Matt Oberman has always loved dogs. He turned that passion for furry friends into a business: Bone Voyage, a dog walking and cage-free boarding service in Montgomery County.
A graphic designer and photographer by trade, Oberman, 45, worked in the corporate space for years. He’s glad to have left that dog-eat-dog world behind.
What do you love most about dogs?
I love the fact that they ask for so little in return, and the fact that the bond that you create with a dog is tight. It’s fantastic. They let you forget about everything else that’s going on in the world. I get to spend my days with these beautiful, friendly dogs.
People laugh when you tell them that you’re a dog walker, but I’ve never been so happy. I can’t tell you how many times I told myself, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this.” I spend my day walking dogs outside.
How do you approach caring for dogs?
For somebody to trust you with their dog is a really big deal. And I approach every dog as if it were my own. I am a neurotic dog owner and I don’t think that’s a bad thing because I want what’s best for my animal and therefore whenever I walk someone else’s dog, I’m their advocate. I want what’s best for that dog. Every dog is different. There’s a lot of responsibility that goes into this.
After every walk, I send the customer notes and photos. I enjoy taking adorable pictures of dogs because they’re so expressive. It is literally like a daycare.
How did you make that shift from an office job to this business?
When I worked in corporate America, I would come home from work and I’d be in a terrible mood. I wouldn’t want to go to work. I would find myself at work just going online and looking at dogs.
My wife is from Gaithersburg and we moved to Maryland about three years ago. And when we first moved here, I told her, “There’s no way I’m going back to corporate America. I can’t. It’s taken years off my life.” I took a job as a dog walker. And I was like, “Where has this been my whole life? This is just amazing.” I worked and walked for somebody for a little over a year before I started my own business.
The actual act of starting a business takes a little bit of grunt work. I’m lucky because I’m a graphic artist and I made all my own marketing material.
If I see somebody with a dog, I just start talking to them. It’s not even to drum up my business, it’s just because I like their dog.
What is cage-free boarding?
It’s like an Airbnb for dogs. My house is completely open to them. As long as the dog is potty trained and up to date on shots and gets along with my dog. I have a fenced-in backyard. I have water stations throughout the house. Feeding time is always supervised. Dogs can sleep wherever they want. I’ve had dogs sleep in bed with us.
I always send multiple texts throughout the day with pictures and updates. You have to love these dogs like they’re your own.
I also provide peace of mind when boarding people’s dogs. I can’t tell you how often customers tell me how much more they were able to enjoy their vacation knowing their dog was well taken care of.
Are you involved in the Jewish community?
We belong to Temple Beth Ami. Both my daughters go to the Hebrew school. I think instilling a sense of Judaism into your kids is important. You have to find that balance of letting them explore and enjoying it by themselves at times, but also guiding them along the way.
We celebrated my dog’s Bark Mitzvah. When he turned 13, I ordered a little tallis and yarmulke for him on Amazon. I don’t want to say he enjoyed it, but he didn’t put up a fight.
Do you have any advice for people looking to follow their passion?
I would absolutely encourage anybody to start doing what they love, but also be smart about it. Don’t just quit your job with no money in the bank and pretend like this is a movie where everything ends great. You need to be smart and think about the future. I am extremely lucky that my wife wants me to be happy and I absolutely could not have done this without her.
If you honestly think that you could do a better job than what’s out there, then you should give it a try. You need to find something that separates yourself from everybody else. If you find something that you love to do, you just become happy.
Anna Lippe is a Washington-based writer.