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A Walk Through Article 39: San Francisco’s New Commercial Dog-Walking Ordinance

San Francisco Health Code Article 39, known as the Commercial Dog-Walking (CDW) ordinance, will go into effect on July 1 of this year. Among other things, it requires all commercial dog walkers to obtain permits, stipulates that they maintain $1 million in general liability insurance for each permit’s term, and clarifies leash length limits at no more than eight feet. It also states that animal neglect – whether unintentional or malicious – is just cause for a permit suspension, if not a full revocation. In short, professional dog walkers in The City had better mind their P’s and Q’s.

The legislation might seem overly restrictive or startling at first, but it is not as daunting as it sounds, according to Sally Stephens, Animal Welfare Commission Chair and President of SFDOG. It all came from a very good place, she says, “as an effort to make commercial dog walking more of a true profession. And discussions about a law started at the Animal Welfare Commission eight or nine years ago, because after the dot.com bust, many unemployed people impulsively decided to become dog walkers without experience or education.”

What did this sudden surge lead to? Nothing but problems, the statistics tell us quite clearly, years of Animal Care and Control (ACC) complaints about walkers losing dogs, dogs being injured under their care, and even walkers simply having too many dogs at one time, more than they could manage comfortably and safely. Pets have escaped from vehicles while being unloaded, gotten into fights with other animals, been stolen, and, in some of the worst cases, been struck down by vehicles after escaping from non-vigilant handlers.

With the San Francisco canine population estimated to be somewhere between 120,000-150,000, and more and more dog walkers hanging out their shingles each year, it was time for the dogs being exercised to exercise some rights of their own.  As ACC Director Rebecca Katz notes, “In the City of St. Francis, dogs… are our family members and deserve the same kinds of protections we want for all loved ones. This is another way that the City protects animal guardians’ rights and ensures the safety of animals in our community.”

Even people unfamiliar with this truly urban profession have seen the zany movie caricature – a harried dog walker, tangled up in leashes, trying to keep track of a dozen struggling and straining dogs, often losing a couple in the process.  After July 1, it will be unlawful to walk four or more dogs at any one time without first obtaining a permit (and a maximum of eight dogs even with a permit).

NEW Commercial Dog-Walker Law in a nutshell

  • Obtain a Commercial Dog Walker permit to walk 4 to 8 dogs
  • Walk no more than eight dogs
  • Pay tax collector for a dog walker business license
  • Have a $1 million dollar liability insurance policy
  • Have a valid business certificate registration
  • Leashes can be up to 8 feet maximum
  • Provide safe and appropriate transport for dogs
  • Have transport vehicles inspected and approved
  • Clean up after all dogs being walked
  • Have sufficient drinking water readily accessible
  • Have safety equipment readily accessible
  • Complete approved dog walker training or qualify for ‘grandfather’ clause

Important Dates to Remember

  • Thursday, May 2, 2013 – 9 AM to 12 PM: Vehicle Inspections Begin at SFACC
  • Thursday May 9, May 16, May 23 and May 30 – 9 AM to 12 PM: Vehicle Inspections at SFACC
  • Thursday May 9, 2013 – 5:30 PM: New law presentation and public hearing: Animal Control & Welfare Commission meeting at City Hall, Hearing Room 408
  • June 6, 2013 – 10 AM to 12 PM and continuing on the first Thursday of each month: Vehicle Inspections at SFACC
  • Monday, July 1, 2013: New law goes into effect.

It’s easy enough for dog walkers to adapt to this law. Everyone desiring a permit need only apply for one with the Department of Animal Care and Control (ACC), which is responsible for approving educational courses and apprenticeship programs that satisfy the training requirements of the permit application. ACC will have the power not only to authorize the permit, but to suspend or revoke it, too, based on the findings of administrative hearings. Again, P’s and Q’s need to be minded. But it’s all in the dog’s – and dog guardian’s – best interest. A list of compliant dog walkers will be maintained on the ACC website.

Indeed, a great deal of careful consideration went into the drafting of Article 39. “I worked closely with dog walkers, dog owners, ACC, city staff, and others to craft the dog walker legislation,” says Supervisor Scott Weiner. “And I’m proud that we were able to get it passed. Dog walkers provide a critical service for so many San Francisco residents, and the legislation helps ensure high standards and a respect for the profession.”

All in all, if dogs could talk, they’d probably thank their hometown – the first city in America to enact a game-changing law like this. Supervisor Weiner agrees. “It’s exciting that we’re just weeks away from implementing the legislation,” he says. “This has been a goal of the dog-walker and dog-owner communities for more than a decade.”

For complete information about the CDW ordinance, visit the ACC website at animalshelter.sfgov.org.

Kat Brown has been Deputy Director at SF ACC for almost 14 years. She has worked in animal welfare since 1985 and served on the California Animal Control Directors Board for 8 years. Gabe, Lulu and her foster dog, Nemo, are her current companion-animal guardians. If you would like to adopt a great dog, Nemo is available!

Main article photo by: SF/ACC