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For walker, it beats dog days of summer

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By Billy Baker
Globe Staff / February 3, 2011

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CAMBRIDGE — The golden retriever, as a breed, has never met anything it will not plow through if there is fun on the other side.

Snow, dogs still believe, is fun.

And so yesterday afternoon, as the skies delivered a fresh broth of sidewalk soup, Diane Johnson found herself being hauled by a golden-haired train barreling toward a park full of knee-deep snow in Cambridge.

Johnson is a dog walker, and as Linus and Casey — best buds who live in neighboring apartments near Inman Square — dragged her through calf-deep puddles and over snowbanks twice their size, Johnson said that most every thing about a snow day is pretty miserable in her profession.

Everything except the dogs.

“All dogs love the snow,’’ Johnson said, as Linus and Casey made it to the ball field and dove into the snow as if they were on fire.

“Goldens love to make snow angels,’’ she said, and, as if on cue, they did.

Walking yesterday was a mess for all, and as the dogs led Johnson along the streets of Cambridge, it was a tour of the drudge that has been the winter of 2011. She slipped on icy sidewalks; she was forced onto the street by unplowed walks; and again and again, she experienced that painful moment when icy water came rushing into her boots to inform her that the puddle she’d just stepped into was much deeper than she’d thought.

But unlike a lot of dog walkers, Johnson, 44, who owns a company called The Happy Hound, does not cancel on her clients in bad weather, even though they constantly cancel on her. Yesterday, 10 of her 13 daily clients told her she wouldn’t be needed because the owners had stayed home from work.

Financially, the day was a wash, but she still went out for the other three.

“If the owners go to work, I have to go to work,’’ she said. “Those dogs have to go to the bathroom. Those dogs look forward to seeing me. I’m the highlight of their day until their people come home.’’

She’s gone out in ice storms and blizzards, and there have definitely been days when she leaves her house and says, “Oh, man.’’

“But I’d rather have this job than any other job,’’ she said. “I get to hang out with dogs all day. I get to hang out with my friends all day.’’

For a dog walker, she says, there’s a fine line between loving dogs, and business. If you lean one way, you get a dog walker with seven dogs on a leash and no time for them to stop and sniff; if you lean the other way, you get Johnson, knee-deep in snow, laughing at two golden retrievers wrestling and cooing love.

She does not take vacation days or snow days or sick days because she does not think it is fair to the dogs. Her job, she believes, matters every day. People complain about being unappreciated at work. Johnson never feels that when she pulls open a door.

Yesterday, as Groundhog Day felt like “Groundhog Day,’’ Johnson again slid down the road from her home in Arlington; again struggled to find a place to park amid the snow forts; again soothed nerves each time the sound of a plow sent a panic through the pups; again spent more time drying wet fur than you would believe.

But as monotonous as the season has become, Johnson is certain the weather could be a lot worse. It could be summer.

“Last summer was brutally hot and humid,’’ she said. “There’s usually no shade in dog parks. That’s horrible for the dogs, and horrible for me.

“It’s easy to forget that, but if you work outside, you remember.’’

Billy Baker can be reached at billybaker@globe.com.