SAN FRANCISCO - At a meeting of the Board of Supervisors this week, Supervisor Scott Weiner plans to introduce a resolution to regulating San Francisco's army of commercial dogwalkers who regularly bring their customers' four-legged friends to the city's dozens of parks.
Weiner's bill mandates all commercial dogwalkers pay to obtain a permit, receive proper animal control training, ensure their vehicle is safe for the transportation of animals and ensure the dogs they walk are licensed.
The law will also limit the number of dogs controlled by a single dog walker to seven at any given time.
"Commercial dogwalkers provide a critical service to the many San Franciscans with dogs," said Wiener. "This service must be carried out in a professional manner that respects city property and the other users of that property. There are many responsible and professional dogwalkers in San Francisco, and we need to ensure that the few irresponsible dogwalkers don't give the many good ones a bad name."
The legislation was created with the input of the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and San Francisco-area dogwalkers.
"For the many professional dogwalkers who are well-trained, who know how to care for dogs, and who respect the city property they use, this legislation will legitimate them and will require dogwalkers who lack training or skills to get training," said Angela Gardener of San Francisco Professional Dogwalkers Association. "It will also provide firm standards to ensure that all of us in the industry operate under the same rules."
Two years ago, the San Francisco Animal Control and Welfare Commission suggested setting an annual licensing fee to between $100 and $200 a year.
Emy Sakai, who owns the Urban Paw and has walked dogs professionally for almost four years, said Wiener’s legislation could weed out the people who aren’t serious about dog walking, which would make her happy. However, it also would cut into the money she earns.
"If you put in a full eight hours and you walk at least two groups in a day, that will add up," Sakai said.
Still, there are some who believe the seven dogs at a time limit is too high. A study conducted by the U.C. Davis Center for Animals in Society recommended limiting the number of off-leash dogs per park visitor to three is ideal for creating a safe and hygienic dog park environment.
If Weiner's legislation does pass, actually making sure the new rules are followed may be difficult. ABC-7 reports:
San Francisco Animal Care and Control would be the agency enforcing these new regulations if they pass.
Carl Friedman, Animal Care & Control director: "How are we going to enforce it? That is going to be an issue. I am not really in favor of passing legislation that can't be enforced."
At present, there are no official regulations for dogwalkers in San Francisco; however, there is a set of voluntary guidelines they can agree to follow in order to be placed on the city's list of recommended dogwalkersalmost 70 San Francisco dog walking services have signed the pledge limiting the number of dogs they can walk at one time to six, requiring they pick up all the dog poop their charges leave behind and mandating all of their dogs be licensed with the city and have current vaccinations.
Even though, as SF Weekly notes, Weiner doesn't own a dog himself, the Castro supervisor is styling himself as the Board's de facto leader on pup issues. He lead the charge against a proposed National Park Service rule change to severely restrict the ability of dogs to be off-leash in the parks operated by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA).
The proposed law doesn't explicitly include said areas, however, Weiner has been in conversation with GNNRA officials in an effort to get them to voluntarily follow his guidelines even tough they GGNA is outside San Francisco's jurisdiction. In exchange for complying with the law, the city would allow the GGNRA to issue dog-related tickets within its courts instead having to going though federal system, which it does now. The federal courts unsurprisingly don't place a high priority on dog issues, so these cases tend to get drawn out or ignoredwhereas they would likely receive more attention in a city-operated courtroom. While the GGNRA has, for now, declined to join in until they complete their own comprehensive report reevaluating the role of dogs in their parks, the possibility remains open.
"They not included right now," said Weiner, "but in the future it's my hope that they will join."
Including the GGNRA-operated areas in the regulation is important because they are ground zero for the city's off-leash dog debate.
"My only complaint is all the dog walkers that bring WAY TOO many dogs at a time!" writes one Yelp reviewer about the pooch paradise of Fort Funston. "This has become increasingly worse in recent years. It's not only irresponsible, but unfair to the rest of the people that share the park. They're way less likely to be able to pick up after a dozen dogs, less likely to be able to manage their dogs if something should happen, and are much more likely to lose one of the dogs (as I've seen all of these incidents more than enough times)."
If off-leash dogs are banned from the GGNRA, it will put more stress on city's other dog parks; hence Weiner's desire to pro-actively take action to calm the dog situation at the already crowded dog areas in places like Duboce and Alamo Square parks.
There are currently 27 parks in San Francisco that allow off-leash dog walking.