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Dog walking business breathes new life into resident

Frances Gentile started Frances walks your dog. to lift her spirits.
Frances Gentile sits with Phineas, left, and Fergie. She was hired to take them on walks.

Frances Gentile sits with Phineas, left, and Fergie. She was hired to take them on walks. /Amena Anderson

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Visit the Frances walks your dog. website.

one dog each visit = $15

two dogs each visit = $25

three dogs each visit = $35

Frances Gentile walks Phineas, left, and Fergie in Grand Rapids.

Frances Gentile walks Phineas, left, and Fergie in Grand Rapids. /Amena Anderson

Frances Gentile snuggles with Phineas, one of the dogs she is hired to walk.

Frances Gentile snuggles with Phineas, one of the dogs she is hired to walk. /Amena Anderson

Frances Gentile, 57, was pedaling her bicycle home in March 2005 when she got an idea. She would start her own dog walking business, and she would call it Frances walks your dog.

She had just been fired from her job as a mortgage document proofreader, but she wasn’t complaining. Her job wasn’t exactly exciting.

“I often didn’t have enough to do, so I was bored out of my skull,” she said. “I was quite glad to be sacked from that job.”

It was time for a new phase in her life. She said she was tired of sitting in a cubicle all day and wanted to be her own boss. She wanted to be outdoors.

In fact, it was her desire to be outdoors that motivated her to start her business.

“I didn’t develop this business because I had an overwhelming love for dogs,” she said. “I didn’t have the thought in mind, ‘How can I be around dogs all day long?’ My thought was, ‘How can I get outdoors?’ I need to be outdoors.”

Gentile (pronounced jen-TEE’-lee) attributes her need to be outdoors to SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. This disorder sparks depression in people during certain times of the year, especially during winter.

One of the ways to deal with SAD is “to force yourself to get outside even in gray weather,” she said.

“And so that was a bigger motivation for me than the dogs,” she commented. But don’t get her wrong; she enjoys dogs. She owns a Boston terrier named Jackie and rides a white Vespa scooter with doggie paw prints on the seat.

Before Gentile started her business, she registered its name, which actually ends with a period—Frances walks your dog.—downtown in the county clerks’ office. She also took a 15-week course at the Grand Rapids Opportunity for Women business center, where she learned how to create a business plan.

Seven years later, Frances walks your dog. has grown to 32 active clients whom she works with throughout the year. Gentile said she makes enough money to live comfortably with her husband Mark Moran, a professional pianist.

“We pay the mortgage with enough fun money left over,” she said. “And, I’m saving up for a MacBook Pro, and I am going to pay cash for it.”

She’s planning to buy the MacBook—which costs as much as $2,000—by the end of June, and there is only one reason why she can do it: “I work my ass off, “she said.

Frances walks your dog. is open 365 days a year. Her busiest times are during spring break, Thanksgiving and Christmas. She said her clients range from single women to senior citizens who all have something in common.

“What they all have in common is they’re all busy,” she said. “It’s a service for busy people, not wealthy people.”

Before she takes on a client, Gentile sets up a meet and greet with the dog owners and the dog at their home.

She shows them her Pet Sitters Associates LLC insurance and gives them a list of references. She also makes sure to bring treats for the dog as “a goodwill gesture." She talks payment, the owners hand over a key to their house, and the dog-walking service begins.

Gentile charges $15 to walk one dog each visit, $25 to walk two dogs, and $35 to walk three dogs. She will only walk three dogs at a time and doesn’t charge for the meet and greet.

Lewis Smalligan has used Gentile’s dog walking service for the past three to four years for his eight-year-old dog Bunky. He found out about her service through LocalFirst, an organization that promotes local businesses.

He said she has “excellent” service.

“She’s friendly. She’s always there. She’s priced well. She’s good with dogs and she’s nice,” he said.

Gentile said she brings all the necessities when she walks a dog.

“I provide my own baggies. I provide my own treats. I provide my own leashes and harnesses,” she said. “I want this service to be as easy for the client as possible.”

The dogs she walks range in size from a Shih Tzu to a Newfoundland. A Shih Tzu can weigh as little at nine to 16 pounds, according to the American Kennel Club, and a Newfoundland can weigh as much as 130 to 150 pounds, according to the Newfoundland Club of America.

She said the walk lasts about 25 minutes, but it can take additional time to feed and leash the dog. Especially if she has to chase the dog down to leash it. After the walk, she leaves a doggie report card for the owners to let them know how the walk went.

“My walks are extremely uneventful, and that’s the way you want them to be,” she said.

“Frances walks your dog.” isn’t the only dog walking business in the city, but Gentile said each has its own territory.

Her territory is “bordered by Leonard on the north, Boston on the south, Monroe on the west, and East Beltline on the east,” according to her website. Her neighborhoods include Downtown Grand Rapids, Heritage Hill, Cherry Hill, Eastown, East Grand Rapids and Ottawa Hills.

Now that she is a dog walking—and cat-sitting, if needed—professional Gentile is no longer constricted to the confines of a cubicle. But she said the best thing about being a business owner is that she’s in charge.

“I call the shots and my clients are collaborators with me,” she said. “We collaborate in the care of their dogs. And I do love my clients.”

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