- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

Zoolatry is the worship of animals, especially pets. It's also the name of the dog-walking company where Christine Klingebiel has worked for the past four years to help pay the feed bills for her own eight dogs and eight cats.

She is one of 12 dog walkers employed by the company. They are assigned to various neighborhoods within the District, and on this warm fall morning Miss Klingebiel is traveling (with two of her own dogs) through the Chevy Chase and Palisades neighborhoods, first picking up Gregory, a black cocker spaniel; then Thomas, a Cardigan corgi; then Annie, a yellow Labrador; and finally, Rory, a wildly spastic golden retriever.

"She just turned 1 chronologically, but mentally, she's still like 6 months," Miss Klingebiel says, as the dog jumps all over her and tries chew on her sweatshirt.

"I know you want to go in the car, I know," she says to Rory, almost immediately followed by a repeated "No biting" command.

"This is especially like day care when I have Rory and the yellow Lab puppy together," she says.

The back of her SUV soon rings with a cacophony of growls, yelps and whimpers.

"Settle down," she repeatedly says over her shoulder. Classical music plays on the radio and she turns it up.

"Music to soothe the savage beasts," she says light-heartedly, but when asked if it actually works, she says, "No, it calms me down more."

The dogs finally are quiet, and she coos over her shoulder, "Good doggies, good doggies."

As she drives along the road, she points out the houses where other clients live.

"There's Cleo the Samoyed, and that's where Taylor the boxer lives," she says.

Miss Klingebiel drives to a trail nearby, stops the car and lets the dogs out on their leashes.

"This is one of my favorite trails," she says, as the dogs bound about, playfully biting each other. "It's really quiet and nice."

Miss Klingebiel worked at the Montgomery County Humane Society for six years before a friend there left for a dog-walking company. Miss Klingebiel soon followed.

"You just get so burned out, saying 'This is the worst I've ever seen' every day, and the pay I was getting really couldn't keep the dogs in kibble," she says. As a dog walker, Miss Klingebiel brings in between $120 and $150 a day, "but usually not less than $100," she says.

Zoolatry Inc. requires its walkers to have some sort of background working with animals, whether as a veterinarian technician, or even volunteering at an animal shelter. Walkers also have to be willing and able to walk dogs in any kind of weather.

Also, Miss Klingebiel says, when a dog walker is knowledgeable about a particular breed, it puts the owners at ease. "We wouldn't want someone to look at a golden retriever and ask what kind of dog that is," she says.

Most of the dog walkers make time for other pursuits, she says. Two are in bands, one is a yoga instructor, and Miss Klingebiel runs a grooming and boarding service for dogs on the side.

Almost all of the dogs she walks are purebreds, which she doesn't mind, but with her humane society background, she thinks it's a little sad.

"There's just so many dogs in rescue, so many that need homes," she says.

But on the other hand, she hates hearing from people who think that her clients are being neglected just because some people are paying her to walk them.

"People say 'You walk their dog three times a day? Why do they even have them?' I say that I've seen animal abuse, and this is not it. These dogs are catered to," she says.

After a half-hour on the trail, she brings the dogs back to their homes, after brushing the burrs off their coats, and gives them a going-away treat that she pays for herself. Miss Klingebiel also does more than just dog-walking, if needed. She, like everyone who works at Zoolatry, was trained by the Red Cross to administer first aid to dogs, in case they step on some glass or worse.

"I came into Thomas' owner's house to find a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup bag on the floor with about 15 empty wrappers in it," she says. Because the owner wasn't around, Miss Klingebiel had to take care of the dog and make sure it didn't have an adverse reaction to the chocolate it had ingested. Chocolate can be fatal to a dog.

"The owner called it a banner day for Thomas he got to eat 15 peanut-butter cups and ride in a car for three hours," she says.

Because of Zoolatry's reputation and Miss Klingebiel's medical training and experience, the dogs' owners pretty much let her take care of the dogs the way she wants.

"I get some people who say 'This is for this, and this is for this, and when they go to the bathroom, give them three kibbles,' but mainly I just revert back to what I normally say with my own dogs."

Miss Klingebiel's next group consists of a briard, a Weimaraner, and another yellow Labrador. These dogs are a bit older than the first group and are a little easier to handle. She also hands over her two dogs to the owner of Zoolatry, to give them a walk.

"It's so quiet in here," she says as she drives back to the trail.

Blossom, the Weimaraner, and Jackson, the Labrador, immediately jump out of the car and start nipping each other.

"I like to let them play with each other," she says. "I have a few that won't get along with anyone, but I've been walking Halsey [the briard] and Annie for just two weeks and they are getting along fine."

With her personal menagerie, it's no wonder Miss Klingebiel can't categorize herself as a "dog person" or a "cat person."

"Initially, I thought I liked cats more. I had 13 at one point," she says. "But if you go into a store, sometimes you can bring a dog in, but you can't bring in a cat. Dogs are more flexible."

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