Commercial dog walkers in San Francisco are apprehensive about a newly-approved city ordinance that will limit them to walking no more than eight dogs at a time in all city parks and will require each walker to obtain a city permit.
The measure, recently passed by the Board of Supervisors, will be enforced starting Jan. 1, 2013 and will require every dog walker to pay an annual fee of $250 for a city-issued permit, which will go to the Animal Care and Control Department. Each walker will also be required to have a leash for every dog being walked, have access to first aid kits for the animals and carry enough water for each dog.
The ordinance will also require new applicants for permits to have 20 hours of approved course training in various areas such as dog park etiquette, safety and fight protocols or complete an approved apprenticeship of at least 40 hours of practical experience working with another dog walker.
Dog walking business owners were hesitant about the ordinance, but think that it does address some valid issues.
Julia Frink, owner of Dogwalks, said the dog limit is understandable, but she does worry that each of her dog walkers will need a permit.
“I am happy to pay a permit fee for park use but strongly feel the business owner should own and be able to distribute these amongst their dog walkers and not that each individual dog walker will need a permit,” said Frink.
Frink said she was concerned about apprenticeships becoming a problem for established businesses.
“I feel people will use businesses as mine to get certified, largely at the company’s expense, and then start their own dog walking services essentially putting competitors in business at my expense,” said Frink.
Some were concerned about the effectiveness of walking multiple dogs.
“I welcome dogs in our parks,” said Supervisor John Avalos before the Board approved the proposal. “But I think there are limits a person who has eight dogs can do in taking care of them.”
Avalos said that on a daily basis he and his children have to watch where they step all around the Excelsior Playground.
“We have a problem in this city that I don’t think this high number of dogs per walker really is able to address,” said Avalos.
Other commercial dog walkers were concerned about the dog cap and how it would affect their businesses.
Rob Kwant, co-owner of Who Let The Dogs Out! Dog Walking company, said his main concern was the limit being proposed because a reduction of dogs being walked means a reduction of revenue, which significantly affects their livelihood. He said their revenue goes back into the local San Francisco economy and community, which would also be affected.
Kwant was not concerned about the requirements to get a permit because any responsible company would ensure that their walkers are well-trained. He said advocates like Angela Gardner from the San Francisco Professional Dog Walkers Association, fought hard for the highest number of dogs to be permitted to be walked at one time.
Residents who live near dog parks were persistent in trying to get the limit as low as possible. Some neighbors wrote letters to several supervisors explaining that they have to deal with constant barking for several hours every day. Neighbors also wrote that dog walkers should be held accountable for the trash and feces they fail to pick up.
Mandy Smith, 20, an SF State pre-nursing major, said she never saw a lot of dog walkers when she lived in the city. She said she understood the city’s point of view but thought it was up to each individual’s personal responsibility as to how many dogs they should walk.
“It’s how ever many that person can handle,” Smith said.
Avalos said at the meeting that he had reservations about the number of dogs per walker but felt the rest of the ordinance was strong.
“I think the rest of this legislation is really strong providing standards for dog walkers,” Avalos said.