NYC law that makes dog-sitting illegal without kennel license triggers rage from pet lovers
July 25, 2017
New York, NY
By Erin Durkin
Pet lovers are barking mad over a little-known city rule that makes dog-sitting illegal in New York.
Health Department rules ban anyone from taking money to care for an animal outside a licensed kennel — and the department has warned a popular pet-sitting app that its users are breaking the law.
“The laws are antiquated,” said Chad Bacon, 29, a dog sitter in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with the app Rover. “If you’re qualified and able to provide a service, I don’t think you should be penalized.”
Bacon, a former zookeeper and wildlife researcher, signed up for the app to help make ends meet while he was between jobs, but did enough business that he now makes his living from it full-time.
“I was looking at it as a way to pay bills in the meantime,” he said. “It’s become a full-time job.”
The health code bans boarding, feeding and grooming animals for a fee without a kennel license — and says those licenses can’t be issued for private homes.
Rover hopes to get the law overturned, potentially setting up another tech battle like the city’s clashes with Uber and Airbnb.
Health Department general counsel Thomas Merrill sent a letter last October to DogVacay.com, which has since been bought by Rover, warning that its users were breaking the law and asking the company to require sitters to confirm they have a license before joining up. The app has not done so.
No full-scale crackdown followed, but at least two apartment residents were slapped with violations in November and December for caring for pets without a permit. Fines start at $1,000.
“If you’ve got a 14-year-old getting paid to feed your cats, that’s against the law right now,” said Rover’s general counsel John Lapham. “Most places right now continue to make it easier to watch children than animals, and that doesn’t make any sense.”
The company has 95,000 pet owners registered in the city, and 9,000 sitters, who brought in $4.1 million over the last year.
Pooch owners often find it cheaper and easier than sending their dog to a kennel, while others prefer to have their pet in someone’s home rather than kept in a cage for much of the day, Lapham said. “You [are telling] the middle class you can’t own dogs unless you can pop in your Range Rover and drive to Connecticut for a boarding facility,” he said.
Health Department spokesman Julien Martinez said the ban is justified by public health concerns.
“To ensure the health and safety of pets and reduce risks to public health, the NYC Health Code requires certain businesses to obtain a Health Department permit and comply with necessary regulations – this includes animal boarding facilities and kennels,” he said. “We also conduct inspections of these facilities to make sure animals would be secure and safe.”
But City Council health committee chair Corey Johnson said he was shocked to find out pet-sitting was illegal, and plans to draft legislation to allow it.
“It’s so crazy,” said Johnson (D-Manhattan). “There are millions of cats and dogs in New York City, and people I think believe they can pet sit or have someone pet sit for them. To have a law on the books that says that’s illegal is antiquated and not practical.”
Cheryl Smart, 30, of Williamsburg, said she was nervous at first about using the app to find someone to care for her lab mix while she travels, so she checked out the sitter’s home in advance and her canine companion ended up loving the stays.
“It’s up to the owner to go and make sure that it’s safe,” she said. “The moment you hand the leash over to someone else, that’s a responsibility, that’s your choice as a pet owner.”