Injunction proposed as dog-walker law looms 

click to enlarge Dog walkers will be limited to walking no more than eight dogs at once and will have to undergo training under a new law set to go into effect July 1. - MIKE KOOZMIN/2013 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/2013 S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Dog walkers will be limited to walking no more than eight dogs at once and will have to undergo training under a new law set to go into effect July 1.

San Francisco’s first commercial dog-walking regulations are scheduled to go into effect in under two months, but opponents still have some bark left.

Phoenix Asher Featherstone, formerly known as Elisa Baker, knows San Francisco’s political dog wars intimately. In 2007, the animal trainer was one of the opponents who helped sink a similar proposal and now is trying again.

The difference, though, is that the Board of Supervisors already approved the law in February 2012. It gave the Department of Animal Care and Control up to 18 months to work out the finer details.

With weeks before the law’s July 1 rollout, when dog walkers will have to have a permit to do business, Featherstone has launched an effort to block it and is threatening to file an injunction. She declined to say if she has an attorney, but said that she planned to file a week or two before July 1.

Under the law, anyone walking four or more dogs must obtain a permit, which costs $240 initially and $100 for annual renewals. No one can walk more than eight dogs at a time. Vehicles must be inspected and have proof of $1 million liability insurance. Dog walkers also must undergo 20 hours of training or 40 hours of apprentice work unless they have been in business for three or more years.

Featherstone criticizes the law on multiple fronts. For example, she said, the maximum number of dogs to walk at one time should be 15. The fee should be on a sliding scale of up to $600 to generate more money for parks.

As it stands, she said, The City will lose out on thousands of dollars.

If Featherstone takes legal action, she said she would challenge the constitutionality of the law for creating a dog-training requirement that she said favors the SPCA model.

The legislation doesn’t specify a training model, but states the coursework must be approved by the Animal Care and Control director, currently Rebecca Katz.  Companies employing the SPCA model have already been approved, including the well-known Dog*tec. Featherstone, who uses a different method, describes it as “solely positive, food-based.”

An advocate of the law, Sally Stephens, said the long-in-the-making regulations legitimize the industry. The president of SF Dog, an association of dog owners, and chairwoman of the Animal Control and Welfare Commission dismissed the training concerns, saying anyone can propose curriculum for acceptance and “as I understand it, there is no one preferred method.”
Animal Care and Control has already begun vehicle inspections, 25 as of May 9. The department will begin issuing permits in June. Repeat violations can carry a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail.

Enforcement of the law in parks will be the responsibility of the Recreation and Park Department.

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