SPANISH FORKS (AP) — As the saying goes, either you're a dog person or a cat person. Well, Gage Bowls loves all animals, but if he had to pick between the two animals, he'd probably prefer canines.
His affinity for man's best friend is apparent in his home-grown business, "Gage Dogs Company."
"Not many people in Utah pay for a regular dog-walker," said Jodi Bowls, Gage's mother. "Gage's stuff is more of whoever needs it: if somebody's gone for an extended period of time."
Despite a lack of demand for dog walkers in Utah County, Gage put his passion for pets to good use by walking and caring for dogs in the Spanish Fork-Springville area.
The self-proclaimed "dog whisperer" lives life under special circumstances. For Gage, his life was changed at birth.
"For the first four hours of life, he was lacking oxygen before someone noticed," said Jodi Bowls. The oxygen deprivation left the newly born Gage with a few deficiencies. Chief among them was cerebral palsy, which included some degradation of both physical and mental abilities.
Now a mother of four kids, Jodi was fully aware that the miracle of life can come with complications.
"God gave Gage just the way he was supposed to be," she explained. Turning to her son, she said "What are you Gage, to this family? 'A gift,'" replied Gage with a laugh and a smile.
Now a 20-year-old living with his mother in Spanish Fork, Gage attends the Bridges Nebo Transition Center. According to Gage's mother, the center offers a four-year post-high school program for individuals with special needs and aims to successfully integrate them into society and help them gain employment.
"Bridges is really amazing," Jodi Bowls said. "They have what they call practice jobs where he's going in to different community businesses and they rate him on the type of job that he does. Gage is an extreme rule follower. He's very vigilant on making sure everything is lined up. Trust me: he keeps us all in line here," said his mother with a laugh.
Halfway through the program, Gage feels he's learning a lot through Bridges. Though he loves attending the school, he yearns to be just like "regular" grown-ups.
When Gage attended Springville High School, he had a special needs class, but was also in mainstream classes with the rest of the student body.
"I just want to go places without aides," said Gage. "But more like, go to classes." His mother added, "like other adults?" ''Yeah," replied Gage.
"Gage said to me, 'I want to feel like a grown-up,'" explained Jodi Bowls. "'I don't want an allowance and I want to pay my own bills.' He talks about moving out, and about personal independence and what that looks like. That's when we all started talking about, 'Well, what can you do?'" She further explained. "He said, 'I'm good with animals.' "I said, 'what can you do with animals?' and he said, 'I can walk dogs.'"
So, Gage took the initiative.
"Then, I turned around and looked back, and all of a sudden he had designed all this stuff, and I went, 'OK, here we go!'" explained his mother.
All of Gage's business materials: his business cards, his brochures, his various social media accounts and even his own website were all created by Gage himself. Now for the past two years, Gage has been managing his own dog-walking business.
"I just want to help people to walk their dogs," said Gage.
Gage's client base is currently small, mainly comprised of family and friends, but he treats each dog as if it's his own.
"I put my hand on their nose so they can sniff," said Gage.
"Then he gets down on their level, every time," Jodi Bowls said. "I mean, because this is a loved one, right?" she added. "At least my animals are, they're my babies. Gage is extremely responsible, and if anything ever did occur he knows how to ask for help."
One of Gage's biggest obstacles is simply getting people to know his business exists, and getting people comfortable with him.
"It's kind of hard to knock on doors," said Gage. "Sometimes they get weird, and some people are not that nice about it."
His mother added, "What they don't realize is that he handles two very large dogs all the time."
Gage has cared for his two Labrador Retrievers, Bentley and Buster, for the past 10 years.
Gage gets the word out about his business in other ways. For one, he's a social-media hound.
"I'm crazy about Facebook, Instagram and YouTube because I try to get many people following me because businesses need a lot of views," said Gage.
Through his website, one can see the different options Gage offers through his dog-walking business. Monday through Friday, his hours are listed as "flexible" and Saturday, he's available for walks from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is closed on Sundays. He offers different pricing for walks beginning at 15 minutes and up to an hour in 15-minute increments. He walks dogs of all shapes and sizes. For all of Gage's new customers, the first walk is free.
Gage's mother only gets involved when Gage needs transportation to a walk too far away for him to get there by himself.
"For me, I just support him," she said. "Gage does really well, and we have a nice network of people we know."
Gage and his mother feel that the business allows Gage to build life skills that will eventually allow him to foster a feeling of independence and make a few extra bucks while doing it.
Though, Gage has a specific plan for how to use his recent business earnings.
"My friend had a birthday, but it's passed, and I wanted to buy him and me Comic Con tickets," said Gage. Gage and his friend are fans of "Suicide Squad" a movie released last year that profiles the DC Comics anti-hero team, the "Suicide Squad."
"His family just couldn't make it happen, so Gage wants to make it happen," Jodi Bowls said.
The family of Gage's friend didn't have the financial means to buy a ticket or costume for their child for the comic convention in Salt Lake City next month, so Gage hopes to pay both of their ways.
Gage explained that he would like to dress up like the Joker, though he wasn't sure who his friend would be yet.