Inside job: Dog carer

John Ovans tries a day in the life of a Buddydog canine carer

Watch John in action in the video below

While in the workplace, we may occasionally moan about having to clean up after other people’s shit, we should be thankful that said shit is usually figurative. For a dog carer, that shit is literal, and at any given time it’s being shat out in about 80 different places. And then, as is the case with Zangye the angry Shiba, you have to suffer the indignity of being aggressively barked at while you try to clear it up with an industrial poopa- scoop.

Luckily not all the residents of Buddydog, a dog training and boarding facility on the outskirts of Pudong, are as poorly mannered. The individual kennels are divided into indoor and outdoor areas, with a small door separating the two. My first job is to let each dog outside to do their business and just generally enjoy Shanghai’s famous fresh air (they’re also given proper, off-leash run-arounds twice a day in the facility’s ample 3,000sqm field).

"doggy 3"

I can hear anxious scrabbling on the other side, and as I unlock each door, I have no idea what kind of pooch will emerge. It’s very exciting, probably a bit like Blind Date if the contestants came on stage and crapped everywhere: first comes Wallace the British bulldog (not much of a looker, but a heart of gold); followed by grey border collie Kaka (young, dumb, and horny); followed by Potato the terrier, a sweet little mite that is too terrified to come anywhere near me.

Each dog has his own requirements as instructed by its owner: the meek Potato, for instance, has come to Buddydog to be ‘socialised’ with humans and other dogs, according to Tony the carer who is guiding me through his daily responsibities. Wallace, meanwhile, who is burdened with a big flabby face with folds of skin that can get easily irritated, needs to be cleansed daily with baby wipes. Each dog also has its own diet which has to be adhered to; later in the kitchen I’m to mix up kibble with four different types of vitamins and a raw egg.

"doggy 2"

So let’s just briefly recap: faeces, face wipes and raw eggs. If you were considering owning a dog in Shanghai but hadn’t thought through the finer details, you’d sadly be in good company. Many of the tenants at Buddydog are permanent, thanks to owners that drop them off and don’t come back. Such orphans are put up for adoption, and are given daily obedience training – which customers can pay an extra fee for – to increase their prospects of finding a new home.

Armed with a waist pouch full of congratulatory treats, I first train with collie Bobi in the central yard, which is equipped with an obstacle course of jumps and ramps. I am told that Bobi was abandoned because of his manic energy, and I immediately feel an affinity with him because we are both pale, ginger and misunderstood. We practice walking, heeling, showjumping, playing dead, and leg waves, and Bobi – who admittedly, has had three years of practice – proves extremely compliant. I have less success with Baozi, a giant white fluffy Siberian Samoyed that resembles a lifesize Sylvanian Family toy, whom I command to stay, when all he wants to do is go.

"dog carer"

It’s an exhausting, unglamorous afternoon, a world away from the dip-dyed ears, velour hoodies and neon booties that tend to be favoured by Shanghai’s dog lovers (and their dogs). Later on, as I perform the ridiculous task of giving Wallace a facial, receiving a crotchful of drool in the process, it strikes me that affection for your wards seems key to this job – although I suppose every dog should have the right to feel beautiful, even if it is at the expense of your trousers.