I arrive just after 11 am at a hiking spot just outside of Glasgow, Scotland. The dogs are barking their menacing terrier bark and Laura jumps out the van, puts them on a leash and greets us. After a quick hug and a hello, it’s off on what was planned as a one hour hike (more on that later).
Laura – a former zookeeper who worked at Glasgow Zoo and Monkey World and worked as an Outreach Animal Education Officer for Edinburgh Zoo – is now a dog walker and five (yes, five of the beauties!) are hers. The other dogs are client dogs. Her five terriers Ruaridh, Hector, Jinx, Pixie and Begbie – each with their own, unique personalities – lead the way and know ‘what’s up’. Before Laura takes a client dog out on an adventure she interviews both the dog and their human companions to ensure the dog is looked after well and knows “basic commands”.
“I can tell within the first five minutes if they’ll work with the group,” she said. One of the dogs bounds up ahead off-leash and then patiently stops and waits for the crew to catch up. It’s clear from the first hour that it isn’t just ‘dog walking’. She’s in tune with their moods, can tell when their getting ‘iffy’ (someone is approaching) and commands them to do ‘x’ which they’ll do. They all love her, hovering around her like little worker bees around a hive. Never straying too far and always close at hand.
“How good is this?! This is my job!”
An 80’s permed, curly-haired Golden Doodle called ‘Barney’ bounds all around us, with legs as wonky and as playful as a baby giraffe’s. He recently joined but is already ‘in with the crew’, with the little terriers chasing him about and playfully knocking each other over – even though Barney is triple their size. He walks five paces ahead and looks back at Laura and the others. “I could tell pretty much straight away with him. I had him on a long line to begin with but he was great.”
After about 45 minutes of walking and talking Laura suggests we climb up the ‘Marilyn’ – a smaller, relatively easy hill to climb that is not as high as a ‘Monro’ – a mountain over 914.4m (3,000ft). As we were, “already here, we might as well go up it,” we continued on our dog-walking, mud slipping, forest exploring adventure to the top of the hill.
Laura has previously marked trails in the forest for other hikers or mountain bikers. “I think I’m a bit of a paradoxical explorer though,” she said, wanting to share the best of nature with people but at the same time, kind of wanting to keep it a secret. I can see why.
The variation of scenery is stunning. Between the worn gravel roads for logger trucks, the slightly-worn trails to near-no trails at all that meander between dark forest undergrowth and green hills truly are magnificent. In the undergrowth, we could be in any fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm. The moss squishes beneath our feet as though it were lusciously soft carpet. The sun peaks and peers behind the tall pines with light barely making it down to our eye level. The smell of wet earth and pine needles wafts through the cool air. It could be broad daylight out of the forest but inside it’s as though someone turned the dimmer down on the sun. It’s peaceful.
We reach what’s known as Jim’s Hut – a refuge for walkers coming down one particular side of the hill. Built by a man called Jim (who has since passed away) and now maintained by his family it’s stocked with complimentary water bottles, treats and a notebook to write a message. A refuge from the rain, protection from the elements and a true discovery in its own right.
Located in the middle of the forest you truly need to explore the area to chance upon its location, making it all the more special. Mushrooms sprout at the base of trees. The dogs sniff for mice. Hector digs a hole. Barney chews the trees. ‘Archie Pug’ who is aptly named, trails behind most of the time where he keeps me company. Although not physically designed for strenuous physical exercise he’s a seasoned walker and easily makes it up to the summit.
By the time we reach the top of the Marilyn, we’re in the clouds. “Usually you can see for miles!” she says with a Scottish laugh. A 360° white wall of cloud circles us. “Please universe, clear the way for a bit would ya?” Not a minute later the clouds roll up the hills and begin to part, filtering away behind us. The patchy green hills start to appear. The dogs roll around in wet grass and the wind howls. I keep thinking to myself how lucky these dogs are to be treated to such an adventure. For her own dogs, it’s daily. So often we keep our animals physically and mentally caged up in our houses. Too distracted to take them for a walk; we wonder why they scratch, bite and chew things out of frustration.
“This. This is life.”
Laura is one of those – for use of a better word – ‘no bullshit’ people and tells it like it is. It’s refreshing. Walking with Laura and the dogs was liberating thinking about people in offices sticking to the status quo of a ‘9 to 5′ because ‘it’s just the way it is’. Of course, we all have bills to pay, mouths to feed, houses to warm and lives to live, but if you can create opportunities for yourself and take that chance on yourself, even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll be all the better for it.
We climb down the hill, back the way we came through the undergrowth and pop out onto a gravel road. ‘Archie Pug’ is an all-around trooper and continues to walk behind me most of the time. The others still have enough energy to bound up ahead with Barney leading the way.
After 20km and a five-hour walk, the dogs went for a dip in the reservoir with more than enough energy to continue bounding for sticks. Archie is a little confused as to why he can’t swim.
The next day
We were fortunate enough to join Laura for two walks, the second time adventuring with ‘Toby the Swamp Dog’. In 2018 Laura incidentally created a viral video. Toby – a beautiful, but kind of dopey – Golden Retriever was filmed dipping into a mud swamp on a very snowy, brisk morning on one of her usual routes. The video went viral. Viral websites used the video without her permission, the video blew up and all of a sudden she was the dog walker who had filmed this extremely hilarious video of Toby having a dunk.
“I uploaded the video without too much thought and then continued on walking. I didn’t have any signal until I got to the van and then I had about 10 missed calls and messages and hundreds of notifications. I’m just a dog walker doing my thing.”
