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How to make up for a dogless childhood? Become a dog walker.

"I really don't mind picking up poop," Kara Kapelnikova says.

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Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week's Chicagoan is Kara Kapelnikova, 28, "dog walker, Texas ranger."

When I was a kid, I could never have dogs because my dad was allergic. But I had a tortoise, I had birds, I had fish, I had frogs. I had a bunny rabbit, and he lived to be almost ten. He seriously was very loyal to me, like I was his girlfriend, his bunny girlfriend. He hated my boyfriend; he thought he was in his territory. That bunny was my best friend in the whole world, and I still think about him every day.

Later I had a hamster I found in my apartment complex's Jacuzzi. I thought he was a leaf, but then I was like "Oh my gosh, it's a hamster! I have to save him!" I got him out, and he was supercool. He wasn't biting me or anything. He lived about a year and a half with me, which is a pretty long time for those little dudes. When he passed away, he was sitting in his food area, holding a piece of corn. He was happy.

For a while, I didn't have animals. But I've since settled in Chicago, I'm putting down roots. And one of my roots is, I have a dog who's a rescue. Her name is Kedzie, after the street, and she's a Great Pyrenees-lab-shepherd-husky mix. She thinks that she's a very good doorbell. If anyone walks by or knocks on the door, she barks, and I'm like, "I can hear that too. I also have ears." I love her.

Two years ago, I started dog walking for a small company, and I loved that. I liked being outdoors. I liked being with the dogs. I really don't mind picking up poop. You'll meet other people walking their dogs. It's just a fun experience you get to have hanging out with your little buds, you know? So when I moved to Logan Square, I decided I was going to start up my own dog-walking business here. I was trying to think of names, and my boyfriend was like, "Dog Walker, Texas Ranger," and I started cracking up. It would be way cooler if I was from Texas, I guess.

I have this dog I'm walking named Lucy—she's a pit mix—and she's this little love bug. I'll put out food before I leave, and she makes the biggest burp. She has these little legs, so she needs help getting up the stairs. And then there's Pippa; she's a springer spaniel. Even if you get bad news that day, you just look at her face and you're like, "Oh my gosh. You! You!" She's the sweetest little angel. And at the dog park, if she doesn't like the other dogs, 'cause she's super submissive, she'll go under my legs.

I kind of got burnt out on it, but animal activism used to be basically my full-time job. I did a lot of advocacy, educating people on industry practices. Not to pooh-pooh anyone who walks dogs and isn't vegan, but to me personally, for my own personal integrity, I could not call myself an animal lover if I was still participating in their exploitation and harm. I don't believe that people want to hurt animals; I feel that a lot of people don't realize that it's as easy as it is to do the right thing. The animals in the food industry have the same feelings and emotions as the animals we take care of in our homes.   v

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