Dogs and Disabilities: Two Olim Launch Dogiz Walking Service

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Two olim, one from London and one from Khazakstan discovered their mutual love for dogs in a class on start-ups, and founded their own.

When two immigrants – one from northwest London and one from Khazakstan – met in an IDC Herzliya class on start-ups, they discovered their mutual love for dogs.At the time, they could have never imagined a day when they would join forces to start Dogiz, a unique and growing Tel Aviv-based dog-walking service that also creates career opportunities for people with disabilities. Meet COO and founder Danny Djanogly, and CEO Alon Zlatkin.

When Djanogly was 18, he was looking for something “a bit more” than a traditional gap-year program in Israel. He decided to become a lone soldier in the IDF’s Kfir Brigade. After a post-army trip, he began studying government and politics at the IDC and soon after adopted Mufassa, a dog he describes as half German Shepherd and half Japanese Akita. “It was a game-changer,” reports Djanogly.

Zlatkin moved to Israel in 1991 at the age of five with his family from Almaty, Kazakhstan. He grew up in Ariel, attended yeshiva, and served six years in Israel’s elite Shayetet 13 unit of the Israel Navy, often referred to as the Navy Seals. Following a stint in West Africa working on maritime strategy, piracy and humanitarian projects, Zlatkin returned to Israel and began his studies in business and economics at IDC Herzliya.

When Djanogly and Zlatkin met, they commiserated on the difficulties of being both students and dog owners.

“We found it hard to make arrangements for our dogs,” reports Djanogly. “We had to rely on friends, neighborhood grannies and others. It was not reliable. We came together and said, ‘Why not do it ourselves?’” They began discussing ideas for what would become Dogiz, and the dog walking business and platform began.

In 2015, they were accepted into the HIVE, an accelerator for new immigrants and won a Google competition that landed them their first $100,000 investment. They have also received support from Samurai Incubate Inc, an early-stage Japanese Venture Capital firm with branches in Tokyo, Rwanda and Tel Aviv. Samurai has invested in more than 30 Israeli start-ups.

“Tokyo has more dogs than children,” observes Djanogly playfully, speculating as to why Samurai might have been interested in supporting Dogiz.

Two years ago, Djanogly and Zlatkin had the good fortune, through a funder, to meet Aviad Friedman, Israeli businessman, chairman of the Israeli Association of Community Centers (IACC), author, advisor in several Israeli ministries and former advisor to prime minister Ariel Sharon. He is also the father of Avrumi, a 22-year-old man with disabilities.

DJANOGLY NOTES that Friedman was impressed with the company’s concept, shared data on the high rate of unemployment among people with disabilities, and suggested they work together on the project, which had great potential for success if it would train and hire people with disabilities.

“We stumbled upon disabilities by accident,” reports Djanogly, who read Friedman’s book, B’yom Bo Tikrah Li Aba, and took his advice about hiring people with disabilities.

Friedman also serves as chairman of the board for the now 18-month-old company, which currently employs 12 dog walkers with disabilities and hopes to soon increase to 20.

Friedman reports, “This business is good for the dog and for the walker. Both thrive on routines. It is better when every day looks the same. An 8 o’clock walk is 8 and not 8:30, and the walk is always on Dizengoff Street, not Allenby!”

His son, Avrumi, became the company’s first autistic employee.

The program involves a one-month course on how to work with dogs and how to use the scheduling app. A counselor offers ongoing support for workers with disabilities. Zlatkin and Djanogly are determined to employ even more people with disabilities.

“We want to increase the number of employees with disabilities from the current 10% to 20%. Our goal is to become one of the top three largest employers of people with disabilities in Israel.”

Suzy Goldberger, the chairwoman of Ken’s Krew, a US-based nonprofit that supports 500 adults with neuro-developmental disabilities in the workplace, praised the efforts of Dogiz.

“Dogiz shines a light on the benefits to employers of hiring workers with disabilities. This population is eager to work, loyal and hard-working. Employee turnover is far lower than the norm, and overall employee morale is enhanced. Dogiz is a leader in understanding that hiring workers with disabilities is not charity, it is good business. Ken’s Krew has enjoyed sharing best practices with Dogiz, and hopes for their continued success.”

Through the process of beginning and running their start-up, Djanogly, 31, and Zlatkin, 36, have become close friends. They spend so much time together that the good-natured, unmarried Djanogly playfully reports, “I am his second wife.” Zlatkin is married and has a two-and-a-half year old daughter.

The two plan to take their Tel Aviv pilot program and expand it to London and other cities around the world. They are also developing Dogiz Health, which uses artificial intelligence and focuses on digital health for dogs. Fortunately, they continue to receive inspiration and support from friends, investors, and perhaps most importantly, an inner circle of dogs. These have included Zlatkin’s late dog, Jack, a German Shepherd who recently died of cancer (he continues to be listed on the company’s website as “The Godfather”), and Djanogly’s dog, Mufassa, the “Chief Dog Officer.”

In no time, these two immigrants are likely to meet and walk all of Tel Aviv’s estimated 41,000 dogs!

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