Lauren Mayer: The Dog Lady

Lauren Mayer: The Dog Lady

Questions & Answers with community faces

Lauren (De Wys) Mayer (30) is originally from Coopersville, a small farming community downstate. She had always dreamed of working with animals as a marine biologist, a veterinarian, or a pet shop owner. But when it came time for her to sit still and pay attention in school, she struggled—Mayer says that she was “too hyper” to focus on science and that she stared out the window toward the woods during math. Fortunately, however, she found an educational path that played to her strengths once she reached college.
Mayer graduated in 2015 from Northern Michigan University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Outdoor Recreation Management and Leadership. After graduation, she knew that leaving the large hemlock trees and white cedar stands behind was not an option. So, she found a happy place in between the Upper Peninsula and Coopersville: Benzie County. She had met her husband, Josh Mayer (33), in the Upper Peninsula in 2014; he had spent the previous years living in Hawaii, Utah, and Guatemala and by no means wanted to stay in the frigid frontier of Marquette. So, she introduced him to the tropical-looking white sand beaches and jungle-like forests of Benzie, and he was sold. (Now, Josh is a home builder and carpenter here in Benzie County.)

Lauren worked as a server at The Manitou Restaurant for eight seasons, from 2012 to 2020, while she and Josh bought and remodeled two Frankfort homes for future rental properties. After the house remodel costs ended and the properties began generating their own income, Mayer knew she was free to begin a new business venture that got back to her roots—she started walking her dog, Louie, along with a friend’s dog in 2018. Now, four years later, Lauren has as many as six dogs per day that she is working with at one time; usually, she averages three dogs per morning hike.

Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with Lauren as she was walking the big dogs in the morning.

The Betsie Current: What made you want to be a professional dog-walker? What do you enjoy about this line of work?

Lauren Mayer: I have always loved animals. Growing up on a hobby farm, I had every pet imaginable—the smallest to largest. I remember in middle school counting up my animals and having 32. My animals have always been off-leash with me. We made lots of hiking trails in the woods behind my mom’s house, and I had a hiking group consisting of one sheep, two dogs, and three cats. Sometimes Sysco the pony would come, too. My hiking group would have so much fun on the trails with each other—and watching my animals explore together brought me such joy! This practice really solidified my lifelong love of taking animals into the woods and watching them explore. They teach me a lot and actually point out wildlife signs, scat, tracks, and noises for me to observe with them. 

Current: What does a typical day of work look like for you?

Mayer: At 8:30 a.m., I leave my house with my dog, Louie. We drive to Frankfort to pick up Carmen, a chocolate Labrador, and then we drive to Elberta to pick up Patrick the Poodle. I have these three dogs hiking with me at least six mornings a week, sometimes seven. However, other people call me throughout the week to schedule their pup to join the morning crew; sometimes I have so many that I hit the trails two times during the day. 

Current:  What is a rough estimate of how many dog-walking clients you have? And what kinds of things do you look for in a client/dog? Do you do a bit of dog-training, as well? What about dog-sitting? Lastly, are you currently taking new clients? 

Mayer: Currently, I have about six dogs on rotation; some everyday, some a few times a week or month. Everything from Labradors, Poodles and small dogs, like Shiba Inus. My friends who have dogs often join in on the morning hike, so we get social time and their dog gets a play in, too. I do not train dogs side by side with owners; my interest lies more in exercising dogs, so that they are well behaved upon their return home. The stipulation for my clients is that your dog has to ride happily in a car, come when s/he is called, be off-leash, and have zero aggression toward other dogs. You, as the owner, have to take constructive criticism from me, be okay with your dog receiving criticism, and allow me one to three hours to run your dog hard in the woods. I do accept new clients for dog-walking but there are specifications again; dog-friendly, off-leash, come when called, and non-aggressive to people or animals. I am not accepting new clients for dog-sitting. All of the dogs that I currently walk really like each other; they have formed special friendships within the group and are becoming great listeners!

Current: How has your work life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Northern Michigan in March 2020?

Mayer: Nothing has changed—these dogs’ social lives are booming! People still let me into their homes and allow me to hug their pups as often as I wish.

Current: How have you seen your work grow and change? How do you hope that it will continue to grow? What is next? 

