Author of London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency Kate MacDougall joins Zibby to discuss not only her memoir but the real-life career change that inspired it. MacDougall shares how she always knew the story had the potential to become a book, what it was like to watch her now-husband fall in love with dogs over the course of their relationship, and which writers she has been turning to for inspiration as she finishes her debut novel.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Kate. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency: A Memoir.

Kate Macdougall: Thanks for having me, Zibby. Hi.

Zibby: Can you please tell everybody what this book is about, how this really happened, all of this amazing stuff that you talk about in the book? Give a synopsis to start.

Kate: It’s a memoir. It’s the story of the years that I ran a dog-walking company in London, which was an unplanned career move. I was working at Sotheby’s in the furniture department selling antiques, also not really knowing what I was doing there. I was very clumsy. I kept dropping things. I decided that, actually, I probably needed a change. Around the same time, I happened to meet somebody in Hyde Park, which is one of London’s biggest parks. They were walking a dog. They said, “This is my job. This is what I’m doing.” It wasn’t really a thing in London then at all. People didn’t do that as a job. I know it’s been around in New York and America for a lot longer. The British were a bit funny about having other people walk dogs for a long time. I thought, I can do that. I had dogs growing up. I set up a website. Before I knew, I had my first client. I thought, oh, my god, I’ve got to do this now for real. I left my office job, and I started out walking dogs not having a clue what I was doing. The book charts that. It’s that journey from starting out to, in the end, when I hand over the business and leave London. During that time, there’s marriage and kids. It’s a real journey.

Zibby: It’s so amazing. It was so funny at the start when you were telling everybody that you were leaving work. Everyone’s like, dogs? Why are you going to work with dogs? It’s just so funny when people leave their traditional —

Kate: — Particularly my mother who was horrified by the whole thing because working for Sotheby’s sounds all exciting. It was a great place to work. It was fascinating, but it just wasn’t for me. When I told everybody I’d be walking dogs for a job, they just thought I was completely insane. Actually, they were probably right because I really didn’t know what I was doing. As the book details, it’s a lot more to do with the owners than it is with the dogs, really, because they’re the tricky ones.

Zibby: That’s very true. Of course, it also talks, as you mentioned, about your own relationships and even what it was like getting buy-in from your boyfriend at the time about doing this job and dragging a hungover guy on the train to attempting to deal with a hyperactive dog in the park and all that stuff. I was like, oh, my gosh, I can’t imagine this whole thing. Too funny.

Kate: He’s such a hero. He is still my husband. He’s upstairs bathing our children. He really didn’t like dogs to start with at all, which I think he thought was okay. He thought, well, you know, it’s not really going to affect me, what she’s doing for a job. Then before he knew it, he was actually involved with walking some of the dogs himself if I got stuck and I didn’t have anybody to walk a dog. He would go in his suit on his lunch break to pick up dogs all across London, which he really did not sign up for. Then we got our own dog, which I talk a lot about in the book. She’s called Mabel. She’s still alive. She’s thirteen now. He completely fell in love with her. From that, now he’s a big dog fan, luckily. We have two dogs now.

Zibby: I also had a dog named Mabel, by the way, a long time ago.

Kate: Oh, no way. It’s a great dog name. Very good.

Zibby: She was a bulldog. I thought it was very fitting.

Kate: He’s an amazing husband. He deserves lots of prizes.

Zibby: It’s such a great story. It’s just so heartfelt. You have such a sense of humor, the way you talk about everything. It’s such a pleasure to read it and experience life through your eyes and how it was at the time. It’s really heartwarming as well.

Kate: Thank you.

Zibby: What was it like, this experience for you, writing the book? Was this in the back of your head the whole time?

Kate: Yeah, I really think it was. I think from pretty much the first dog. You walk into these people’s houses. You get this little glimpse into all these other people’s lives, which was such a privilege and also just so fascinating. Human beings, we end up kind of comparing ourselves with other people all the time. It was so many stories and so many characters that it would’ve just been criminal not to write it down. I’ve always written when I was younger and loved it. I worked on it on and off for a number of years. It wasn’t something I just sat down and wrote. It was bits and bobs here and there along with having children and doing other things. Then I got to the point where I was just annoying with myself for not having finished it. That was really the drive that got me to do the final draft.

Zibby: Did you end up liking it? What did you say, bits and bobs? That’s such a funny way to say it. Bits and bobs, I love that.

Kate: Bits and bobs, sorry.

Zibby: No, it’s so cute. I love that. That sounds like it should be a cute, little shop or something.

Kate: Bits and bobs, yeah, I’m sure there is one called that somewhere. Yes, I did at the end. You get to the point where you think, this sounds like me. This sounds like my voice. This sounds true to the experience. It’s got the right feel to it. I wanted it to be heartwarming and funny and just full of amusing stories and characters. Hopefully, that came across.

