Why Is New York City Trying to Outlaw Dog-Walkers?


This article is part of series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation.

In a Liberty Minute entitled “Putting Government Overreach to Rest,” Helen Krieble talks about the needless costs and regulations governments often impose on small businesses:

A pastor in Tennessee saw funeral homes marking up the price of caskets as much as 600 percent and decided to go into business. He set up shop selling caskets much cheaper and was immediately successful, until the state stopped him.

They said it was illegal for anybody other than licensed funeral directors to sell caskets. He was expected to complete two years of training, spend thousands of dollars, embalm 25 bodies, and pass the exam. He explained that he only wanted to sell caskets, not embalm bodies, but to no avail. So he challenged the unconstitutional law in court and won.

He looked through the lens of liberty, saw the government making special deals, and buried it.

In cases like this, the government is accomplishing only one thing — protecting favored big businesses by driving out competition. By imposing harsh costs and regulations, it disproportionately burdens small companies and self-employed entrepreneurs who are often not well-positioned to enter legal battles defending their right to simply make a living.

Realizing that they can provide goods or services at a lower price, people like this Tennessee pastor offer customers an alternative to big businesses, often with a more personal touch. In addition to this pastor, Uber drivers, Airbnb hosts, and freelance dog walkers have recently been forced to fight for their ability to do business.

The latest legal battle involves the pet-sitting and dog-walking app Rover, which, despite serving 95,000 customers in the city alone, is currently illegal in New York. A city ordinance has forbidden anyone who does not own a licensed kennel from taking money in exchange for caring for an animal.

The Health Department defends the rule by citing public health and pet safety 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. We also conduct inspections of these facilities to make sure animals would be secure and safe.

But pet owners like Cheryl Smart say they will gladly accept the responsibility and risks associated with the app in exchange for the increased ease and decreased cost of using the app instead of a kennel:

It’s up to the owner to go and make sure that it’s safe. The moment you hand the leash over to someone else, that’s a responsibility, that’s your choice as a pet owner.

Rover’s general counsel John Lapham also says many people choose to use the app because they would prefer to have their pet taken care of in someone else’s home instead of locked in a cage at a kennel.

When customers prefer a product or service which happens to come from an individual provider rather than a big business, the government should not be imposing needless, burdensome licensing costs and regulations. Whether it be the ability to sell caskets without having to learn how to embalm bodies or to pet sit without having to open a kennel, people should be able to pursue their money-making endeavors with as little government overreach as possible.

More competition means lower prices and better quality goods and services — all of which makes for happier customers. Why should the government hinder that?

Terry Schilling

Terry Schilling is executive director of the American Principles Project.

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