If you’re a sucker for cute doggie photos, one of the best local feeds to follow on Instagram is Montclair Pet Girl. It’s so cute in fact, it just might make you want to quit your day job and walk adorable pups all day.
That’s actually what Janine Ruela did back in 2011.
Ruela, who grew up in Brick but went to college at Montclair State, was working as a teacher, but she was miserable. She started her day with a 45-minute commute that sometimes turned into 90 minutes on her way home if there was traffic. At school, she felt cooped up being in the same place all day long.
While in college, Ruela had worked as a nanny and she still did a lot of dog sitting for that family when they traveled. Through word of mouth, other people started asking her to dog sit or walk their dogs.
Feeling stuck teaching, Ruela had her aha moment. She remembers saying to herself: “I’m just gonna walk dogs. I’m going to leave my job and I’m going to walk dogs. And maybe I’ll just be poor forever, but just be happy.”
Ruela spent the last few dollars she had finishing a yoga certification she had started; then she began teaching classes and walking dogs.
She started slowly, on her own at first, walking just a few dogs each day. Soon her dog walking business grew and she had to get walkers to help her. Today, Montclair Pet Girl has grown to nine dog walkers and 70 dog walks each day, serving Montclair, Glen Ridge, Bloomfield and Verona. A single walk for one dog is $20; schedule three or more walks a week the price drops down to $18 walk.
“As the business grew and I started getting busy, I had to start hiring people,” says Ruela, who adds that since she didn’t come from a business background, she had to grow into it.
“It’s been interesting, fun and a little overwhelming at times,” she says.
Ruela slowly found the right people to join her team. In one case, it was a mom who wanted something to do while her kids were at school. Another hire was a grad student, and then a massage therapist and a photographer. Rulea looked for qualities like reliability, warmth and good communication. What all her walkers have in common is free time in their schedule during the middle of the day — and a love for dogs.
“Some people are more dog people than people people and that’s OK,” Ruela adds.
Ruela offers other services, such as cat feeding. Her overnight service, Pawjama Parties, is geared to people who want someone in their home with their pets when they go away on vacation.
The Pawjama Parties, like the regular dog walking visits, give people peace of mind, something Ruela, who has two dogs and two cats of her own, can appreciate.
“Some people are out of their home from seven in the morning to seven at night. We form this nice relationship where we get to know their pets and get to know their homes,” says Ruela. Sometimes that relationship means bringing in packages on the porch or letting a client know if their dog seemed sluggish or extra thirsty that day.
Another personal touch — Pupdates — a text clients can sign up for to receive an update after the dog walk, just letting them know how their dog is doing, if they took care of their business, even sending a cute picture or two from the walk.
An individualized experience with a local touch is what Ruela strives to create with Montclair Pet Girl, something that’s different than services like Rover or Wag, which work more like Uber for dog walking.
Like so many small business owners, Ruela has learned to wear a lot of different hats, juggling tasks like replying to emails, scheduling walks, doing payroll and keeping Instagram and other social media updated. But she still walks dogs.
“I walk less, but I can’t give it up, especially because there are dogs I’ve been walking forever and I don’t want to stop. It also helps me stay connected because I can see what challenges my walkers face and it makes me more grateful for the hard work they do, especially in bad weather,” Ruela says.
She also still teaches two yoga classes a week at Verona Yoga.
“It’s good for me because it helps me be super present, especially when dog walking by responding to the dog and keeping a good energy. When you are calm on the other end of the leash, it helps the dog to be calm.”
CANCELLED DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER – Montclair Pet Girl is excited to host a Halloween themed “Yappy Hour” this Saturday 10/27 at Just Jakes from 2-4 pm. There will be a raffle, some fun giveaways and a doggy costume contest.