If your Pomeranian has grown too portly, Jessa Baxter, founder of L.A.'s Pooch Pacers, has a solution: exercise that animal. No time? She'll take care of it for you.

The company stands out because there are a lot of dog-walking services around, but there aren't many businesses that specialize in dog running.
"Dogs love to run and there are incredible health benefits for dogs that run consistently," said Baxter, 27. "People want a good life and healthy lifestyle for their dog. But many dog owners don't have the time or energy to run their dogs."

About 17 million dogs in the U.S. are overweight or obese, according to Pfizer Inc.'s Animal Health Web site.

"Overweight dogs are fairly common today. Most dogs don't get as much exercise as they should," said Dr. David Fox, a San Diego-based veterinarian who sometimes works at L.A.'s Center Sinai Animal Hospital.
Baxter has tapped into a lucrative market. Americans spent $3 billion on high-end pet services in 2007, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

To customize a running regime for her canine clientele, Baxter conducts a "meet and greet" with the dog and its owner to assess the dog and outline fitness goals.

"We tailor the pace and length of runs for each dog based on their age, size, and health," Baxter explained.

For example, an energetic Labrador may receive a long, fast-paced jog while a Dachshund gets a brief trot. All runs are organized with water breaks.

"My labs have high energy and are really a handful. Baxter runs them for an hour and when they come home, they pass out," said business consultant Michelle Jingquist, who has used the service since November. "It keeps them in better shape and helps them burn off energy."

Baxter grew up in a house full of dogs in Kansas, where her mother was a dog trainer, so she would take all manner of pooches out running all the time. She was working in advertising at the Cartoon Network when she launched Pooch Pacers a year ago.

As the demand for dog-running took off, she left her job and took the business full-time. The company now has 20 clients and five contract employees and charges $50 for 30 minutes or $70 for 45 minutes.

"The beauty of Pooch Pacers is we don't have any direct competition in my mind. I don't consider dog walkers my competition, because the services we offer are so different," Baxter said. "At this point, it's an open market."

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