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The Washington, D.C., law office I shared with Brian, my law school classmate, was all glass. On the other side of the glass walls, in a room we called the pit, sat 40 temporary workers, many with law degrees, who were entering tobacco litigation information into a database. Some actually wanted to work in the firm as attorneys, as I did. But that would never happen. Outside, on the corner of 14th and G streets, workers buzzed in and out of other hives with great purpose and intensity. To work. To lunch. Home. To work. To lunch. To drinks. Home. Brian wanted to be a writer. Every day, from our orientation on, he threatened to leave me with all of our temporary workers and hundreds of boxes of illegible documents to become a famous novelist. Lifting the lid off of one the first boxes of documents each day, he’d sit back and announce, with great purpose, “I’m outta here.” The first time he said this, I believed him. After the second time, I knew the sequence would become part of our daily morning patter. But I had plans of my own. I wanted to work with animals. Having little aptitude for science or math precluded veterinary medicine. Besides, I wanted to see the animals when they were happy, not hurt. As a child, when my mother asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told her that I wanted to have a dog farm, where I, my dog, Flash, and other dogs could live out our lives outdoors, walking the fields. “And who will pay you to do that?” she asked derisively. Twenty years later, I found out the answer. Other attorneys would pay me to do that while they worked. While they worked: That was the best part. “Just help me find a name for the business and we’re both out of here,” I said to Brian. In two years, the best he could come up with was “Beastmaster, the S&M dog-walking service.” Nothing ordinary for this son of a professor, nothing obvious or stupid like Critter Sitters or Fuzzy Buddies or Kathy’s Kanine Korporation. Beastmaster! “I don’t think that we should limit our market to sexual deviants before we’ve even established a base,” I argued. Brian only shrugged. At an impasse, we languished beside the pit for another year, watching the pit-dwellers watch us. A year in which only a sheet of glass separated us from the pit. BIG WHEEL Then, one day, a woman on a unicycle appeared on our corner. She was a juggler who provided hours of entertainment while Brian and I moved documents from one box to another. Up a few feet and back a few feet she jerked, catching balls. It seemed as if she was always just about to fall. She’d jump off the unicycle every few minutes to save a ball from hitting the ground, or because she was tired. It was for this jumping off, this falling, that I watched. How else to know that what she did was difficult? How else to really value it? And, as with the worker bees in the pit, only a sheet of glass separated us. I’d nag Brian every day as he left for lunch. “Give her some money, would you? You need her as much as I do.” One day, I brought in a camera and took her picture, taping it to the glass after she had moved on. Less than two years after Brian first threatened to leave me, I left him. I got an LL.M. and began editing tax and labor law books. I called Brian once or twice during this time to tease him that I was now closer to becoming a novelist than he was, though certainly not a famous one. “Have you thought of a name for our business yet?” I’d needle him. “OK, let’s look at the calendar. How many years do you think this will take?” Finally, the company’s name emerged, though it took three years and did not come from Brian. It was in a page from a word-of-the-day calendar faxed by an editor-friend. “This is you,” she scrawled at the top. The page read: “Zoolatry. n. The worship of animals, especially a pet.” I called Brian to gloat. About the same time I found the name for the business, the owner of one of the oldest pet-sitting services in the D.C. area mentioned to me that there was a great demand for midday dog walking, a service that neither she nor any of her competitors offered. “Clients complain,” she said, “but I don’t want to get into it.” I decided that my business would offer only midday dog walking. Everything seemed to fall into place: the name, the niche, and most important, the necessity of having something of my own, no matter how difficult. That was five years and 50,000 dog walks ago. We now have 13 routes across the city. Each Zoolatry dog walker has about 20 clients and walks an average of 12 dogs every day. With 400 clients, 70 percent of whom are lawyers, we hit a high of 140 walks a day last year and have not sought to expand. I now work harder than the hardest-working person in my old firm, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Clients often ask me if the business is lucrative. It grosses annually only as much as a single law firm partner, but is successful in its industry. According to the National Association of Professional Petsitters, 90 percent of the people in my business earn less than $40,000 per year. Those attorney clients who discover that I was once a lawyer say, “You did the right thing.” But I don’t feel there is anything inherently wrong with practicing law. There are many law-related jobs I know I would enjoy, and perhaps someday still will enjoy. My move was not about escaping the law, but about knowing that only a sheet of glass separates us equally from what we most fear being and from what we most want to be. Kathleen M. Murray owns Zoolatry Inc., a Washington-based dog-walking service. She can be reached at (202) 547-WALK.

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