Commercial dog walking is big business in San Francisco. On-leash or off, with other dogs or without, you can find almost an infinite number of commercial dog walkers willing to give your dog some exercise while you are away from home. This is a great and needed service in San Francisco, where our residences are small, the hours we work long, and the number of large dogs needing exercise quite high.
Unfortunately, commercial dog walkers are almost entirely unregulated in the City. If you do choose to hire a commercial dog walker, Animal Care and Control has just two words for you: caveat emptor. Furthermore, commercial dog walkers almost always take their charges out to romp in publicly owned spaces--sometimes within dog play areas, sometimes not, but always without paying a commercial licensing fee--creating friction with dog owners who don't like their DPA overcrowded with commercial play dates.
We here at San Francisco's Dog Blog suspect that if you asked San Francisco's dogs, they'd tell you that they wish Animal Care and Control would implement regulations governing commercial dog walkers. Requiring safe transport of our dogs in regularly inspected vehicles, ensuring good ventilation for our dogs during transport, requiring that all dogs walked together be up on their vaccinations, and requiring commercial dog walkers to comply with leash laws and all other applicable parkland regulations would be a good start, they'd likely say.
This past summer San Francisco's Commission on Animal Control and Welfare took the first step towards putting some regulations on the books. However, in a classic example of a regulated industry capturing the very agency charged with its regulation, the Commission on Animal Control and Welfare is proposing to allow commercial dog walkers to walk between 8-10 dogs AT ONE TIME.
Gentle readers, right now you are probably thinking, so what? Well we'll tell you what: responsible dog owners and animal welfare groups have been saying for many years that the number of dogs any person can walk at once while ensuring the dogs' safety is between 3-6. Whether you ask the East Bay Regional Park System, U.C. Davis' Center for Animals in Society, the experts at Whole Dog Journal, or even the SF SPCA, you will discover that a limit of 8-10 dogs is a recipe for lost and injured dogs. Not to mention less individualized attention for your mutt.
So what is driving this extension to 8-10 dogs? Profit, and nothing else. There has never been a single study (or even objective opinion) suggesting that a single commercial dog walker can effectively ensure the safety and well being of 8-10 dogs, particularly when the dogs are allowed off-lead. This is simply a money grab by commercial dog walkers, who want to make more dough per walk at the expense of Fido's health and well being. Jeff Hunt, a self-professed commercial dog walker, said as much in his comments to the Commission, saying that in his view a limit on the number of dogs walked at one time was simply a limitation on his income, refusing to recognize that the dogs he is walking are not widgets but wonderful beings that he is paid to care for.
Commercial dog walkers in our City are likely to argue that they are somehow more enlightened and therefore able or entitled to walk more dogs than most folks would consider safe. But lets take one example here: K9 Safari, run by two seemingly wonderful people who clearly love dogs, but have not always kept their charges from getting lost.
If you look closely at this promotional photo entitled "K9 Safari in action" on Flickr, you'll note that there are 8 dogs in the shot. Now imagine doubling the number of dogs in the photo. That's what the Commission is proposing as an appropriate number of dog walkers to dogs. At any rate, this past spring, K9 Safari lost at least one of their charges at Fort Funston while walking the dog off-leash, and then helped another company find a second dog that was lost at Yerba Buena Park. The dog at Fort Funston fell off a cliff and was stranded over night in the rain, and Park Rangers had to rappel down the cliff to rescue it.
According to posts placed by one of K9 Safari's proprietors on nearly every dog e-mail list remotely connected to the Bay Area, the second dog was lost for over 11 days after it was spooked by a large disturbance ran away from its dog walker:
MISSING AKITA/SHEPARD MIX- Buena Vista Park
Posted by: k9safari
Sun Nov 5, 2006
Hello All,I am sending this plea to the dog community to help look for Jacko, a friendly 5 yr old Akita/Shepherd mix last seen at Buena Vista Park on Thursday 11/2/06 around 1:30 p.m. He is large and white with brindle spots all over him. A huge branch fell from a tree and spooked him while he was with his dog walker, which resulted him to flee toward the Castro. He had a collar with tags and a red raincoat on. Please contact Tiffany at 415-225-xxxx or Dave at 713-xxxx with ANY information. Also, please pass this on to anyone you know in the dog community. Many Thanks
Jocko has returned home!!!!
Posted by: k9safari
Tue Nov 14, 2006
Hello Dog Lovers-I just wanted to let you all know that the Akita/Shepard mix named Jocko has been found after 11 days of being missing. He was hiding in the shrubs at Portola and Clipper! Thankfully, besides being hungry, he is safe and back at home getting lots of love from his family! Everyone involved is so grateful for your concern and compassion during such a scary and LOOOOONG time of stress! HURRAY!
Can you imagine losing your pup for 11 days? We're all for rejoicing in happy endings, but we need to prevent dogs from being lost in the first place.
Which brings us back to the Commission on Animal Control and Welfare. If it was truly interested in helping San Franciscan's maintain safe environments for our dogs and ensuring that those who would service our dogs are adequately prepared for the job, why on Earth would they propose allowing commercial dog walkers to take out 8-10 of our dogs at one time? It is because the Commission has been captured by the very groups it is designed to regulate. The Commission no longer does the bidding of our dogs, it does the bidding of those who would profit off of them.