Toby – off-leash as we’re nowhere near roads or other people for that matter – knows where every swamp and waterhole is along the route. As we walk along he’s more than often nowhere to be seen. He’s usually patiently awaiting Laura in the next swamp or finding rocks to bring as presents. He ‘splooshes’ in, dunks himself under and finds sticks or stones to be thrown back to him. The ‘look’ Toby gives Laura is that of, “Are you going throw that stick now?” or, “I’m staying in this swamp.”
I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I also believe that you should learn from every experience that life throws at you.
Our second day is more off-road. Meandering through a forest, over low walls, across muddy water and along a small stream. Ruaridh chases rocks, Pixie chases pats, Begsy and Hector chase mice and Jinx struts along and patiently waits for an ‘up-high pet-taxi’. Toby struts along either behind or in front of the group with either a stick, rock or mud in his mouth. After two big dunks in the mud holes, it was time to head for clean water. Toby, unphased as to whether the water is brown or clear, heads straight in. The mud pools off his coat and within a few minutes, he’s almost sparkling clean.
It’s clear that with her years of experience, compassion and care for the animals and the ability to do what she loves she can be the person she truly is; hilarious, witty and open-minded. Laura’s attitude to life is infectious. Her interaction with animals, impromptu nature lessons and a true passion for what she does on this planet rubs off on anyone who comes into contact with her. Plus, her accent just makes everything even better.
The long road to dog walking
Laura has been working with animals for around 20 years. In 2014 Laura worked at the Sea Life Aquarium on the banks of Loch Lomand (just outside Glasgow). She was diving on a regular basis and had been preparing to go on a Live Abroad dive holiday in the Red Sea. When searching for suitable boarding for her Umbrella Cockatoo, she discovered and became involved with The Island Parrot Sanctuary on the Isle of Kerrera, which is across the water from Oban.
“It is extremely hard to find people who can provide the specialist care that parrots need, and I discovered this charity – which was run by volunteers – and began volunteering 2 to 3 days a week when my schedule from SeaLife allowed. I would travel up, stay over, and help care for the 80 plus parrots that were kept at the Sanctuary. It was here that I met Fingal.”
The Sanctuary became a charity and relied on volunteers to function. The owner packed up, left The Sanctuary and moved to the other end of the island, leaving the dogs behind to be cared for by volunteers who were passing through or staying long term.
'Adventurising' Dog Walker
“The dogs were not allowed inside the cottage, and they lived under a worktop counter in a storage area just outside the cottage called The Mud Room. The three of them shared a blanket under the counter on a tiled concrete floor.”
Fast-forward to October 2014 and Laura and her former partner John accepted the positions of a live-in maintenance man and manager. The dogs now had people who’d care for them properly, with John creating a rota for volunteers to take the dogs out for a walk around the island rather than let them be confined to the yard.
“Fingal was sad. He was missing his owner, who would pop in every now and again and see the dogs and then leave, which confused them terribly. Fin had dry skin, flaky ears, sore pads and a big cyst on his left eye. He was very smelly and dirty and his coat was greasy. He seemed to have given up… until Ruaridh stepped in. Ruaridh thought Fin was the best thing ever. John began feeding them together and letting them hang out together in the front garden, away from the big dogs and safe and secure whilst everyone else went about their work. A little bromance began to blossom. Ruaridh was full of fun and began to engage Fin, rolling a tennis ball over to him and trying to get him to play tug with a rope toy. Fin didn’t know what to do at first, but with a little encouragement, he soon got into the swing of it. They soon became best pals.”
Eventually, things seemed a little too good to be true. The Directors had been stringing them along, promising contracts that would ensure their job security. Laura was ready to sell her flat in Glasgow and commit herself to the Sanctuary. However, there were plans to relocate the birds and close the Sanctuary on the island. They were disposable. Due to the circumstances Laura and her former partner had to move back to Glasgow.
“…So, John and I were forced to move back to Glasgow and attempt to salvage any work opportunities that were there, but I wasn’t leaving without Fin. Fin’s owner was suffering from the onset of dementia, and his wife dealt with all of their business. I sent her this message:
“It was agreed that Fin would come home with me and John, and we promptly took him over to Oban on the ferry and went straight to Pets At Home where we bought him a collar, a lead and a shiny new name tag with our address and numbers on it. He was so happy to wear his new collar. We packed the van and made 3 trips in total back down to Glasgow to get all of our stuff back to our flat, and we took Fin with us on each journey.”
Fast-forward to 2015 and then, “New Year came, and we bid farewell to 2015 with mixed bittersweet emotions. We had been through a lot, but Kerrera had given us Fingal and Hector and we had a positive outlook for 2016 with our little furry family. Because I was only working 3 nights at the weekends, I had weekdays to do whatever I wanted, and what I wanted to do was spend time with my dogs, go for long walks, clear my mind and figure out what my next move was going to be. It just so happened that my Cani-fit running buddy Vivienne was also out of work and looking for direction and purpose, so we began meeting up at stupid o’clock in the morning at Mugdock Country Park with our dogs to spend the day walking, talking through our worries and fears, planning our futures and keeping each other’s spirits up by having a laugh, getting lost in the woods and going on adventures. Team Terrier was born.”
“Summer 2016 was one hilarious, fun-filled dog walking forest adventure and Fin loved every second of it. We were out all day, every day. The dogs were being dogs, and they were absolutely loving being able to do proper dog stuff – eating and rolling in horse and fox poo, chasing deer, digging holes and having the time of their lives. Vivienne and I chatted about starting a dog walking business, and one day while we were drying the dogs off at our cars I commented on how good it was to be able to walk all day while everyone else was at work. And that was it. I had my business name. The rest, as they say is history.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I also believe that you should learn from every experience that life throws at you. Fingal has shown me that there is always hope, that you can always move on from a bad situation, and that it’s alright to be a wee bit mad and have a good old roll about and chew your own leg every now and then.”