Denzel Morrison is not your typical dog walker – it’s obvious from the moment he arrives to pick up a client’s pup. Mr. Morrison is behind the wheel of a school bus painted white and blue with a picture of a smiling cartoon dog by the door, black paw prints scattered all over it. It’s the bus he uses to shuttle pooches to private dog parks in Calgary.
“They get pretty pumped whenever I pull up,” Mr. Morrison, 29, says of the dogs. “There’s a couple of dogs who know that I’m coming because it’s a diesel so they can just tell by the sound of the bus and they’re just already out the window.”
Mr. Morrison bought the bus and started his company, Ruff and Puff, billed as “Calgary’s first adventure school bus for dogs!” a little more than two years ago. It was slow going in those early days, especially because so many pet owners were working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic and able to walk their dogs themselves.
But now that so many people have returned to the office, the dog bus business is booming, so much so that Mr. Morrison is fielding calls from pet owners across the city and planning to expand.
“We’re getting interest from a bunch of different communities in Calgary that I put a form on my website where people can submit their community, and if we got enough people in that area we’ll make it a stop,” Mr. Morrison says.
There are three key elements to being a successful adventure dog bus entrepreneur, Mr. Morrison explains.
One, it should go without saying, is love.
“I’ve loved dogs since even before I got a dog,” says Mr. Morrison, whose parents have run a dog rescue agency since he was a teenager. (Ten per cent of all the funds Mr. Morrison raises go to his parents’ rescue, the CB Rescue Foundation.).
The second element, perhaps also not surprisingly, is treats. Many, many treats.
“All the treats. That’s how I keep them in line – bribery,” laughs Mr. Morrison.
The third element is safety. You can’t be driving around town with dogs sloshing all over the place.
Mr. Morrison outfitted the bus so that every seat connects to a harness, and he also included gates down the aisle.
“In the beginning, they have this kind of urge to kind of get out and they get restless. But once you put a little gate in front, they’re like, this is just like my space,” Mr. Morrison says.
He usually has about nine dogs on the bus, although, on one “small dog day,” he had 22.
A single ride costs $35 and can last up to 4½ hours.
Most of that time is spent running and playing in one of several private dog parks in southeast Calgary.
“I just kind of switch it up so it gives a little bit of variety for the dogs,” Mr. Morrison says.
Meaghan Simpson, a dog groomer, has been sending her German Shepherd, Kelsey, and her smaller mutt, Crosby, on the bus since the service began.
“My little dog loves Denzel’s big dog and so I even catch him hopping over to sit beside his dog. And they’re only with the dogs that are on the bus, which is great because that’s the one thing I don’t like about dog parks is because you have all personalities of dogs and you don’t know what you are gonna get.”
Ms. Simpson is happy knowing her dogs are safe and getting plenty of exercise. Plus, she said, it’s an added perk that Mr. Morrison is also a dog trainer.
“If you had any issues, he’s so open to chat. He’s helped me numerous times with my two,” she says.
Mr. Morrison is now figuring out how to serve all the people who are reaching out to him as possible clients. He plans on resuming “small dog days,” and expanding to other neighbourhoods in Calgary that have a decent density of doggos.
It’s all a bit much to figure out, but Mr. Morrison says he always knew the business would be a hit.
“That was the vision when I had it. I just said, oh, people are not not going to love this.”