Tahoe’s Dog Whisperer: Nancy Ryan and her adventure dog-walking company
Special to the Sun
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — The word “squirrel” may evoke different meanings for different people depending on the context.
Most commonly referring to the nut-eating, bushy-tailed rodent, the term contains a handful of other lesser-known — and somewhat surprising — interpretations.
For example, “squirrel” may be used as code for calling dibs on an attractive female, or as a means of describing someone who is eccentric, fidgety and/or unpredictable.
In the world of extreme sports, “squirrel” is oftentimes associated with base jumping, or more specifically, the brand of wingsuit and parachute equipment created for and by top-tier wingsuit pilots.
In one of many urban slang uses for “squirrel,” it’s considered a dig at small, squirrel-sized dogs that bark incessantly.
For Nancy Ryan, owner of the outdoor adventure dog-walking company Squirrel, the business moniker holds more than one meaning, each one significant to the fundamental principles her business was founded upon.
“I wanted a word that dog lovers would laugh and know and understand, and it’s worked,” Ryan said. “I have a sense of humor and you have to enjoy what you do, so I wanted a name that reflected my silly personality at times.”
For starters, her eight-year-old Labradoodle, Jersey, has been known to stand on her hind legs and bark at squirrels, prompting them to chirp back at her, Ryan explained while walking Jersey alongside the water’s edge at Tahoe City’s dog-friendly Bristlecone Beach.
The business name was also inspired by the character Dug, a talking dog from the film “Up” — who gets easily distracted and yells “Squirrel” at the mere site of one — which explains another component behind the Ryan’s company.
“A lot of people now know me by Squirrel and often call me that instead of Nancy,” the easy-going outdoor adventurist said.
While the brand name has certainly caught on in dog-friendly households around Ryan’s radius of clients in North Lake Tahoe and Truckee, it’s still a relatively young business, and one that Ryan did not foresee herself in until 2012.
A Tahoe City resident for more than two decades, Ryan’s resume resembles the typical Tahoe multi-tasker with a multitude of skills and trades.
“I’ve worked in all kinds of interesting jobs over the years like Alpine Meadows marketing department, I’ve done some bookkeeping on the side, and I’ve been a property manager over the years — my experience is kind of a smorgasbord,” she said.
Throughout those years, there was one role Ryan kept coming back to like a loyal canine — pet caretaker.
“Whenever I went hiking with my dog, I’d always end up with four others so I thought, why not make this a professional business?” Ryan said. “It was a leap of faith that I’d land on my two feet.”
Though never an occupation, Ryan is an avid member of the Crossfit community — a high-intensity workout designed to improve strength, speed, stamina, coordination, cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, balance, and flexibility that has helped her keep up with her daily pack of canine adventure seekers.
“There are times when I’ll have to lift a one-hundred-pound dog in my car, and with Crossfit I learned how to dead lift — truly all the things I’ve learned in Crossfit have really helped me in other areas of my life,” said Ryan, who has taken up to four separate hikes with a total of sixteen dogs in one day.
Operating as a licensed and insured member of the Professional Pet Sitters International Association, Ryan accepts only takes on socialized dogs who demonstrate strong recall skills as clients, many of which are repeat customers.
This helps her get to know each dog’s behavior and exercise level to determine where and with which Squirrel pack members they’ll best fit in with.
Aptly named the “Tahoe Dog Whisperer” by clients and friends, Ryan’s job as an adventure dog-walker was created with the interest of a man’s best friend in mind, but that’s not to say she isn’t reaping the benefits alongside them.
“I can finally say I’ve figured out what I want to do when I grow up,” Ryan joked. “I’ve had many different careers, but I would say all of my life experiences have helped me get to this point, and I absolutely love where I’m at in life.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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