Max Nicastro stands at the bottom of the landing as Benny — his tail and tongue wagging — scrambles down the stairs as quickly as his three legs will carry him.
Violet, Nicastro’s 5-year-old French bulldog, can barely contain herself waiting to greet Benny as he clambers down to the bottom of the stairs.
“Come on buddy, are you ready?” Nicastro says as he gets both dogs ready for their walk.
Nicastro, 28, isn’t your ordinary dog walker. The former hockey player for the South Carolina Stingrays has added his own twist to the activity, combining the two great loves of his life — dogs and skating — to create Skate Dogtor.
The idea for his company came naturally for Nicastro, who has five rescue dogs that he took out for daily walks. But first, the former Stingrays defenseman from Thousand Oaks, Calif., always strapped on a pair of inline skates so he and the dog could get a workout.
“The dogs loved it,” Nicastro said. “You could tell they liked it better when we skated instead of just a normal walk and I was able to get a good sweat going, too.”
He checked with several local veterinarians and they assured him that as long as he didn’t overdo it, the dogs would be fine running alongside Nicastro as he skated.
“I did my due diligence,” Nicastro said.
With his professional hockey career coming to an end, Nicastro, who played for the Stingrays during the 2016-17 season, was looking to start the next phase of his life. A year ago, he worked as a linesman (game official) in the ECHL and American Hockey League.
“That was OK, but my heart wasn’t really into it,” he said.
Then he realized his true passion.
“I used to skate with my dogs and with a bunch of my friends' dogs and I’ve kind of had this idea in the back of my head for a while,” Nicastro said. “I saw how much the dogs enjoyed it and I wanted to transfer that into a business.”
Nicastro did his research on the internet and used what he’d learned from his business classes at Boston University to create his company.
Skate Dogtor was born.
Nicastro’s normal services include a 30-minute skate with a client’s dog. He said each skate involves a brief warmup, potty break, photos, water and a slow cool down.
“It’s not for all dogs,” Nicastro said. “Some dogs are fine just sitting on the couch all day, but there are some dogs you can definitely tell want to get out there and run. A dog is not going to run if he doesn’t want to."
Nicastro said he is extra careful this time of year when the heat index can reach triple digits during the day.
"We do it at their pace," Nicastro said. "We give them a break after about 10 to 12 minutes. I’ve got a CPR certificate so I know what to look for. Dogs are going to tell me if something is wrong. They will slow down or stop and I know that’s good for the day."
Shelly McGehee had just moved from Charlotte to the Lowcountry to start her new job when she went looking for a dog walker for her pit bull-boxer mix Sadie.
“My schedule is so crazy, I never know when I’m going to be around to walk Sadie, so Max has been a savior,” said McGehee, who is a marketing development manager for SweetWater Brewery.
When Nicastro is out with Sadie, McGehee said she’ll get a photo midway through the walk.
“Sadie always had a big smile on her face,” McGehee said. “Sadie loves to pull me around when we’re walking, but with Max she’s getting to trot and run and I know it’s a better workout for her. When Sadie comes home after being out with Max, she’ll pass out for four or five hours. She’s always snoozing when I get home.”
If your dog is older or isn’t a huge fan of running, no problem. Nicastro has a custom-made stroller, a favorite of Benny and Violet.
“Benny is the greatest,” Nicastro said. “He’s so chill. He’ll walk or run, even though he’s only got three legs. He can keep up with Violet easily and he’s always got a smile on his face.”
Nicastro’s love of dogs literally began in his crib with the family’s 10-year-old golden retriever Hydro.
“There are all these photos of us sleeping together when I was a baby,” Nicastro said. “We were always together. I don’t remember things that happened a couple of years ago, but I remember just about everything I did with Hydro. I think that’s where my love of dogs started.”
To book a “skate” with Nicastro, go to www.skatedogtor.com.