Let sleeping dogs… run
Treadmill-in-a-van business gives mobility-challenged, weather-wary owners an exercise option for their four-legged friends
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/01/2021 (742 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was around this time last winter when Cathlynn Rule slipped on a patch of ice, causing her to tumble and badly injure her left shoulder.
Since then, she’s been hesitant to walk Rocky, her two-year-old shorkie (Shih Tzu-Yorkie cross), because whenever he tugs on the leash, even slightly, a sharp, shooting pain goes up her arm. Feeling like a neglectful pet owner, she was pumped to learn about Dog Dash, a Winnipeg-based, dog gym-on-wheels her boyfriend came across on Instagram in early December.
In a nutshell, Andres (Tito) Ramirez-Urbina, who founded Dog Dash with his partner Mike Iezzi, shows up at your residence at an appointed time. You turn your pet over to him and for the next 30 minutes or so, depending on its endurance level, Ramirez-Urbina puts your pooch through its paces by encouraging it to run on a doggie treadmill bolted down in the back of his and Iezzi’s retrofitted passenger van. Don’t think your dog is up to the challenge? Neither did Rule.
“The first time Rocky tried it he was hesitant. But after a few steps he caught on and pretty soon, he was running so fast he didn’t want to give up,” Rule says.
Now one of Dog Dash’s regular customers, Rocky gets visibly excited when he spots the van pulling into the driveway.
“He’s been going every Monday, at first for 15 to 20 minutes but now for the full 30 minutes,” Rule says. “Half an hour on the treadmill gives him a whole day’s worth of exercise. He’s more relaxed after a run and I would strongly encourage other dog owners to give it a shot.”
Ramirez-Urbina, a dog owner “forever,” lost Perla, an English bulldog-boxer mix he’d had since 2008, to cancer about a year ago. Last June, he and Iezzi brought home Luna, a rescue dog they were told is equal parts pug and boxer. An early trip to the vet revealed Luna had a heart murmur. The doctor said the malady shouldn’t affect her while she’s still young — Luna was 18 months old when they got her — but might down the line, if her fitness level drops.
Additionally, Luna had a few behavioural issues, “running around, terrorizing, eating things,” Iezzi says. In a bid to mitigate that somewhat, Ramirez-Urbina, a dedicated fitness buff, began taking her along on his regular run through their North Kildonan neighbourhood.
“Initially she could only last about a kilometre and needed a lot of breaks, but over time she was able to handle his entire, 5K route,” Iezzi says. “When she got back home she was nice and calm and remained that way right through the next day.”
As the weather turned colder and they worried whether Luna, a short-hair, should be outside that long, they began looking around for indoor facilities where she could still get a good workout. While there was nothing in Winnipeg that caught their eye, they did spot a website for an Arizona-based company called Run Buddy Mobile, which advertises itself as a “mobile dog gym offering fitness sessions to help your dog get and maintain a happy, healthy life.”
That was when a lightbulb went on.
“That place in the States had a fleet of vehicles they were using but after investigating further, we couldn’t find anything in Canada that was remotely similar, which we found odd, considering it’s 30 below five months of the year,” Iezzi says.
In September they ordered three treadmills from a company in The Netherlands that are tailor-made for canines. Next they purchased a Ford Transit van, removing all the seats, save for the two in front, to make room for the equipment. Finally, after having wrap advertising affixed to the exterior of the vehicle, they launched their biz in the first week of December. Since then, they have been on the receiving end of a few raised eyebrows when they’re driving around the city and other motorists read “climate controlled mobile dog gym” printed on the side of the van. (We asked whether Dog Dash, the tag they settled on, is a play on food delivery service Door Dash, and were told no; they simply picked it after learning some of their earlier choices — Unleashed, Dogs in Motion — were already spoken for.)
Unlike that electric treadmill gathering dust in one corner of your rec room, the ones employed by Dog Dash, which come with a harness to keep pooches from making a break for it, are self-propelled. That means if Rover isn’t in the mood to run, it ain’t happening. To encourage his four-legged clients along, Ramirez-Urbina, who serves as “coach” 99 per cent of the time, holds out a treat or toy, offering, you know, paws-itive reinforcement until doggo gets the hang of things.
“Some people will be, like, there’s no way my dog is going to catch on and when they do they’re just so proud,” Iezzi says, noting to date they’ve worked with breeds as big as a Newfoundlander and as puny as a pug. Also, although they can accommodate two dogs per session, the only occasion they would do so is if both belong to the same household. As for their two-legged clients, the ones who pay the freight (for a list of rates go to http://www.dogdash.ca), Iezzi mentions one woman in her 70s who calls their business a godsend. After suffering a stroke, she now requires a walker to get around, which makes it difficult for her to take her dog for a stroll on a consistent basis.
“The thing is, even if you are able to take your dog for 20-minute walk every day, that’s nowhere near enough exercise for a growing dog,” Iezzi says. “Humans walk a lot slower than dogs so when they’re going along beside you they’re burning off very few calories as compared to a treadmill, which gets the heart rate up.” (If you don’t believe him, you can believe a recent business article titled, “Dog treadmills are a growing trend amongst pet owners,” which reported close to three million people in the United States have purchased treadmills for their dog in the last three years.)
Through social media, some people have encouraged Iezzi, a full-time employee with BellMTS, and Ramirez-Urbina, currently splitting his time between Dog Dash and a 40-hour-a-week warehouse job, to take their venture to the television show Dragon’s Den, where entrepreneurs are provided an opportunity to cash in on their brainstorm. Iezzi doesn’t foresee that occurring any time soon, mainly because there is nothing particularly proprietary about what they’re doing, he says. Still, he has also heard from friends and acquaintances in other parts of the country, people who tell him he’d make a killing if he introduced Dog Dash to a city such as Vancouver, where so many pet owners live in apartments and aren’t able to let their dog run loose in the backyard for a few minutes.
“We’re only about six weeks into this, so it’s a little early to be thinking about expansion, but for sure, we’d love to grow things at some point,” he says.
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.