CHICAGO — Every new customer who signs up for the Snappy Paws dog-walking service gets a personal home visit from the company's owner to go over their dog's pee patterns. But it usually doesn't end there.
"The visit can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours," said Carla Pastorelli said. "We'll talk about their dog, but if they're new to the neighborhood, I'll end up talking about which restaurants to go to, where to shop, that kind of thing."
Pastorelli had envisioned an intimate, community-focused company when she founded it in 2007, and she still aims to keep it that way, she said.
She took up the dog-walking business after bowing out of a culinary job in search of something that would lend her more flexibility with young kids at home, she said. Some research had turned up higher-end dog-walking services along the lake shore, but none near her home in Portage Park.
"We've found there's a real demand for a service that's local and hands-on, so people don't have to worry about their dog when they go to work," Pastorelli said. "The fact that we don't have 500 or a thousand clients means that we really know how to take care of them."
A decade later, she leads a team of 13 full-time and part-time walkers, serving about 170 dogs across an area spanning two dozen Northwest Side neighborhoods, from Logan Square to Norwood Park.
Her company also extends beyond simple neighborhood loops, offering specialized care for puppies, older dogs and even cats.
"Some people have been with us since day one, and we've been through multiple dogs with them," Pastorelli said. "So as our clients' needs change, we try to be cognizant and tailor our services to meet their needs."
Demand for the service has only heightened in the past few years, as more young families move from Wicker Park and Logan Square to the sleepier neighborhoods of the Far Northwest Side, Pastorelli said. The small team has tried to keep up, celebrating the company's 10th birthday with a redesign of its website, and it's about to launch a video series profiling each dog walker.
But even as they beef up staff and add services, they never felt the need to expand their coverage area, Pastorelli said.
"The Northwest Side is just different from other parts of the city," she said. "It's like a small community — everyone knows each other and takes care of each other. It never occurred to me to try to go anywhere else."