Calgary

Permit now required for Calgarians walking more than 6 dogs off-leash at a time

Starting Sept. 30, Calgarians who want to walk more than six dogs off-leash at a time will need a professional dog walker permit under the City of Calgary’s responsible pet ownership bylaw.

Professional dog walkers can apply for the free permit online

Hailey Seidel, owner of Calgary Dog Walkers, says the new professional dog walker permit won't affect her business but she would have liked to have seen more efficient steps taken to improve public safety in off-leash areas. (Calgary Dog Walkers/Facebook)

Starting Sept. 30, Calgarians who want to walk more than six dogs off-leash at a time will need a professional dog walker permit under the City of Calgary's responsible pet ownership bylaw.

Anyone can apply for a permit online, free of charge, if they provide at least one of the following:

  • City of Calgary business licence for a dog walking business.
  • Proof of over 1 year of employment as a dog walker.
  • Proof of over 1 year of self-employment as a dog walker.
  • Relevant dog training or certification.

Walking more than six dogs off-leash without a permit could potentially warrant a fine of $100, according to Jennifer Lawlor, business strategist in community strategies with the City of Calgary.

But first, bylaw officers will ensure that people understand the rule and have an opportunity to comply. She says enforcement will be used as a last resort.

The city has more than 150 designated off-leash areas. By default, dogs must be leashed in any public space — unless there are signs allowing them to run free.

Lawlor says the bylaw is being amended to ensure that people walking a larger number of dogs have the experience to do so safely, making for a more positive off-leash dog park experience.

"While many professional dog walkers do a really good job, we have had some issues with people walking larger numbers of dogs in off-leash areas and not able to keep control over them or adhere to the bylaw rules," said Lawlor.

No data to support permit, says dog walker

Hailey Seidel, owner of Calgary Dog Walkers, became involved in the engagement approval process for the permit last year when she discovered the city was advocating for the permit without consulting any dog walking businesses.

"The challenge remains the motive behind the city introducing this. It still seems really unclear and, to be frank, this is quite misleading," said Seidel.

Last year, changes were made to the city's responsible pet ownership bylaw to limit the number of dogs a person can bring to an off-leash area to six. City council then asked to put in an exception for professional dog walkers, to acknowledge their training experience.

Seidel says three million pets were added to homes across the country over the pandemic and measures like these don't support healthy socialization for dogs in Calgary. (Submitted by Hailey Seidel)

Seidel says the city indicated it was oping to improve public safety by reducing dog bites, but the dog walking community was provided with no evidence supporting that dogs in the care of dog walkers were responsible for a large portion of those incidents.

"That data didn't exist, nor was there any data driving this push for the permitting process."

The City of Calgary also did not provide CBC with any data regarding issues with off-leash dogs in large groups.

Seidel says she isn't necessarily against the permit, but she doesn't think it will improve public safety or positive interactions in off-leash dog parks — especially if it isn't enforced.

"I can't remember the last time that I saw a bylaw officer in any of the spaces that we use on a daily basis. So I actually am a little bit frustrated that the effort to improve safety in public spaces with animals wasn't more collaborative and educational."

Instead, Seidel says she would have liked to see more public education around how to safely use off-leash areas, better enforcement of existing bylaws and requirements for for-profit dog walkers to get a business licence and commercial insurance.

Coun. Sonya Sharp, who chairs the city's business advisory committee and advocated for the dog walking community in this process, says there's still a number of improvements to make at off-leash parks, such as providing disposable bags and better parking for people with multiple dogs.

"The biggest thing, I'll be honest, is signage and people understanding what's an off-leash park and what's an on-leash park," said Sharp.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karina Zapata

Reporter/Associate Producer

Karina is a reporter/associate producer working with CBC Calgary. She was a recipient of the 2021 Joan Donaldson Scholarship and has previously worked with CBC Toronto and CBC North. You can reach her by email at karina.zapata@cbc.ca

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