They say dog’s are a man’s best friend. But really, the answer is that man’s best friend is James Nepia.
Walking around the waterfront in Wellington, with a huge pack of nearly twenty dogs of all shapes and sizes tied to his waist, girlfriend and assistant Chloe following up the pack from behind with a further three pups tied to her, James’s business, Kuri Companion, makes quite the spectacle around Wellington. People stop and stare. They ask if they can take pictures. “I’m not such a fan of the attention but it’s good for the dogs” James explains. “It comes with the work.” Indeed, while conducting this interview, the people have to be told to get down more times than the dogs.
Kuri Companion aims to not only exercise dogs but to socialise them and get them into their natural pack state-of-mind, improving dog behaviour. With so many people opting to have a dog these days, and many of them in the city, James has no shortage of clients. However, the life of a dog walker isn’t always…well…a walk in the park. Rain or shine, James hits the pavement with his companions by his side. But how does a man decide to walk dogs professionally?
I needed to meet James to find out. And, of coure, to meet the good dogs who accompany him.
Where did James Nepia begin?
Born at Hutt Hospital James grew up in Kelson and went to school at Hutt Valley High School. “At least when I lasted there.” James found school wasn’t his cup of tea. “I was bored and a trouble-maker” he admits.
James left school at 16 and took on a variety of jobs “too many to list.” He floated between hospitality and sales for years until “dog walking found me.” James’s grandmother was a champion breeder, so he already knew that he had a love for our canine companions and was a passionate dog person.
It wasn’t until one Christmas when James was sitting with a friend, Paul, after too many drinks, and he was instructed, feeling lost after another job ended “You’ll be at my dog daycare on this date, and you’ll work for me now.” “He kind of didn’t give me a choice, but he gave me a purpose.” This kindness led James to working closely with dogs for his job. “I didn’t have a natural talent. I didn’t know anything about pack or leadership. I just wanted to have fun” says James. “Mainly I was intimidated by my friend - to make sure I did right by him.”
What lessons did James learn about working with dogs for Paul?
“I’d only ever really seen dogs as most people do - as fun pets. My philosophy is the same given by my mentor. We are the dog. We don’t expect the dog to humanise. There’s always someone that has to be in charge and I fill that position because I am the only one capable of doing it. It took me years to learn how to do that and when I first went to the yard the dogs walked all over me. It took me time to realise I needed to put my own emotions aside and lead the dogs” James explains. “It fills a void, but it should be the other way around.”
What led James to start Kuri Companion?
“As I mentioned, I worked for Paul and his dog daycare business before going overseas for an OE in the UK,” says James. “I worked there as a dog-walker. It was very different from dog walking in New Zealand. I came back for a variety of reasons, and I decided to go out on my own. There weren’t many dog walking services in Wellington and I’d never done well working for other people.”
Where did the name Kuri Companion come from?
James laughs “Again, Paul,” he says. “He has an old picture of a Maori chief on Petone beach his wall. The Maori had their own breed of dog called ‘the Kuri’. Paul liked the name of ‘Dog companion’ but because I’m half Maori we decided to mix it up a bit. I loved it and it stuck.”
How has James changed through is work with dogs?
“I’ve learnt to put something before myself,” James says. “They gave me peace and purpose.”
How much is a walk with James?
“It’s forty-five dollars for two hours” James explains. “The walks used to be lower-priced, but I realised that by having fewer dogs I can give more to them. We also do training and behavioural work for an hour. Even if the dogs are sitting together, they are learning to behave in a pack. I also have training from my mentor, Paul, which I pass onto the dogs. There are other things we need to show them too. For example, we don’t let people pat the dogs because it teaches them bad habits.”
“Wellington is home. Some days I find it a harsh mistress but there’s nowhere quite like it. I also wanted to help people. It’s one thing to help people overseas but helping the people where you are is important, I believe.”