Uber meets dog walking in Calgary’s new Spot app

Click to play video: 'Dog walking app inspired by Uber comes to Calgary' Dog walking app inspired by Uber comes to Calgary
WATCH ABOVE: An ex-oil and gas consultant co-founded the new dog walking app “Spot” after he moved away from his family pet. Global’s Erika Tucker has details on how the app works and what kind of screening process for walkers is in place. – Aug 22, 2016

If you’re looking for a quality dog walker in the city or hoping to spend time with a four-legged friend without owning a pet yourself, a new Calgary-made app could be for you.

“I started using it originally because I just moved back from the U.S. and I didn’t have anyone to walk my dog while I was at work,” said Brittany Lloyd, who uses the service five days a week after signing up three months ago. “Bella doesn’t always get along with other dogs, so I really wanted someone who would do one-on-one on-leash walks who would run with her because she’s a Weimaraner.”

“It saves my life and saves my apartment.”

Co-founder Mark Lester, 26, said the service-on-demand model made popular by apps like Uber and Airbnb works well with a dog walking business.

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“When I moved away from my family dog about a year ago, I was really missing interaction with animals,” Lester said. “I thought, ‘there’s a lot of people out there who are working full time, love having a dog, but are a little too busy to own one.’

“This app is designed to find a quality dog walker to come to your door while you’re away and walk your dog.”

Lloyd acknowledged letting someone into your home to take your beloved pet seemed weird at first, but she felt confident after a “meet and greet” session and was reassured by the fact the company insures and bonds walkers up to a $2-million liability.

“We have a pretty serious process of finding the right dog walker,” Lester said, noting he’s only approved 25 of about 250 people who signed up to be walkers so far. “They’re interviewed in person, there’s a rigorous police background check, then we also put them all through training from a registered dog trainer so they know proper behaviours.”

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READ MORE: Online services for pet sitters growing in popularity among animal lovers

Chris Hayes, who regularly walks Bella, is one walker who has glowing reviews on Spot. He likes the app’s flexibility.

“People throw out the request then whatever walkers are interested jump onto it,” he said. “Then you just negotiate the pickup—and how you’ll get the dog and when to get the dog—with the owner once they’ve selected you to walk the dog.”

A GPS tracking feature allows owners to see a map of where their dogs are travelling. Walkers also submit a report at the end of each trip, outlining what kind of business the dogs completed and if there were any anomalies like a grass-induced barf.

Hayes said he loves dogs, but his ongoing travel plans aren’t conducive to having his own pets.

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“This kind of gives me my dog fix without having the full-on responsibility of having a dog,” he laughed.

“It’s like grandparents have grandkids—but you only see them for limited times and you don’t have to deal with the temper tantrums.”

Lester and his Spot co-founder, 27-year-old John Minchin, provide free lockboxes to all customers leaving a key for the dog walkers. Automatic billing is set up through the app so owners and walkers never have to meet if they don’t want to.

“Dog walkers are essentially acting as third-party contractors,” Lester said. “They earn 60 per cent of the walk fee.”

Cost to owners for a one-hour walk is $30, which means walkers earn $18 an hour.

The Spot service isn’t meant for group walks—it offers private, on-leash walks limited to one walker per household (so if an owner has two or more dogs that know each other they could all go on the same walk).

The company also donates $1 from each walk to the Calgary Humane Society.

Lester started Spot eight months ago when he left his oil and gas consulting job; co-founder Minchin left his position as an accountant.

“I wasn’t laid off but I could see where things were going and just thought it was a good time to focus on things I’m passionate about,” Lester said. “So we quit our jobs and took the plunge.”

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The company is hoping to operate in Vancouver by October, Toronto by November and other cities, including Edmonton, where it’s launching on Sept. 23.

“You can look at numbers, metrics and key performance indicators, but the most important thing is that those that are using it are loving it,” Minchin said. “Let’s put it this way: we didn’t plan on launching in Edmonton until after the snowfall, at least next spring, and here we are.”

Watch below: A new dog-walking app uses the same idea behind Uber to match pet owners with dog walkers in their area. Emily Mertz has the details.

Click to play video: 'App matches pet owners with local dog walkers' App matches pet owners with local dog walkers
App matches pet owners with local dog walkers – Sep 22, 2016

To learn more about Spot or download on Apple or Android, visit the website here.

While Spot focuses specifically on dog walking, Vancouver-based GoFetch calls itself “Canada’s pet marketplace” with operations across the country since April. The app offers dog walking on demand, veterinary services, grooming, as well as dog sitting.

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Co-founder Wilson Cross said there are hundreds of walkers and sitters across Alberta and thousands across Canada.

The payment system differs from Spot in that GoFetch walks pay a $5.99 per month subscription fee, set their own price for walks and keep 100 per cent of the earnings. Cross said there’s also an option for owners to donate to a pet charity of their choice.

Both companies use a third-party background check provider called Checkr. GoFetch also screens walkers with “extensive” interviews; Spot’s Calgary co-founders meet walkers personally as part of their screening process.

For more information on GoFetch, visit the site here.

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