This past summer I signed up to be a sitter on the app Rover and take care of dogs in Baltimore City. I love dogs and have always had at least one in my home while growing up, so it seemed like a natural side hustle. I also really missed my pup back home throughout my entire freshman year and knew I could not go another year without increasing my canine contact.
As a big fan of Meatball and Tilly, the puppers that Stressbusters bring to campus, I figured this was also a way to force myself to schedule self care into my daily life. This job actually works great with my weird class schedule and gives me a chance to enjoy some quality time with dogs. It has also helped me to truly realize the value of my time.
I decided to go for it and sign up for Rover after a friend told me she had found a great walking job that way. I took the background check in July, but my inbox remained empty for the first few weeks. Discouraged by the lack of business, I eventually dropped my rates and told myself it would be alright if I couldn't live my dream life as a dog walker.
Right as I was about to give up and delete my account, I was booked for a relatively long stay with my first client. I learned a lot with that first stay, but mainly I learned that if I treat the dogs I watch like I treat my own puppy back home, they would fall in love with me (as dogs do) and that their owner would too. Just treat others as you would want to be treated, but apply it to dogs.
That first client left me a very kind, positive review, and from there my inbox began to fill with requests. Unfortunately, this boom in business happened right as school was about to start, so I had to deny some bookings. This really didn’t feel great on my student wallet, since I had to turn down one request that would have been worth over a hundred dollars.
It took a few weeks for me to learn the (non-monetary) value of not accepting every booking. I struggled to give up each opportunity to earn money, which revealed how twisted my priorities were. I was working as a research assistant, college application consultant and dog walker all while taking five classes and starting as a Science & Technology editor of The News-Letter. Basically, I was the definition of over-commitment.
As a self-diagnosed chronic overachiever, I had been letting the draw of money override my well-being by trying to cash in on my limited free time. While studying is obviously valuable, spending an extra hour on schoolwork does not offer a tangible benefit like cash does. Since I knew the exact value of every hour I spent caring for dogs, it was easier to justify spending an extra few hours earning a guaranteed sum of money than it was to spend it studying.
After one particularly stressful week last fall, I realized that I honestly could not handle everything I was doing. It seemed as though the universe was plotting against me when I had three midterm exams and a paper in a week where I was booked to walk every morning before class and dogsit (which includes staying at the owner’s home) for two pups from Thursday night through the weekend.
I somehow managed to survive the week with minimal damage to my GPA, but I was stressed to the point of exhaustion. When I talked to my mom on the phone Sunday evening, she reminded me that I started this venture in order to help my mental health. I had let my perfect side hustle become a job, removing the self-care aspect that originally drew me to it. After hanging up the phone, I changed the settings of my Rover services to only accept repeat clients and those that I could conveniently travel to via public transit.
Before leaving campus, I just walked one dog on weekday mornings before my classes. I am fortunate to have a really great relationship with this client and their pup, who conveniently reside near a JHMI stop. It was great to start my day with some fresh air and puppy time, which is exactly why I wanted to do this job in the first place. Dog walking has been a great source of regular self care, and I am really missing the pup I walked daily now that I’m back home.