A snarky idealist’s journey to maturity through pet care.
In his debut, Stephens fuses urban history, social theory, and personal narrative with a wry overview of the ubiquitous phenomenon of dog-walking. He argues that dog walkers represent “features of urban (and, more and more, suburban) life. Conspicuous consumption. The quaint priorities of aging Gen-Xers who have begun to hire millenials.” Stephens seems an appropriate ambassador for this archetypical slacker’s profession: a hyperrebellious Navy brat, he became a self-identified anarchist during the first Iraq war, questioning dominant narratives and enjoying shock appeal, qualities which inform the prose here. Stephens transitioned naturally into the profession following a string of radical adventures, including time with the Zapatistas in Mexico and a protest-related federal conviction. “My life,” he writes, “was a headlong dive into coupling moral outrage with punk rock irreverence.” Having moved to Washington, D.C., for its leftist punk scene (Stephens acutely portrays the city’s social striations), he found himself traipsing through the homes of governmental officials and other high achievers, spending time with their pampered pooches. The book is casually structured, with some chapters tying in the ideas of radical theorists and others providing irreverent looks at the trade, ranging from the pet care industry’s shady finances and hiring practices to the messy realities of time spent with dogs. “Yes,” he writes. “Dog walkers deal with shit…this preoccupies everyone but the dog walkers doing it.” Stephens, who retired after founding a successful dog-walking cooperative, argues that dog-walking is the ideal occupation for both avoiding the 9-to-5 grind and developing a philosophical view of the world: “Walking confers real time for asking questions, in a manner most activities do not.” He constantly examines his encounters through an anarchist lens of social consciousness, noting that the responsibility with which the wealthy entrust their dog-walkers “is highly mediated by race and class.”
A thoughtful, odd, amusing (albeit occasionally precious) fusion of memoir, career guide, and anarchist screed with built-in appeal for millennials.