Ensuring their charges don’t jump up on the seats of their owners’ private planes, or do their business on the teak decks of their superyachts, is the usual line of work for the dog-walkers of the rich and famous.
But now, increasingly, as Lady Gaga discovered this week, their jobs can be very dangerous.
The soaring popularity of cute French bulldogs with celebrities has made them a target for dog-snatching gangs who sell them via a lucrative black market.
When Ryan Fischer, the singer’s dog-walker, was ambushed and shot by thieves outside his Hollywood home, it sent shockwaves through the celebrity dog-walking community.
The targets were Lady Gaga’s three French bulldog pets: Koji, Miss Asia and Gustav. Miss Asia has been found safe and well and the singer has offered a $500,000 (£354,000) reward for the safe return of the other two — ‘no questions asked’.
Lada Gaga, pictured with Stella at the Billboard Women in Music Awards in New York
Colleen Jones, of Woof-Purr, a dog-walking company based in Los Angeles, says it is now common practice for staff to be trained in wrapping leashes around their hands to keep them safe from potential dog thieves.
‘If anyone did try to steal a dog, at least there’s a chance they can hold on to it and the attacker will run,’ she says. ‘I also tell them to be aware if someone is approaching them from behind or be wary if a vehicle slows down beside them.’
Amy Jacobs, who once looked after Charlie, the fluffy Australian labradoodle belonging to movie star Bradley Cooper, says: ‘I’m military trained, and know how to shoot a gun, but it’s not so easy to be armed in LA so I’m going to get a Taser. I treat every dog like it’s a celebrity’s dog and I want to protect them.’
She believes the client/walker relationship is incredibly important and built on trust.
When the clients are away, she will stay in their mansions, dogsitting their precious pets. ‘Celebrities are extremely sensitive about who they trust and let into their homes and dogs are like their children — nothing’s too good for them,’ she says.
It is 18 years since she established her business, Amy’s Ark Inc, and the demands and eccentricities of dog owning A-listers no longer surprise her.
‘They trust us because they will give us keys or alarm codes so we can get into the house. I would never disclose any confidential information about a client. It’s a sacred trust,’ she says.
‘I’ll let celebrities know when there’s paparazzi outside and I’ve got pretty good instincts about someone like a gardener or a housekeeper who’s acting a bit weird and might be selling information.’
One celebrity dog walker admitted you would never admit who the client was while some of the pets have the owner’s assistant’s contact details on the name tag
Another celebrity dog-walker in the upper echelons of services to the rich and famous — who did not want to be named — says she earns a six-figure salary. Her celebrity charges have included film director Steven Spielberg’s golden retriever and dogs belonging to actress Reese Witherspoon.
‘There are different rules for looking after a celebrity’s dog,’ she says. ‘You never tell whose dog you’re looking after because you don’t want to attract any attention. You wouldn’t boast about it in the dog park, for example.
‘Many of the dogs have an assistant’s name and telephone number on their dog tag, rather than their real owner’s information.’
Lady Gaga offered a $500,000 reward for the safe return of her dogs
Her clients require far more than a walk in the park in return for the generous fee they pay her. She is expected to keep a log of their bowel movements and regularly text photos of the dogs: eating, rolling around on the grass and having their tummies tickled.
In return for her loyal service, she has received cashmere sweaters, diamond earrings, gift certificates for spa massages and cash bonuses as Christmas presents.
Speaking at the Barrington dog park in Brentwood, a ritzy suburb in Los Angeles where celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ben Affleck live, celebrity dog-walker Ali Isaacs tells me: ‘I had one client who wanted her dog to be toilet-trained on her yacht to protect the teak decking and to stop it leaping up and potentially going overboard.’
‘Others want their animals to know how to behave on private planes or don’t want them relieving themselves all over their estates. And I don’t have any advertisement on my car that says I’m a dog-walking service because I don’t want to be targeted and followed by dog snatchers.’
Colleen says she turns down many celebrity dog-owning clients and passes them on to other dog walkers. ‘They expect you to be there, no matter what,’ she says. ‘They — not the dogs — can be high-maintenance.’
Many celebrities have doggie spas in their homes with all the professional equipment of a top grooming salon. The average rate for a dog-walker in LA is $25 (£18) for a 30-minute walk. Celebrities pay many times that sum for a personal and exclusive service.
And it can be a cut-throat business, as Amy Jacobs discovered. She allocated Charlie, Bradley Cooper’s dog, to one of her employees who left a short time later to start her own business and took the famous pooch with her. Amy, who used to carry pepper spray on walks, says she will be taking new security precautions.
Concerned that Lady Gaga’s $500,000 reward might prompt other criminals to target the pets of other celebrities, she will be carrying that Taser now — along with the dog treats.
And why the stars have gone gaga for Frenchies
With their distinctive ears and squashed, wrinkly faces, French bulldogs have become the latest must-have designer dog.
Their popularity has soared, making them one of the most popular breeds. There are year-long waiting lists for puppies and, thanks to a lockdown boom in demand, they can sell for as much as £3,000.
Affectionate, playful and low maintenance, they make ideal family pets.
And their cuteness makes them the perfect designer accessory for celebrities who love to pose with their ‘Frenchies’ on social media.
TV Presenter Denise Van Outen, pictured, has a Frenchie called Remy, who she shows off on Instagram
Grumpy chops: Tom Hardy with Blue
Reese Witherspoon, pictured with her dog Minnie Pearl
Actress Eva Longoria puckers up for Popeye
Hugh Jackman feels smiles better after being licked by Dali
US lifestyle guru Martha Stewart pictured with Francesca and Sharkey
Basic Instinct star Sharon Stone has her own French Bulldog Bandit
Madonna, pictured, with her family lying on a couch with their french bulldog, right