Julie Shepherd was communications manager for a software development company when her midlife crisis hit.
She said: “It was very stressful, and then we were sold to a multi-national plc about five years ago. Everything changed for me. After 20 years there, I just decided that enough was enough.
“I needed quality of life rather than a stressful life. Dogs have always been in my life and I have always helped dog owners. A friend suggested I should start a dog-walking business and I have never looked back.’’
Now her day starts at 8am, but instead of driving from her home in Marsh Gibbon, near Bicester, to an office in Oxford, she collects the dogs in her car and drives them to open country.
She said: “I have access to a lot of land so I don’t have to go where public footpaths are, necessarily. I have big open spaces I can drive to. I open the car and off we go.’’
Her business, Boots Dog Walking Services, offers obedience lessons and boarding as well as walks. It also allows the dogs’ owners to see what a good time they are having, because Ms Shepherd posts photographs of her outings on Facebook.
With up to nine dogs a day, she tries to organise them into groups according to their temperament and breed.
“I try to let dogs be dogs, and give them time and space to do what comes naturally. They all want to run and sniff and play, and it means I can bring them home both tired and contented.’’
She loves the open-air life, but it can be hard work because she is constantly trying to improve control and manners.
“All the time I have to keep my eye on their behaviour. I have a training role and I have to encourage good behaviour and discourage bad behaviour.’’ She has built up the business by word of mouth.
“People have always known me as a dog person. At weekends I show owners what their dog is doing so that they can benefit more from their dog.’’
She added: “I walk many types of dog breeds that were originally bred for working. So when we’re out I let them express their natural behaviour within certain bounds, but I encourage them to do it well. For instance, if it’s a cocker spaniel, I get them to stay close to me, respond to the whistle, and so on.’’
And her own dog?
“Hector is a flat-coat German pointer. A deer hunter,’’ she said. “But he does what he’s told.’’