Zibby: Absolutely. Would you do it again, though? Do you have another book? Is this the kind of thing where you’re like, okay, I got through it and here it is? It must feel so rewarding. How does it feel now that it’s out? Would you want to do it again?

Kate: It’s amazing to have it out. It was a very strange experience. The book was bought by the UK publisher and the US publisher in very quick succession, but all during the first lockdown here. I was trying to homeschool my children. It was this really surreal experience. I didn’t actually meet anybody for months and months and months and then only got to meet my editor really briefly once in person because we just weren’t allowed, and restrictions. That was my only experience of having a book published, so it was fine for me. Everyone was saying, this is really unusual because it doesn’t normally happen like this. Usually, we’d get to meet you more. Actually, it was a really lovely distraction from what was going on in the world. I’m actually writing a novel at the minute, which I’m really, really enjoying. I think because the first book took me a long time over a number of years and I’ve got a year to write this one, actually, you realize it’s such a lot of work. Having it condensed in a short space of time has definitely got its advantages but also its disadvantages because I feel up against my deadline quite a lot at the minute.

Zibby: What’s your novel about?

Kate: It’s very British. It’s set in the countryside near here where I live. It’s about two sisters and their slightly eccentric relatives. I’m absolutely loving doing it. It’s such a joy. I never thought I’d write a novel. When they bought the first book, the publishers, Bonnier in the UK said, would you like to write a fiction one too? I just jumped at the chance. It’s such an honor and a privilege. I’m absolutely loving doing it.

Zibby: That’s amazing. For people who have not read the book, what are some things you learned about dog owners relative to their dogs that maybe you didn’t know before you experienced this yourself?

Kate: If I was being kind and generous, I’d say most dog owners are normal and lovely and very sane. I think it’s the small minority that are possibly slightly more eccentric, very devoted. Sometimes that intense love for their dogs can come out in unusual ways. Very strange requests with diet. Very strange requests with how to put their dogs to bed, so bedtime stories and tucking them into the bed. All sorts of requests for different types of massage and dogs that can only walk on one side of the road. This is probably quite niche behavior, but it’s those clients that you remember, obviously. Those are the ones that people want to read about. We all know how much dogs mean to us and what a big part of the family they are. I think we can forgive some of the behaviors because we’re such massive dog-lovers, aren’t we? They are absolutely everything to us. Particularly in the last year, I think they’ve become even more key members of our family.

Zibby: I can’t go anywhere without my dog. I touch my purse, and she jumps up.

Kate: So sweet.

Zibby: I know. I don’t know if you can even see her. She’s in the couch over there. She’s a black lab.

Kate: She’s blended in, camouflaged.

Zibby: Yeah, she’s blended in. She’s always nearby. I can’t go anywhere without her. I think it’s also funny with your then boyfriend, now husband, that sometimes you aren’t a dog-lover until you fall in love with your dog, similar to people who aren’t kid people or they don’t love babies or whatever. Then they have a child. Then all of a sudden, that’s all they’re talking about. They’re like, oh, now we get it. Sometimes it’s that falling-in-love feeling of something before you can extrapolate it a little bit more.

Kate: Yeah. He really resisted. He was really like, this is your dog. I’m not having anything to do with it. You could see him kind of softening. You could see the way she was melting his heart very slowly. It was just really, really lovely to see. We’ve got two now. He still jokes every now and then, oh, they’re your dogs. Actually, he’s completely smitten with both of them. Bless him. What a transformation.

Zibby: You’re a mom of three and have two dogs. Now you’re writing a novel and promoting the memoir and all this stuff. Do you find time to read? If so, what do you like to read?

Kate: Yeah, reading is a really, really key part of my writing. If ever I’m lost with the writing, I always go back to pick up a favorite book or a new book. It immediately sparks that creativity again for me. I always have about three or four books on the go, which is probably a bit crazy, and also listen to audiobooks as well a lot. I find audiobooks can be brilliant to fill in gaps if you’re out walking the dogs or doing the washing up or folding laundry. Just to fill those gaps, I like to have it coming at me all the time. I’m quite a diverse reader. Although, I do fall back into my favorite writers a lot, quite a few American writers, actually. Ann Patchett, David Sedaris, Nora Ephron, really, really big fans of those. British writers as well, there’s a lovely comic, British writer, called Nina Stibbe. I absolutely love her books. Jilly Cooper, who’s one of my all-time literary heroes who’s very British English, she wrote things like Riders. Do you know any of those? She’s in her eighties now, but she’s hugely prolific. She was a journalist as well. Things like P.G. Wodehouse, old-school classic British comedy, that’s what I really fall back to if I’m struggling with my own work, which I think probably has a similar sort of tone to. I’m probably having a bit of a renaissance of my reading. I’d go through phases. Now that I’m writing more, it’s just crucial for me that I read all the time. It never fails to inspire me. I’ve recently got into Katherine Heiny, who I absolutely love as well, another brilliant American writer.

