't attracted by the salaries on offer.

"It is a difficult line to tread between doing something for the love of it and being able to live on what you get paid.

"I did contemplate vetinary science, but it is so hard to get into do and the thought of being thrifty when I finished and being the junior office member and the one being sent out on call - just turned me off. I just thought I may as well work for myself and then all the effort I get back."

The dogs take a dip
Gypsy and Romario take a dip

Driving the university bus and shopping for pop stars meant she had quite a lot of spare time on her hands, and started looking after the dogs of her neighbours and friends.

One dog led to another, and it went from there.

Business help

It took about six months to get the Prince's Trust Loan - she was unemployed at the time - and sought advice from the local Business Link.

She says that she spent ages on her business plan which "really impressed the Prince's Trust panel".

She used the loan to pay for a deposit on a van, and pay for advertising and office costs.

Charlotte Hanson
Charlotte in the park

"It has been a slog. It is definitely difficult. The hardest thing is keeping yourself self-motivated every single day, with no holiday, and working everyday when it is raining or snowing - like this morning.

"It can be incredibly difficult sometimes, but whenever it gets to me I think I am not stuck in a nine to five job in the rat race - that is just not me."

Dog Whispering

Now that she has established her client base, she has become more choosy, primarily because she takes up to six dogs at a time and they need to get on.

Charlotte's van
Charlotte's van

Her clients form a combination of people who are working, and those unable to walk their dogs.

She also takes on dogs who need to "socialize" with other dogs.

Helping problem dogs and witnessing a change in their behaviour has been very satisfying, she says.

Liability

The patter of tiny feet may not be most businesses' concerns, but they could be a potential liability for a dog walking business.

Oscar, a golden retriever
Oscar plays with a stick

She says that if bitches are on season they don't go out walking, and she has public liability insurance through the National Association of Pet sitters, which costs 80 a year, for any other doggy accidents.

This gives her up to 1m liability cover.

Dog walking is not without its paperwork, and Charlotte says that it takes her between five and six hours a week to do her administration work, which she does every Sunday.

Each new client must sign terms and conditions and a booking form, which details anything of concern, such as whether the dog is scared of fireworks or has particular allergies.

She is also a registered dog sitter.

Dogs ready for walking
Candice, Romario and Gypsy ready for walking

Charlotte sees her role as a "public service".

"There is a nationwide need all over the country. People need their dogs looking after while they are working."

But she says the decision to take on an employee or franchise is a hard one.

"It is going to be difficult getting someone who is trustworthy," she says.

"Some times I am in two minds about whether to expand, but then I think there is a calling for it out there."

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 ON THIS STORY
Charlotte Hanson
"When the weather gets to me I just think that I am not stuck in the rat race"
Charlotte Hanson
"The hardest thing is to keep self-motivated everyday whether its raining or snowing"
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