Mayer: This business used to just be Louie, Carmen, and I. Louie and I were hiking every morning anyway, and he needed a friend, so I borrowed Carmen from someone I knew: our first customer. From there, the business grew slowly as I was preoccupied in other business ventures. By 2021, I was ready to give dog-walking my full attention, and it has been growing pup by pup ever since!

Current: What kinds of things do you do for fun, when you are not working? What other things are you involved with? How did you get involved with them, and why are you passionate about these causes?  

Mayer: I love the woods; I spend at least four hours a day in it—observing, identifying, moving, hanging with friends. It makes me so happy! I also love to eat, which helped in developing my love for cooking. Ingredients, especially quality ingredients, add up. Although my dog business is going well, I live on a tight monthly budget. My friends and I manage and operate an organic produce “buying club.” We order bulk fruits and veggies at wholesale, the delivery happens right here in Benzie, and we eat well for cheap! This buyers club is open to new members anytime and has really elevated the level of fun that I’m having in my kitchen these days. People can contact me if they want to learn more and/or get involved.

Current: How have you seen Northern Michigan change since you started coming here? What are your hopes for the area in the future?

Mayer: Michiganders love Northern Michigan; it seems to be in our geographical makeup. However, these past few years, it seems the entire country has chosen to love Northern Michigan, too. I used to have my pick of the litter, so to speak, when it came to a lonely trail in the woods to run wild and free. These past few years, during the summer months, I seem bound to the early morning hours on beaches or on “less desirable” paths. Sometimes, I’ll drive to three different trailheads before finding a relatively empty parking lot. I feel I’m on borrowed time when it comes to how untouched a path can feel or how untamed a beach can seem. I am a supporter of the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and believe that continuing to save undeveloped spaces is in humanity’s best interest.

Current: In your opinion, how “dog friendly” is Northern Michigan/Benzie County?

Mayer: Frankfort is a very dog-friendly town. The beaches and trails in the area also offer lots of off-leash options. Once you head up north and enter the National Park Service property, things become more inaccessible for us to play, but thankfully, this area promotes their furry residents to enjoy the Northern Michigan, laid-back  quality of life that we all cherish.

Current: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of living/working in Benzie County and in Northern Michigan, in general? What is the best or most rewarding part of your job?

Mayer: Gig work is fun! There are a lot of standard jobs in Benzie County, but why choose the same one to return to every day? I don’t have one job that I go to on a regular basis anymore; it was not providing the freedom to pursue my true passions like gig work does. I dog-walk, dog-sit, clean and manage rentals. These tasks provide the annual income I desire to continue building a future, fill my time, and fill my bucket of joy!

Current: What could Northern Michigan do to attract more talented young people to this area?

Mayer: The fun thing about Northern Michigan and its lack of “developed city” opportunities is that it attracts the artists, builders, creators, dreamers, and entrepreneurs of our young generations. I don’t think Northern Michigan has to change or upgrade to meet modern-day demand. Rather, I think modern-day demand needs to take a back seat and let the creatives make their own rules for what opportunity looks like. Get to brainstorming your dream business!

Current: What else does Northern Michigan/Benzie County need?

Mayer: More saunas!

Current: What are your favorite local events and activities? Any favorite dining, recreation, hiking spots?

Mayer: Living within my means limits my dining/drinking experiences, which is a lifestyle choice that brings me joy. I spend a lot of time cooking; my friends and I potluck together at least once a week. I won’t be telling you my favorite hiking spots—I’m sure you understand. I do really enjoy live music; in the summer months, the concert series that happens in Beulah and the one at Michigan Legacy Art Park are really nice community events. 

Current: What does your perfect winter day look like in Benzie County? How would you spend it?

Mayer: Great question; a really special time of year for locals! I would wake up and spend two hours cross country skiing with my dog friends in the woods. Return home to cook lunch and read. Take Louie back in the woods to go explore for a few hours, on ski or foot. Come home to cook a dish, then take it over to a friend’s house to sauna and potluck. Ending the evening with a cold dip in the lake—we’re living now!

Email for more information about dog-walking opportunities and/or the organic produce buying club.

Featured Photo Caption: Lauren Mayer poses with her dog, Louie (left), along with Maizie (center) and Carmen (right). In 2021, Mayer started a dog-walking business in Benzie County, and she walks as many as six dogs per day. The “big dogs,” some of which can be seen here, get walked in the mornings. Photo by Aubrey Ann Parker.

Author Image
Aubrey Parker

Leave a Reply