Update: This was approved at committee. It will go to a full meeting of Calgary city council.
Calgary is looking to lift the limit on the number of dogs handled by one person, provided they obtain a dog-walkers permit to do so.
However, local dog-walking pros say the city’s barking up the wrong tree.
In May, the city’s Responsible Pet Ownership bylaw was updated. In that revamp, the city capped the number of canines anyone could walk in an off-leash area at six. During public hearings, professional dog walkers expressed concern they weren’t involved in the development of the bylaw. Many said the six-dog limit would significantly impact their business or force them to raise prices.
After further consultation, the city has come back with this free permit system. It will be discussed at Wednesday’s Community Development committee meeting.
Administration said it balances the need for public safety in off-leash areas and concerns of the dog-walking industry.
The city said it had heard feedback during the bylaw’s engagement that suggested there were public concerns around too many dogs with one person. There are numerous comments in the city’s verbatim “What We Heard” report with concerns around too many dogs under one person’s control.
In the city admin report, it said, “Limiting the number of off-leash dogs per handler improves the ability for the handler to identify and clean up defecation, respond to nuisance behaviours and maintain voice and sight comments with each dog.”
A handful of other cities have dog-walking permits. Toronto, Montreal and Saskatoon allow between three and eight dogs with a paid permit. Annual permit fees are between $100 and $500.
Show me the data
Hailey Seidel, co-founder of Calgary Dog Walkers and member of the stakeholder committee, said the city overlooked professional dog walkers in the bylaw.
“I don’t think they had any idea how big of an industry we were, to be honest,” Seidel said.
Seidel said a group of dog-walk owners were engaged as a part of this permit revision. That input process “was not great,” said Seidel. They did an online survey, but Seidel said it felt like it was an effort to collect information that supported the city’s desired direction.
When Seidel asked about the desired goal in permitting, she said she was told the city wanted to reduce bite incidents.
“So, I said, ‘Okay, well, where's the data that supports the notion that professional dog walkers are responsible for a large enough percentage of dog bites in our communities that this needs to be regulated,” Seidel said.
She said she wasn’t completely against a permit system – for the right reasons. Leashing up professional dog walkers seems to be a big step to fix a limited problem.
“I genuinely think that the conversations should be around creating amendments to the Responsible Pet Ownership bylaw that puts the obligation back on the pet owner,” Seidel said.
Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner, who chairs the Community Development committee, said the amendment to the bylaw attempts to find a balance.
Penner said they had to address worry from other pet owners about the volume of dogs being handled at one time. At the very least, with a permit system, they’ll be able to track the number of incidents.
“Now when reports come forward about dogs, we'll be able to understand if they're actually attributed to a permitted dog walker,” Penner said.
“And so, I think what it will actually do is bolster the reputation of the dog walking industry and understand that they are not the cause of the problems at dog parks.”
Penner agrees that more needs to be done to educate prospective dog owners on their duties as an owner. But she said it’s not an “either-or” situation. They can do both.
She’s hoping it can be a data-collection tool as much as anything. It can't be a red-tape situation for professional dog walkers.
The city admin report said that, if approved, they would delay the off-leash walk limit and the dog walking permit until June 30, 2022.