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Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Everett dog walker's life took a turn after diagnosis

  • Michael Silva controls seven dogs as he walks west on Hewitt Avenue in downtown Everett. Silva started his small business, Scooby's Dogwalkin, while r...

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Michael Silva controls seven dogs as he walks west on Hewitt Avenue in downtown Everett. Silva started his small business, Scooby's Dogwalkin, while recovering from an illness.

  • Michael Silva walks seven dogs west on Hewitt Avenue in downtown Everett.

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Michael Silva walks seven dogs west on Hewitt Avenue in downtown Everett.

  • Michael Silva's charges check out the local scene.

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Michael Silva's charges check out the local scene.

He's 240 pounds of man gripping 300 pounds of dog.
Make way for the dogman of downtown Everett.
Michael Silva calmly navigates a tangle of leashes and flurry of fur, leaving no landmines behind.
He's alpha pack leader of Scooby's Dogwalkin.
Part dog walker. Part janitor.
"I can tell you every block where there's a trashcan for me to dispose of poop," said Silva, 32.
He makes rounds along the Hoyt-Hewitt-Rucker-Everett avenues corridor three or five times a day with as many as seven dogs at once.
Joggers. Cars. Pedestrians. Mailmen.
No problem.
"They love the mail guy," Silva said.
Enemy No. 1: "A kid going down the street on a skateboard."
Next: "Luggage with the wheels, that drives them crazy."
And: "Cats. Cats that jump out of nowhere."
Silva keeps a firm yet gentle hold over the pack of assorted pooches.
"I call them his bouquet of dogs," said Jenny Schmidt, owner of The Bookend Coffee on Hoyt. "He's like the dog whisperer."
She feeds the dogs treats and fuels Silva with coffee.
Most of Silva's clients are his neighbors at Library Place, an urban, pet-friendly apartment complex. He charges $12 for a 30-minute romp around the block.
"He was the impetus for me renting this apartment," said Helen Schledewitz-McGinnis, who came from Colorado to work for Boeing. "I was moving to a place where I didn't know anyone. It was just me and my dog."
She said her miniature Australian shepherd, Annie, usually is shy. "The first time I met Michael she ran right up to him and started licking him," she said.
Still, like any good parent, Schledewitz-McGinnis wasn't taking any chances. "I checked out his references and did a background check," she said.
And like any good dog walker, Silva required her to provide Annie's health certificate and shot record.
"He doesn't just walk them. Every day he texts me a picture of my dog," Schledewitz-McGinnis said. "He speaks dog. He treats dogs like dogs like to be treated. He's the best thing since sliced dog biscuits."
Illness led Silva down the dog walking path in 2012.
He was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease six years ago. The persistent nausea, joint pains and vertigo eventually forced him to quit his hectic job as a call center manager in Seattle.
He helped out his girlfriend, Betsy, by walking her dogs while she worked as a nanny.
"I liked walking her dogs and was trying to figure out what to do," he said. "I had an epiphany: Why don't I put a business plan together?"
He already had the nickname Scooby. And he had the brawn.
"Before, lifting weights was my life," he said.
The symptoms and the drug regimen are a double whammy.
"It's like chemotherapy, that's the best way I can describe it," Silva said. "There are days when the dogs are walking me."
He's not complaining.
"The disease is one of the worst things and the best thing," he said. "I'm a man of faith. I've never gone, 'God, why did you do this?' I'm happier now than I've ever been. I feel like I am doing something good, rather than zombie- ing through life the way I was. I was making good money but I was miserable."
The dogs mind him without him having to raise his voice.
"They seem to know I'm sick," he said. "I think they know that I am going to be good to them. It's some type of instinctual thing."
Silva's services include pet sitting. "I take care of people's cats, lizards, fish, bunnies," he said.
He'll take a pit bull over a bunny any day. "Some people would be afraid of walking five or six dogs like this, but I was more afraid of that rabbit. They got these big teeth."
Silva scoops up after his dogs, but sometimes he gets the blame for messes and mud on sidewalk.
"People assume it's the dog guy doing all that," he said. "I get, 'I hope you're picking up after them.'"
Most people are friendly. Some very friendly.
"Some ladies will flirt and say, 'You can walk me, too,'" he said.
Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443;
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Story tags » EverettAnimals

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