Jenny, a 32-year-old investment banker, stands in London’s Hyde Park as the various four-legged members of her dog walking club chase each other in the bright sunshine. Her Boston Terrier, Eliot, frantically circles her feet. Eliot is clad in a woollen, hooded coat. It’s a sweltering day, and the only concession to the heat is that the hood, replete with teddy bear ears, is down. He is still clearly very hot, but his wide panting mouth makes it appear as though he has a huge grin of contentment on his face.
“They need one more layer than us,” insists Jenny, who declined to give her full name for this article. “He gets cold very quickly, even on days like this.” She looks slightly anxious as Eliot moves on to chasing, and then mounting, a French Mastiff, and it’s only a couple of minutes before she insistently calls him back to her.
Jenny works in the financial institutions group of a large investment bank in Canary Wharf, and admits that Eliot has developed into something of a surrogate child: “I’m way too protective of him, and I probably spend way too much on him – whether that’s dog walkers or treats.”
The fur-baby alternative
Despite all the diversity initiatives, on site crèches and reintegration programmes, taking time out to have children has historically sounded a death knell for the career of any female banker in a front-office role. The glass ceiling suddenly gets thicker, or people gravitate away from revenue-generating jobs into more administrative positions.
The option of raising a “fur baby” is increasingly popular, and this is particularly the case for those in high-powered careers.
“People are having children later and later within demanding professions, and women in the financial sector often choose to sacrifice a family for their career. A dog can emerge as an alternative,” said Dr June McNicholas, a psychologist who specialises in the relationships between humans and animals. “Sometimes it’s a prelude to a family, but often it’s a substitute. They become a family member; people buy them birthday presents, rearrange holidays around them or take time off work when they’re sick.”
There are examples of those in the financial sector taking dog ownership to extremes. Andrea Servadio, who worked as an investment banker on Wall Street for ten years, left in 2010 to start the Fit Dog Sports Club – which offers treadmill workouts and canyon hikes as well as boarding and grooming services – to dogs in California. It taps into the idea of “humanisation” and “premiumisation”, trends of treating dogs like family, she told Entrepreneur magazine. Adam Silberman, an investment banker in New York, was so distraught at the prospect of his dogs being forced out of his swanky Manhattan apartment that he jumped from the seventh floor of the building (and, amazingly, survived). John Clarke, an investment banker in Canada, spends his spare time training difficult dogs so they can find new homes.
For most people, though, the main headache is finding good day care for their dogs. Leaving a dog alone during an often long working day isn’t an option, so bankers instead turn to services which will look after their four-legged friend. And, much like a nursery, this isn’t cheap – The City Paws Club, a Fulham-based dog care service, charges £35 a day for day care, £270 a week for house-sitting and £45 a night to stay at its ‘hotel services’. On the Continent, doggy day care comes in at €600 a month.
“We get a lot of people working in the City who use our services, and 99% of my clientele are female,” said Matt Boyce, ‘pack leader’ at the City Paws Club. “A lot of people treat their dogs like babies – they bring special casseroles for them to eat or big bags of toys to play with. Not every dog is easy to look after and, if you criticise them to their owner, they can get very angry or defensive. It feels like a school report for them.”
The most popular dog breeds among those in the City are, said Boyce, Labradors, Border Collies, Dachshund, and, increasingly, Labradoodles (a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle), although he gets all types. The City Paws Club's “USP” is that it takes the dogs cross-country running, ensuring plenty of exercise and that the dog remains in touch with its pack mentality.
Well-heeled bankers are more likely to turn to the services of a dog ‘nanny’, though, said McNicholas, which ensures they have one-on-one care throughout the day. This is indicative of a developing unhealthy parent-and-child type relationship, she argues.
“Dogs are not children, and it’s a mistake to treat them like one,” she said. “Over-pampered dogs can become insular, aggressive, wilful and sometimes fat. Dogs are pack animals, and people need to keep this in mind.”
McNicholas has dealt with owners who have convinced themselves that their dogs only like eating Chinese food, or (in the case of smaller breeds) that they prefer being placed in a handbag because their legs get tired during walks.
Ultimately, though, most people in the City or Wall Street own dogs not fill the void left by a lack of children, but because they want a way to de-stress, she said.
“A dog won’t judge you if you got a small bonus or didn’t make enough money on a particular day – their love is unconditional,” she said. “Psychologically, it’s incredibly powerful to have an animal at home to blow the cobwebs away from your working day, and who loves you just for being you.”