- Millions of Americans have adopted or bought pets to keep them company at home during the pandemic.
- The trend has meant a boom in business for dog trainers, who are now booked months out as a result.
- "We're in a crisis," one dog trainer said. "We're saying no because we can't do any more."
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These days, Mark Forrest Patrick is up and at it before the sun rises. His workday begins around 4 am, when he starts responding to texts, emails, and voicemails. He teaches group classes throughout the day and visits clients' homes for private sessions as well. His last appointment of the day wraps up around 9pm. He's been doing this for months now, but it wasn't always like this.
Patrick isn't a teacher or a doctor. He's a dog trainer. With more than 10 million US households having acquired a pet during the pandemic, many dog trainers like Patrick are swamped.
"There are days where I leave a client's house, I go find a place to stop, and I have a breakdown; we cannot continue to work like this," he told Insider. "We're in a crisis."
Before the pandemic hit, Patrick usually ran four group classes per week and saw two additional clients each day for private sessions. Now, those numbers have tripled: He heads 13 group classes per week and makes five or six home visits every day.
"It's important for people to understand that we're not saying no because we don't want to help," he said. "We're saying no because we can't do any more."
Despite the threefold increase in his appointment openings, Patrick's classes still fill up less than 24 hours after he posts them online, and he's booked two months out.
"I go to bed at night, and I think, 'How could I possibly do more than what I'm doing now?'" he said. "There's only so many hours in a day."
With many adults now preparing to head back to the office at some point and seeing their kids off to in-person classes again, a lot of them are worried about leaving their dogs at home alone after pets were accustomed to a full house for most of the day.
As a result, they're turning to dog trainers like Fanna Easter, who specializes in helping dogs with separation anxiety.
Prior to the pandemic, Easter was booked six weeks in advance. Now, she doesn't have an open spot for the next four months.
"This is not normal by any means," she said. "We are bursting at the seams trying to fit people everywhere we can."
Fellow dog trainer Beth Berkobien also specializes in pets' separation anxiety, along with aggression and reactivity. She has seen an "absolutely astronomical increase" in business. Berkobien has gone from seeing 10 to 15 clients per week last summer to seeing around 70 clients each week now.
"It can be a little challenging in that my time off is very limited," she said.
Her workday has stretched to accommodate the additional sessions. Having worked seven-hour days before the pandemic, she now works 11-hour days.
"I have experienced a little bit of compassion fatigue," she said. "So I make sure that I'm reaching out to my colleagues, to my therapist, and that we are having the conversation on how to combat that, and I also make sure that I'm taking care of myself."
Though tackling the increased workload has been taxing, Berkobien says one bright spot has shone through.
"It's certainly been a challenge, but it's been really rewarding because I've got to help quite a few pet parents resolve some behavior issues with their dogs or get on the way to resolution."