Wednesday 17 January 2018

Make your dog work for you

This story was originally published on in 2010.

          "I've found the most reliable business partner in the world," says Millie Harris, one of Surrey's most remarkable entrepreneurs. "When we decided to take a puppy, we would never have guessed that he would double our family savings!" She's talking about her dog Ollie, who is a professional waiter and entertainer.
          We're sitting in her suburban living room with French doors that lead to a spacious garden. Millie sees me look at a large painting of a boy and girl with a big blond dog. "We knew Ollie was good with kids. That was the main reason why we wanted a Golden Retriever. They are always up for a cuddle and eager to learn new tricks."
          "One day, my husband, who is a builder, came home from work and he was absolutely knackered. He sat down, switched on the telly and told me to get him a beer. Ollie immediately followed me to the kitchen. When I opened the fridge, he looked at me with those big eyes, as if he was asking: 'Shall I do it?' I thought it would be a laugh, so I put the can between his jaws and sent him back in."
          "Two weeks later, Ollie demonstrated his trick on my birthday party. Not everybody likes drool on their cans, but the idea of having a dog butler was a major hit. One of my friends asked if I could teach Ollie to pull a trolley on his wedding reception. We taught him some more tricks, and before we knew it, our dog was performing every weekend." Millie lovingly pets the blond Labrador that's sitting next to her. "He's fully booked until August next year. A London-based company even tried to book him for a fundraising dinner in 2014. But we've said no. We can't predict the future. Right, Ollie?"

          When Millie goes to the kitchen to put the kettle on, Ollie follows her immediately. I half expect the dog to come back offering me a soggy biscuit. But he's a professional now, and he doesn't work on weekdays. Millie has to carry the tea tray herself and sits down again on the sofa. "As a builder, my husband knows what it's like to start your own business, so he does all the paperwork. All I did was make sure we chose the best dog insurance in the UK. Of course we already had one to cover the vet's fee. But when your dog is pulling trolleys full of wine glasses, you do want third party liability coverage. Even though we've got a clause in the contract that says that all accidents are the client's responsibility. Fortunately, we haven't had to use our dog insurance yet." Ollie yawns and settles down for a little nap.

          "As for marketing... word of mouth is working very well for us. We wouldn't even be able to deal with the requests we'd get if we would start a website!"

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