This article is part of our VICE Weekends summer series, presented by Weis
Captain is a leggy silver-haired Weimaraner, Tom Lillecrapp is a human man and together they are Tom + Captain, a dog-walking service embarking on big adventures in and around Melbourne's inner suburbs. Neither are afraid of getting dirty in the line of duty, which makes for plenty of off-leash fun off the beaten track, not just jaunts around the block.
We spoke to Tom to find out how owning Captain turned into a not your average dog walking business, and to get some much-need advice for ensuring our beloved pets enjoy the summer months just as much as we do.
VICE: I want my four-legged pal to have a great summer too. What activities do dogs like best when the weather's hot?
Tom Lillecrapp: Anytime of year dogs love to be with other like-minded dogs, having the freedom to socialise, run, dig, chew, swim and wrestle in a natural environment, away from concrete and cars. At the moment in the heat of summer they want the option to swim, dip their feet, push other dogs in or just bark at the other dogs in the water. We make sure there is always an element of water on our adventurers.
What's a day in the life of Tom and Captain like?
Dogs love routine so every morning Captain and I start the day at a cafe planning what dogs we have locked in, and allocating them to different adventurers on the team. Captain sits or just stands on the seat next to me overseeing the work I'm doing to make sure I put his mates in groups he and I are taking out. Each adventure is completely dependent on what the dogs love so we make sure to group like-minded dogs together. After we drop the first group off home we do it all over again with another excited bunch of dogs. Captain is very skilled at conserving his energy and anytime he isn't walking he's sleeping.
How do you establish which dogs will work best in each group?
It's based on personality rather than just the size of the dog and that usually comes out in our initial meetings with the owners and their dog.
What's the goal for each adventure?
Our aim is get dogs out and about exercising, socialising and having fun in locations where the owner may not have time to get to before or after work. We want the dogs we take out to have a healthier and happier life as a result of us being part of their lives.
When and how did owning a dog turn into co-owning a canine business?
I got Captain three years ago and I thought while I'm walking him twice a day I may as well see if nearby neighbours wanted me to also walk their dogs. It was a slow start, but I could see where it could go. The business has changed a bit since then, its core we are an adventure business for dogs.
What does it take to become an excellent dog adventurer?
A true love of all breeds of dogs, from large slobbery ones to miniature fluffy yappy ones, and a willingness to get wet and dirty making sure all the dogs are having fun. It's not exactly a walk in the park every adventure so it's vital to be patient, calm and ready to jump into action when needed–on multiple occasions our team has had to jump into the Yarra when a dog has needed a little hand.
Do you think inner-city living is an obstacle for owning a dog?
No, if you're willing to make sure your dog is getting enough love, attention, exercise and socialisation, then it isn't an obstacle. That's why services like ours exist, to help owners who love their dogs but know their dog would love a bit more. Most of the time the dogs we walk already go on at least one morning or evening walk even on the days we're taking them out; it's important to give dogs an opportunity to socialise.
What's Melbourne's dog community like?
I was told the other day that Melbourne actually took out the title of most pet friendly city in Australia last year. In my experience, dogs are being thought about a bit more these days and we've really noticed it in the amount of dogs we pick up from workplaces. More and more workplaces allow you to bring your dog with you and some businesses that we work with have one day a month where you bring your dog and the boss pays for all the dogs to come out on an adventure with Tom + Captain.
Where are some of your favourite dog-friendly places in Melbourne?
The muddy paths and swimming spots throughout Yarra Bend and Darebin Parklands, dog beaches in Brighton and Altona and the pubs in the inner north.
Finally, what's on the cards for Tom and Captain in 2017?
We have an online retail shop, the Tom + Captain Adventure Supply Store, opening in February. We'll be selling a very select range of dog and human adventure products. We'll continue with our popular original dog walking adventures and during the year will also be offering full day adventures to a soon-to-be-announced private location. Oh and it's Captain's third birthday late February.
You can follow Tom + Captain on Instagram
This article is presented by Weis