On a typical morning, Erica Jones wakes up, eats a hearty breakfast, puts on her running gear and heads for the door.
Along the way she will pick up running partners, but not the typical type. Her cohorts aren’t people, they’re dogs.
Jones, 32, of Harlem, N.Y., is a professional dog runner for Happy Pants NYC one of the numerous dog walking services that don’t just walk dogs, they run them.
“You come in and they’re just knocking stuff over they’re so happy to see you” Jones said of the dogs she runs.
With over 1.5 million dogs living in the city, many being large breeds in small living spaces, many dogs are left with little room to release pent up energy.
But companies like Happy Pants NYC, provide a rigorous work out. Athletes are hired to take dogs on a vigorous 30-45 minute run during the day, a time when they might otherwise sit idle while their owners are at work.
Jones recently moved to the city from California after quitting a desk job in finance, because she really wanted a change of pace, she said.
“This is my full-time job now,” she said with a smile.
Jones said for her, it’s the best of both worlds. She has run in seven marathons, and combining her love of dogs and passion for running seems to suit her well.
“It’s totally perfect, I love running, I love the dogs,” Jones said. “I love being outside, running is easy and fun for me.”
She heard about dog running while still in California, and even tried putting up ads to seek out people who might be interested in having their dogs exercised, but she said it was difficult to find clientele in an area where open spaces were readily available and many people had their own yards for pups to run in.
So immediately after picking up her two dogs and moving across country, she went online and applied for a running position with David Haber’s company, Happy Pants NYC.
“I think the ad said something like, ‘Do you love to run? Do you want to get paid to run? Do you love dogs?” she said.
Checking yes to all those things, she met with Haber and was approved to proceed to the running test.
“He wanted to see if I could run basically,” she said laughing. Not a problem for Jones, who held her own during the 45-minute trial run around Central Park with Haber and one of the dogs.
Haber, 39, from the West Village, worked in marketing for years before starting Happy Pants NYC.
He wanted to try and do something on his own, less structured than his previous corporate jobs, and when he saw dog walkers around the city he’d wonder if it was something he could make a living out of doing.
Then, about four years ago, he began working as a runner for a company that specialized in dog running and did odd jobs on the side to make ends meet.
“After my commitment to them was finished, I basically went off on my own and tried to do something similar,” he said.
Haber combined his long-time love of dogs and his desire to run a business into Happy Pants NYC (“pants” as in the panting a dog makes when it’s happy after a long run).
At first Haber was the only runner, and with clients emerging in areas scattered around Manhattan, he was literally running all over the city.
Now he’s got multiple runners and clients all over the city. His business is doing well, he said. Prices start at $32 for a 30-minute run and clients choose how many visits per week they’d like, ranging up to five 30-minute visits for $115 per week.
“In the beginning it was just me and I was running sometimes up to six or seven times a day,” he said. “I think I was logging like 15 or so miles.”
Haber’s legs were so sore at night, he could barely sleep, he said.
Soon after he began to build a larger clientele, he started hiring runners to help take the load off, he said.
“The key criteria is definitely someone who loves dogs and has a great temperament to them” he said.
It is important that his runners are able to withstand running long distances, which is why he typically hires experienced athletes, but more important to Haber than athletic ability being able to trust them with the dogs.
“We develop such a close bond and relationship with the owners, and their dogs,” he said. “They’re affording us a lot of opportunities and sort of trust to be in their home and take care of their dogs that people value sort of at the same level as their kids,” he said.
One such client who entrusts her pooch about three times a week in the care Haber’s company is Dr. Nina Mohr, a veterinarian at City Veterinary Care in the Upper West Side.
Mohr, 41, from the Flatiron District, owns a yellow mix-breed named Banana. She said he had some behavioral issues before exercise was introduced into his routine. Mohr started running him years ago, but doesn’t have the time to do it as often as she’d like, so about three times a week, one of Haber’s runners at Happy Pants take’s Banana out to run.
She said dog running is a great alternative to dog parks and dog walking, which don’t offer the energy release that running does, especially for working breeds like retrievers and schnauzers, whose natural instincts are to be moving and working.
“They’re in an apartment, they sleep when we’re gone, they don’t do anything,” she said.
As a result, dogs do sometimes develop behavioral and even medical issues like arthritis and weight problems, but those who can get enough exercise, usually see improvement in these areas, she said.
“I think there are tremendous benefits, cardiac benefits, orthopedic, all kind of things,” she said.
Mohr believes strongly in exercise for dogs. Not only does she recommend running and other forms of exercise to patients, she also swears by it with her own pooch.
At 11 years old, Banana is still in great health and has the spirit of a young pup, Mohr said.
“Before I started running with him, he was sort of more destructive, “ she said. “He had separation anxiety.”
But the running has mellowed him out, she said.