"Dogs should live in a world where we the human beings create balance and harmony," says Art Ortiz, owner of DogFit Dallas. "Humans complicate things because we're so emotional, because we're intellectual. We think about the past, we think about the future. But we don't spend much time living in the present, like a dog does." According to DogFit Dallas' website, the company is "Downtown's premiere dog walking, running and fitness service." And while the dogs are certainly walked, it's about more than that. "I offer a social experience," Ortiz says, who walks up to 10 dogs at a time. "Not only are they being walked, but they get to interact with other dogs."
For someone so passionate about dogs, DogFit came about almost on accident. After working in the corporate world for 10 years, Ortiz wanted a change. He wanted to help people. So he became a firefighter. But the gig was short lived when he failed his EMT test. While working random jobs to pay the bills, he realized he really wanted a dog. Over time, one dog turned to three, and Ortiz was the proud owner of a small terrier-mix pack. He started to notice people's reactions when he would take the trio out for a walk and posted on Facebook about it. "Why do people think I'm a dog walker 'cause I have three dogs?" he posted on his wall. That's when a friend of his suggested that he do it for a living, and Ortiz took the suggestion and ran with it.
When it came to naming his new company, Ortiz drew inspiration from one of his other passions -- CrossFit, a strength and conditioning program. Before he started DogFit, he had toyed with the idea of being a CrossFit coach. But soon he realized that walking dogs was a better fit. "I'm not a very large guy," he says. "I can teach people how to do the moves and stuff, but working with dogs is a natural gift." DogFit Dallas opened in March 2012.
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His first client was his friend's black and white Great Dane, Olivia. Now, more than 55 other dogs have joined Ortiz's client list, from a tiny, 5-pound Chihuahua named Fern to his oldest client, 140-pound Olivia. He offers dog walking, dog running and pet sitting. All of the dogs' owners are residents in Dallas' downtown business district, and Ortiz doesn't have any plans to expand his client base beyond downtown as of now. Having his clients in the same area makes things easier. Plus, "this is my neighborhood," he says. "I'm very comfortable with downtown."
When it's time for a walk, Ortiz picks up his clients from their apartments and hits the streets. He and his pack visit lots of parks in Dallas, including Main Street Garden, which has a little dog park where he can let them off leash for a bit. The rest of the walk takes place mostly up and down Main Street and Congress Street He likes to walk where there's a lot of foot traffic. "It's good for the dogs to see humans," he says. "It's part of the whole social experience. There are distractions, smells ... it's good for the dogs."
For dogs who can't handle walks with other dogs, for medical or temperament reasons, Ortiz relies on his sole employee, Lauren Dominguez. She also takes over the social walk when Ortiz is unavailable. But he may have to beef up his employee roster soon -- he wants to concentrate more on giving back to "dogs with people problems" through his dog training services. Right now, he offers free dog training once a month in Klyde Warren Park. His training service, Balance and Harmony, draws a large crowd of people seeking help with behavioral issues, ranging from mild to severe. (Ortiz suggests leaving dogs with severe issues at home until better trained.) He starts by explaining his philosophy to the crowd and offering training methods.
"Dogs should live in a world where we, the human beings, create balance and harmony," he says. "People always want to achieve balance and harmony with their dogs, but they don't know how to do that. Dogs communicate through energy -- what you are at any given moment. Your energy is your emotions and your intentions." Toward the end, Ortiz takes questions from the crowd, giving small demos with their dogs, if possible. His end goal is to help people understand how their dogs think which, in turn, creates a better human-dog relationship. "Once we get us figured out, it will show in our dogs," he says. "Dogs mirror us."