Getting dirty is an essential part of Tom Lillecrapp’s job. With his handsome dog, a silver-haired Weimaraner called Captain, the pair are Tom + Captain, a dog-walking service that shuns streets and local parks in favour of off-leash, multi-terrain adventures.
“We take your dogs to places that you, as an owner, don’t have time to go to,” says Lillecrapp. “We take them to where there’s rock cliffs to climb, where they can smell possums and go swimming.”
Lillecrapp came up with the idea for the business nearly three years ago, not long after he bought Captain. After leaving his job in commercial real estate he decided dog ownership was his priority. Beginning by simply offering to walk other people’s dogs, Lillecrapp steadily built a business and client list that includes several hundred customers, seven staff and a fleet of Tom + Captain vans. “I walk all day every day now,” he says. “It’s pretty non-stop.”
Lillecrapp leads up to three adventures daily, taking roughly six or seven dogs (plus Captain) per adventure. He’ll often meet with another Tom + Captain walker with a similar number of dogs so they can all play together. Such a sizeable crew of canines makes finding the right locations crucial.
“There are a few spots along the Yarra which are amazing, especially in winter,” says Lillecrapp. “The Darebin Parklands are awesome, too, really open. And Merri Creek is right there, and you feel as though you’re in the middle of the bush.”
Not all dogs are accepted for adventures by Tom + Captain. “We don’t just let them off the lead the first time and hope they come back,” says Lillecrapp. Dogs new to the service must be able to go off-lead and respond to being recalled before they’re allowed on a true adventure. Lillecrapp first takes every new dog to a quiet, safe location (such as an enclosed oval) along with a few mild-tempered dogs to see how they might respond.
Even when dogs pass this test, things don’t always go to plan. Recently Lillecrapp jumped fully clothed into the Yarra to pull out a dog who had leapt in after a ball and couldn’t get out. “Every day we’re in the mud or sand or water,” says Lillecrapp. “I buy shoes eight pairs at a time, so the wet or muddy ones have time to dry before I need to wear them again.”
Aside from mud and sand, there’s weather to contend with, but rain or hail is actually an advantage. “There are less people out and about if it’s raining, so we can go to different parks and locations,” he explains. “A lot of dogs just love getting muddy and dirty. It’s so cool to watch a dog be so happy in puddles, or running around like an idiot in the rain. They go crazier than usual and it’s so much fun to watch.”
It’s why Lillecrapp does what he does. “Dogs get so excited when they see we’re coming – sometimes they even wee a bit,” he says. “At the start we didn’t have a lot of customers. But I remember thinking I’d much rather be making dogs happy than making money.”
This article is presented in partnership with Converse’s water-repellent Chuck II Shield Canvas range.