The city’s silly crackdown on dog-sitters

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The following op-ed was co-authored by R Street Governance Policy Fellow C. Jarrett Dieterle.


New York is already the ninth-most expensive city in the world. Naturally, city bureaucrats would like it to be higher. The Health Department has started fining unlicensed dog-sitters.

Occupational licensing laws have proliferated across America — you need government approval in various states to do things like eyebrow-threading, hair-braiding and selling homemade cookies — but this might be one of the most absurd examples yet.

New York City officials appear to be stepping up enforcement of a law that requires pet-sitters to have a kennel license if they are boarding or taking care of a pal’s furry friend. The city’s health code requires a permit for operating a “pet shop, grooming parlor, boarding kennel or training establishment.”

The law says boarding kennels include any “facility other than an animal shelter where animals not owned by the proprietor are sheltered, harbored, maintained, groomed, exercised, fed, or watered in return for a fee.”

Beyond the absurdity of requiring a license for something as basic as taking care of a pet, this law mostly hurts everyday New Yorkers. And — like the city’s entrenched interests’ fight to kill Uber, Airbnb and other apps and services that make up the “sharing economy” and which threaten monopolies and crony capitalists — it hinders popular dog-sitting apps like Rover.com from operating effectively in the city.

Rover allows pet owners to search and select rated dog-sitters and dog-walkers in the area to take care of their animals while the owners are on vacation or at the office. Most Rover dog-sitters are unlicensed individuals who are simply trying to offer a helpful service to nearby neighbors in exchange for extra cash. Some might even use it as a second job — or in-between employment — to make ends meet in a high cost-of-living city like New York.

Pet owners themselves also lose out, since these apps are more convenient than traditional boarding kennels. Whereas traditional kennels usually require pets to be dropped off on-site, which can mean more time spent schlepping a crate around the city, Rover allows pet owners to select from a bevy of care options, including drop-in visits, midday walks, in-house pet-sitting and traditional boarding.

This provides much-needed flexibility to everyone from the high-powered investment banker who owns a breeder pooch to the single mom working two jobs and whose son just wanted a rescue puppy.

Of course, there’s another knock against Rover from the existing kennel industry: It is significantly cheaper than traditional boarding. As The Wall Street Journal put it in 2014: “While it’s hard to find a cage in a Manhattan kennel for less than $60, rates on these sites [such as Rover] start at around $20 a night.” This is a significant difference for lower and middle-income New Yorkers, who could potentially be priced out of the market if forced to use traditional kennel services.

And those traditional kennels were already falling out of favor. Rover is merely filling a market need. Dog owners have become increasingly leery of kennels for their spotty record of service.

In fact, Rover’s founder, Greg Gottesman, originally launched his app after his Labrador was treated poorly by an expensive kennel. This underscores the point that New Yorkers — like pet owners across the country — can be trusted to know what’s best for their pets, rather than the government.

Worst of all, like many such government regulations, the licensing requirement serves no clear purpose: Millions of Americans around the country use neighborhood children or apps like Rover to care for their pets without incident. It’s a solution in search of a problem.

Of course, city officials could prove their intent is safety rather than protecting entrenched interests while raiding struggling New Yorkers’ bank accounts: They could update the laws to accommodate the realities of the sharing-economy and draw clear lines between a big commercial kennel and an amateur who just wants to take care of a pooch or two on the side. For example, Colorado recently considered legislation to update its kennel-licensing scheme to accommodate dog-sitting apps, which previously were considered illegal.

New Yorkers’ lives are hard enough. They don’t need the nanny state making them even harder. Throw them a bone.


Image by Huurah

 

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