Zibby: Early Morning Riser in on my to-read list, by Katherine Heiny.

Kate: It’s great.

Zibby: I know. I have to. My business partner loves it as one her favorites. I’m like, I have to read this book.

Kate: I actually preferred her Standard Deviation, but they’re both brilliant. She’s got such a brilliant voice. We just had more bookshelves built in our house. Come and see all the books that we’ve got. They’re everywhere around the house. I really hope it’s something that my kids want to be as interested in books as I am because it’s just such a joy to read.

Zibby: I was actually losing hope with my kids, to be honest with you, but now the school is mandating a twenty-minute reading period every day at home. I somehow was not able to implement this with my older kids. Now, I don’t know, these guys listen. We have this new two-week-old everyday habit where all of us sit and read in quiet for twenty minutes before TV at night. It is the highlight of my day. My little guys are old enough now that they can read all by themselves, and chapter books and whatever. I’m like, this is so great. Not only is it actually finally quiet in my house, but we’re all immersed. The best was the other day when my daughter was like — I was like, “Okay, the timer went off. You can stop reading.” She’s like, “Oh, no, I have to get to the end of what I’m doing. This is amazing.” Then at one point, we started chatting. She’s like, “Shh. I’m trying to focus on my reading.” I was like, “Oh, you are, are you? All I try to do all day is read, and you interrupt me a hundred times a day.” It’s been really fun to see that.

Kate: So lovely to hear. I think it usually takes — it’s one book that opens the door to the reading. My little boy who’s seven, he’s passionate about reading now. It was one book. It was the Tree House series. Literally, read all of them in about a week and now tears through books. I can’t quite keep up with him. With my daughter, it was Harry Potter. They just have to get that one thing that really sets them off. Then hopefully, they’ll stay big readers forever.

Zibby: We’re in some sort of Dragon Masters situation over here. Now, of course, they’re like, “Have you interviewed this author?” I’m like, “No, I haven’t.” They’re like, “Could you just do that now, please?” I’m like, “Okay, I’ll try.”

Kate: He sounds so adorable.

Zibby: What advice would you have to aspiring authors?

Kate: Going back to the reading thing, I think reading, reading, reading is so, so vital. I was told by an editor who didn’t work on my book but who I knew through friends that it’s the writers that work the hardest that get there, which sounds slightly disheartening in a way, I guess. Actually, I’ve found that working really, really hard helped me deal with the whole process when the book was published. You do get a bit of imposter syndrome. You do worry that your book’s good enough. Having that background of really hard, hard work behind you not only makes the whole process, when it gets published, just so wonderful, but also is your groundwork for the whole experience itself. She said to me, I remember, “This is when most people give up.” I think I was on my third draft. I’d had a few rejections. I was about to bin the whole thing. She said, “This is when most people give up. It’s the ones that continue on now that make it. You have to put in those extra hours. Actually, she was completely right. It wasn’t ready. I had rejections for good reason. You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to put the hours in. Then hopefully, you will get there. You will be the one that doesn’t give up. You’ll get to the finish line.

Zibby: I love that. I love it. Especially because you’ve invested so much time already, you might as well. I think there’s some block. I’ve done all this. It should be enough. Then that last little bit, you just can’t — I love your motivation to get past that point.

Kate: It has really helped me when I’ve had those moments of thinking it’s not good. Does anyone like it? You still have doubts the whole way through. Getting it published does not mean that you don’t have those doubts anymore. They’re there. They’re just about different things. Having, as I said, that real backing of, you’ve put those hours in, you deserve to be there, actually really helps because it’s a daunting process. Getting reviews and seeing your books on the shelves and stuff, it’s fantastic, but you do have those insecurities. I think having those hours and hours of work behind you actually really does help you through it.

Zibby: Amazing. Wow. Kate, thank you so much. Thanks for sharing your hilarious and amazing story with us in such a great way. I love your writing style and all of that. What fun. Thanks for skipping bath time to do this conversation tonight. Thank you very much.

Kate: Anytime. Anytime I can skip bath time is amazing. Thanks for that.

Zibby: We can do this again tomorrow if you want. I could call you at the same time.

Kate: Exactly, every night.

Zibby: Every night, a regular appearance.

Kate: So nice to chat to you, Zibby.

Zibby: Nice to talk to you too. Buh-bye.

Kate: Take care. Bye.



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