LONDON'S NUMBER ONE DOG WALKING AGENCY by Kate MacDougall (William Morrow, 304 pp., $27.99)
If you're a "tall, gangly, butterfingered" klutz, a job amid priceless treasures at Sotheby's London auction house may not be the best fit. Kate MacDougall discovered that the expensive way when, as a 26-year-old back-office helper in 2006.
Then she met a man who dog-walked "a beautiful stracciatella-colored cocker spaniel" for an actress "whose name he dropped like breadcrumbs." MacDougall sensed an opportunity. She handed in her notice and started what became a thriving business.
"London's Number One Dog Walking Agency" is a charming account of her dog-walking career in which she mixes work details with portraits of eccentric customers and colleagues. MacDougall's story is filled with humor, if occasionally forced, as with the breadcrumbs line. Populating this book are quirky clients with odd demands, from those whose dogs "only drank Evian and wanted a bedtime story" to wealthy customers who used pet cams to monitor Kate's and their dogs' behavior.
Yet the book also has touches of melancholy. It's never lost on MacDougall that many clients are more prosperous and settled than she is. Her mum means well, but she doesn't help when she advises her to get a proper job. She's a great character, but the most prominent family member is Finlay, MacDougall's boyfriend and eventual husband, who reminds her at the outset, "I hate. All. Dogs," yet learns to accept his partner's vocation.
The stars of the book are the dogs, about whom MacDougall writes with obvious affection. There's a Labrador puppy with "enough energy to power half of south London" and Mabel, the Jack Russell she and Finlay buy, whose head "liked to rest slightly to the right as if she might be in the thick of solving a murder."
The writing is always witty and evocative, as when MacDougall describes a client's house with "hand-painted window boxes and a bondage shop around the corner" and the husky "who looked uncannily like Rod Stewart from the mid-1980s."
MacDougall may be a menace to porcelain pigeons, but as a writer, she's no klutz.