August 11, 2014 6:41 pm

Charges against Langley dog walker spark questions about better licencing

WATCH ABOVE: With the recent charges against a dog walker, nervous pet owners are calling for regulations to the pet servcie industry. John Daly reports.

The NDP justice critic is calling for tighter licencing regulations for dog walkers in B.C., but some industry professionals say it won’t necessarily lead to better standards.

NDP justice Critic Mike Farnworth says the death of six dogs in the back of a dog walker’s truck in Langley in May and the growth of the industry warrant some changes.

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“I think it is an appropriate time to see what regulations and what licenses could be in place that would give people who use dog walking services a peace of mind,” says Farnworth.

On Sunday, dog walker Emma Paulsen was charged with six offences after allegedly leaving six dogs in the back of her truck, where they all died from apparent heatstroke.

Initially, Paulsen concocted a story about the dogs being stolen, which led to an almost week-long search for the animals.

Farnworth says what happened in Langley is an awful tragedy.

He says he would like to see a standard licence for dog walkers that would be uniform across the province or region and would be done in consultation with the industry, the province or local government and the SPCA.

But Marcie Moriarty with BC SPCA says the changes should be driven by the industry, because even with greater provincial regulation, there is no one to enforce it.

“The government does not even give us any money to do cruelty investigations. It may give us a false sense of security,” she says.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development says municipalities have the general authority to regulate dog walkers.  Some municipalities require both a business licences and then further regulate under their animal control bylaws or specific “dog tax and regulation ” bylaws.

Regional districts may also regulate dog walkers. Metro Vancouver, for example, appears to regulate them under their parks service.

Barry Rueger speaks for the North Shore Professional Dogwalkers’ Alliance and says outside of the North Shore there is no licencing beyond a regular business licence.

Most dog walker licence applications in the Lower Mainland require a valid business licence, liability insurance, annual fee, and being at least 18 years of age.

“On the North Shore, you have to have a business licence, plus a specific permit to use trails and insurance,” says Rueger.

He says there is no training requirement.

“I am not sure how much difference [regulation] would make,” says Rueger. “Ultimately, when you look at the woman in Langley, it is a very isolated situation where someone just completely went off the rails and did something very bad. You cannot really legislate that, you can punish people after the fact. I am not sure how far you can go to really stop something like that.”

Rueger says on the North Shore, most of the enforcement is done by local bylaw officers, and dog walkers are low on their priority list.

“The people working on the North Shore are more self policing than anything. We really look out for each other. To a degree, the standards that we follow are probably higher than what the district requires, because we care about what we do and you are comparing yourself to the people around you, and that raises everybody up.”

READ MORE: How to choose a dog walker you can trust

Vancouver-based dog walker Christine Mitten says to prevent a similar incident in the future, companies need to vet, train and micro-manage employees.

“More regulation would not do anything because the incident in Langley just came down to common sense. You would not leave six kids in a car for half an hour when it is hot out. Why would it be ok to leave six dogs in a car like that?” she says.

“The owners have to meet with a dog walker in person, make sure they are trustworthy and ask for references.”

Mitten also says more regulation could potentially take out dog walkers who do not have the money to pay, should the cost of licencing go up.

The BCSPCA  is responsible for animal welfare enforcement under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The Act was updated in 2011 by the Ministry of Agriculture and has the toughest animal welfare penalties in Canada.

With files from Marlisse Silver Sweeney

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