oakland tribune

Oakland business goes to the dogs

By Heather Lyn Wood
Posted:   05/10/2012 11:34:01 AM PDT

For the third year running, Molly Kenefick of Doggy Lama Pet Care has been named the Bay Area's "Best Dog Walker" by readers of Bay Woof, the local newspaper for all things canine. The accolade is just one in a spate of honors received in recent years by Kenefick, who has been running Doggy Lama from Oakland's Allendale neighborhood since 2005. Kenefick, a native New Englander who moved to California almost two decades ago, has always been an animal lover.

"My dad was allergic to anything with fur," she recounts, "so I was the neighborhood kid who walked everyone's dog for free." After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, Kenefick worked as a writer and editor in Silicon Valley. But she never lost her connection to dogs, especially those who seemed to need a helping hand.

Living for five years on a boat in the Berkeley Marina, she found "a couple dozen" who had been abandoned there. One or two at a time, Kenefick took them in, tended to their physical and emotional scrapes, and found them permanent homes. When she decided to leave her job in the high-tech industry, she felt herself drawn toward a career working with animals. In Doggy Lama's early days, Kenefick was the sole walker, exercising as many as 12 dogs per day. When a foot injury grounded her for several months, she realized that in order to build a sustainable business, she would have to expand her two-legged team.

Now, Doggy Lama boasts a diverse group of walkers, including a professional dog trainer, a vet tech, a trained police decoy, a chaplain and a MAR technician (lost pet detective). Each walker must complete the Dog Walking Academy, an intensive four-day workshop that teaches canine behavior and pack-management techniques, as well as learn pet CPR and first aid. In a community that offers feline acupuncture and canine chiropractors, Doggy Lama is not the only East Bay business that caters to pampered pets, but it continues to stand out in polls of East Bay pet owners. Along with the recent honor by Bay Woof, the business has received numerous other distinctions, such as "Best of Yelp" and write-ups in Parents Press, San Francisco magazine and East Bay Express.

When the economy started to decline a few years ago, Kenefick worried that business would suffer. Instead, she says, it has grown in response to the needs of people working long hours who need more support to take care of their animal companions. Along with providing exercise for dogs whose humans work all day, Kenefick and her team also hike those whose guardians are physically unable to go for long walks.

A few of her canine clients split their time between divorced "parents," and a few others have been adopted by Doggy Lama walkers after a death or breakup made it impossible for previous owners to care for them.

It may be Kenefick's exuberance and energy that sets her apart and keeps her business growing. "I've tried to find other hobbies, but really, my hobby is hiking with dogs," she explains. "It's what I would do anyway. So I get an endorphin high doing my job every day."

Kenefick comfortably embraces the minimalist title of "dog walker" but sees herself as more of a pet specialist after years of service to East Bay animals and their families. Along with offering vigorous group hikes in East Bay Regional Parks and other spots along the 580/13/24 corridor, Doggy Lama boards two to four dogs at a time in the private homes of Kenefick and two staff members.

She says that the small number of boarding dogs and home settings "ensure that they are truly treated like part of the family during their stay."

Finally, the team offers daily drop-in visits for pets whose guardians can't be home during the day. Elderly animals and those with special medical needs receive individualized attention, feeding, on-leash walks or backyard time, and Kenefick doesn't discriminate by species.

"Chickens are getting really big," she chuckles.

Kenefick strives to support her human clients in making life more rewarding for the animals they love.

"I think of myself as a doggy aunt," she says. "I can spoil them in ways that their parents may not always have the time or energy to do."

In exchange, Kenefick says she learns from animals the importance of mindful attention to the present moment.

"One of my favorite dogs is an adult yellow Lab named Barlow, who has advanced cancer," she says with obvious affection. "We're not sure how much time he has left, but he joyfully hikes every hike. He's always 'in the moment,' and he always has a great time."