Pet-friendly San Francisco apparently has some unfriendly dog walkers. Reports of dogs lost, verbally abused, left in poorly ventilated cars and found roaming city parks without a watchful eye are just some of the complaints The City’s Commission of Animal Control and Welfare has been increasingly receiving about professional dog walkers.
In response, the commission will vote Thursday on a new set of regulations requiring a special business license and setting limits on the number of dogs pet care providers can walk at one time.
The growing industry has long operated with little oversight. It remains unclear how many dog walkers work in San Francisco, but city officials and industry workers estimate at least 130 and maybe as many as 300.
Commission chairman Richard Schulke said that after receiving complaints, it became clear regulations were needed. "Quite often they let the dogs go and they don’t watch them. They don’t pick up the poop," Schulke said.
Nancy Stafford, co-chairwoman of the Professional Dog Walkers Association, which has a membership of about 100 local dog walkers, said that dog walking "is a business that needs to be regulated just like any other business."
Stafford said that the industry has grown for reasons one might expect: There are more pet owners in The City.
"Part of the problem with dog walking is it’s something that a lot of people think they can do," said Sally Stephens, chairwoman of San Francisco Dog Owner’s Group. "There’s a lot of knowledge you really should have to be a professional dog walker. It’s like being a nanny."
The proposed regulations include requiring a city-issued dog walking license costing between $100 to $200 annually.
Other regulations include limiting the number of dogs walked at one time to eight, requiring insurance to cover dog injuries or loss of a dog and requiring dogwalkers to carry a dog first aid kit.
Raina Woolfolk, owner of the dog walking company Tree Sniffers, agreed with many of the proposed regulations, but called the fee for a dog-walking license unfair. "Dog walkers … support the working class of San Francisco by providing safe dog care while those people are at their jobs in San Francisco," she said. The fee would also encourage walking many dogs at once, because dog walkers will not be able to afford them otherwise, she said.
Dog walkers can earn about $30,000 a year or even as much as $60,000, and generally charge between $15 and $20 per walk, according to Stafford.
If the regulations are approved Thursday by the commission, the Board of Supervisors would then vote on whether to adopt them.
» More than 120,000: estimated number of dogs in San Francisco
» More than 130: Estimated number of dog walkers
» $15-$20: Cost charged per dog walk
» Would apply to any person who walks three or more dogs for compensation
» $100-$200 annually for dog walking license
» Maximum eight dogs at a time