By John Vibes
The New York Health Department is cracking down on independent dog walkers and using an outdated law to prevent them from doing business.
The recent conflict has been brought about by the popularity of a new dog walking app called Rover, which works much in the same way that Uber or Airbnb does.
The long-standing law prevents anyone from earning an income caring for animals unless they are a part of a licensed kennel.
The health department has recently issued a warning to pet-sitters who use Rover that they are breaking the law. Animal lovers and pet sitters throughout the city are outraged about the warning.
29-year-old Chad Bacon, a dog sitter from Brooklyn, told NY Daily News that he should not be considered a criminal if his customers are happy with his service.
“The laws are antiquated. If you’re qualified and able to provide a service, I don’t think you should be penalized,” Bacon said.
Bacon explained that he used Rover as a way to maintain and pay bills while he was in between jobs, but now he has taken on dog sitting full-time.
“I was looking at it as a way to pay bills in the meantime. It’s become a full-time job,” he said.
The battle began last October when Health Department general counsel Thomas Merrill sent a letter last to DogVacay.com, the app which has now become Rover, asking the company to require its users to get licenses before providing a service through the app. Rover declined to comply with the health departments demands, and has allowed its users to provide services to dog owners without getting kennel licenses.
Rover’s general counsel John Lapham pointed out that these laws put the poor and young people at a disadvantage.
“You [are telling] the middle class you can’t own dogs unless you can pop in your Range Rover and drive to Connecticut for a boarding facility,” Lapham said.
“If you’ve got a 14-year-old getting paid to feed your cats, that’s against the law right now. Most places right now continue to make it easier to watch children than animals, and that doesn’t make any sense,” he added.
However, Health Department spokesman Julien Martinez continues to fear-monger about the necessity of kennels.
“To ensure the health and safety of pets and reduce risks to public health, the NYC Health Code requires certain businesses to obtain a Health Department permit and comply with necessary regulations – this includes animal boarding facilities and kennels. We also conduct inspections of these facilities to make sure animals would be secure and safe,” Martinez said.
Luckily, not all of the city politicians are in agreement.
City Council health committee chair Corey Johnson promised to draft legislation to protect these dog walkers.
“It’s so crazy. There are millions of cats and dogs in New York City, and people I think believe they can pet sit or have someone pet sit for them. To have a law on the books that says that’s illegal is antiquated and not practical,” Johnson told reporters.
So far there have been no arrests, but there have been at least two New York residents who were hit with fines that started at $1,000.
John Vibes writes for Activist Post and is an author and researcher who organizes the Free Your Mind Conference. John is currently battling cancer. If you wish to contribute to his treatments please donate.