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Colorado's Absurd War on Online Dog Walking Services

How big government and “big kennel” are conspiring against the sharing economy.

In over 10,000 cities in all 50 states, the online platform Rover offers pet owners the ability to connect with walkers and sitters with the ease that characterizes the growing sharing economy. There are over 100,000 people who earn money by working with the platform and Rover is just one of many "pet sharing" sites.

But according to the Colorado government, people who watch pets for money are breaking the law unless if they can get licensed as a commercial kennel—a requirement that is costly and unrealistic for people working out of their homes, often as a side job.

This is not simply a case of an outdated law failing to accommodate modern technology. There are more nefarious motives—those of special interests who want to protect their profits by keeping out new competition. As Americans For Tax Reform's John Kartch argues, it is time to add "Big Kennel" to the list of special interests that support ridiculous occupational licensing schemes.

Lisa Jacobson experienced the wrath of the kennel industry and its defenders in government firsthand. She started working with Rover a little over a year ago when she was in between careers. Even though Jacobson is a single mother of two, she could earn money to pay her mortgage through the work she found with Rover. Because of her five-star rating and unique skills, Jacobson was soon at the top of search results and her client list grew.

Unfortunately, her success attracted the attention of a large commercial kennel in Colorado Springs, which filed a complaint against her. Then an inspector from the Colorado Department of Agriculture came to her home and told Jacobson that she was advertising pet sitting without a kennel license. The inspector said that Jacobson had to get a state license or take down her Rover profile.

When Jacobson found out that the license came with a $400 nonrefundable application fee, she was torn. There was no way her home would be approved, since both carpet and hardwood floors are not allowed at commercial kennels, but she needed the income to support herself and her children. She decided to avoid legal trouble and took down her profile. In a single day, she lost all her income from Rover simply because state regulators refuse to recognize that watching someone's pet at home does not automatically turn a person into a large-scale kennel business.

After the initial shock of being shaken down by a government bureaucrat subsided, Jacobson decided to fight back. She joined others in testifying in favor of House Bill 1228, an effort by Colorado state legislators to restore some sanity to pet sharing regulations that is sponsored by Rep. Lois Landgraf (R), Rep. Dan Pabon (D), and Sen. Kevin Priola (R). This legislation would create a less costly and restrictive licensing structure for platforms such as Rover, as well as allowing people to watch up to three pets without needing a license. Even though hearings on the bill were dominated by opponents from the commercial kennel industry, it passed the Colorado Senate on April 27 by a vote of 33 to 1 and is now on the way to Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk.

Rover functions like other online platforms that characterize the sharing economy. Because of increased levels of information and connectivity provided by the internet, people with pets can easily connect with and vet potential dog walkers, sitters, and trainers. Now, instead of having to rely on a family member or friend to watch a dog when someone travels, the network of potential pet-care providers extends much further.

One clear advantage of online pet sitting platforms is that owners generally pay less than they would pay for their dog to stay at a kennel; Rover's average rate in 2015 was $25.00. But it is not just lower prices that has made dog sharing so attractive to pet owners. Owners can choose to have the sitter stay at their house with the dog or drop the dog off at the sitter's residence. They can choose whether to pay more for an established and experienced sitter or try a newer but less expensive one. Some benefits are more high-tech: owners can take advantage of Rover's GPS feature that allows them to track how far their pet has been walked.

As Jacobson's story shows, these new options for pet care benefit sitters as well. These individuals gain access to a source of income that offers a benefit integral to the success of the sharing economy: flexibility. Sitters can work as many or as few days as they like, or just when their schedule allows. As people on the Rover platform tend to be dog lovers anyway, they make money doing something that they love.

There is further proof that the current kennel licensing scheme is not primarily about public safety. During a Colorado General Assembly hearing on the bill, a representative from the state Department of Agriculture was asked if the commercial kennel license requirements applied to someone's daughter who was watching a friend's gerbil for a few days and a few dollars. Unbelievably, the state representative said that the law did cover this common, harmless practice. Colorado regulators are bowing to the absurd demands of special interests in the kennel industry and stretching the meaning of laws to take away consumer options and keep people out of work.

This fight goes far beyond Rover, Lisa Jacobson, and children watching their friends' gerbils. As technology continues to open innovative ways for Americans to live and work, some established interests are going to run to city halls, state capitals, or Washington, D.C. for protection. The fight over pet sitting in Colorado shows that state policymakers need to reform government regulations when they threaten Americans' ability to earn a living.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    This legislation would create a less costly and restrictive licensing structure for platforms such as Rover...

    Oh, for fuck sake.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    I wouldn't advertise if I were you. Colorado will shut you down.

  • Chipper Mourning LackOfSerifs||

  • geo1113||

    Something bad always happens when Patrick McGoohan is around.

  • Chipper Mourning LackOfSerifs||

    Well, he is not around anymore.

  • BearOdinson||

    "I AM NOT A NUMBER! I AM A FREE MAN!"

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    a representative from the state Department of Agriculture was asked if the commercial kennel license requirements applied to someone's daughter who was watching a friend's gerbil for a few days and a few dollars

    Ya never know when Richard Gere will need a few dollars and sneak in with a pseudonym.

  • BYODB||

    Couldn't I also just leave my dog in my house or apartment all day by itself? I mean, is that still legal?


    It would seem like if it is, than the entire law here is bullshit since if no one is a fine measure of who needs to watch my dog, that if I choose for someone to do it than it doesn't particularly matter who that person is as long as I personally think they can watch an idiot animal without somehow accidentally killing and/or shaving it.


    You only need to be slightly smarter than the dog to take care of one reasonably well, in my opinion.

  • jelabarre||

    You only need to be slightly smarter than the dog to take care of one reasonably well, in my opinion.

    I guess that leaves out most politicians then.

  • Paper Wasp||

    Which begs the question, if someone who just walks and looks after my dog needs a commercial license, then do I need a commercial license just to have a dog? If my home with carpet and hardwood flooring would be unsuitable for caring for dogs, according to Big Kennel, then why are people in Colorado still able to buy and adopt dogs if they can't meet the high standards of the commercial kennel law? Maybe the Ag Dept's next move should be to go door-to-door and take away all the animals from all the people who don't have this all-important piece of paper you need to have to show you're capable of caring for a pet.

  • Curt||

    Think about the Puppies!!!!

  • Johnimo||

    OMG! Curt, you get the award for the funniest comment of the day. "Think about the guppies!!!"

  • XM||

    Dog meat will be legal in Colorado soon, I imagine.

    Then their transformation into the libertarian state will be complete.

  • BearOdinson||

    I can feel the hatred growing in you now.
    You, like your puppy, are now MINE!

  • Longtobefree||

    How about requiring the "big kennels" to stream real time video of all of their activities so the owners can be sure the animals are treated properly? That would get their knickers in a big twist!!

  • jmlandry||

    At least they get the kind buds. Smoke em.

  • Johnimo||

    This is the kind of bullshit which will EVENTUALLY be the undoing of all of the licensing schemes. Slowly but surely, people find new methods of helping one another that cut out these control freaks. In order to protect their little, protected industry, they stoop to the absurdity of claiming the law regulates a family member taking care of your parakeet for the weekend.

  • Trainer||

    If there is money in it, the special interests will find a way to get government involved. We worked against large kennels and doggie daycares (looking at you Petsmart!) to change our ordinance so that we only need a permit and no license. There are no restrictions as to where you can have a kennel or daycare and the city will only come out to inspect if there is a noise or health complaint.

  • Paper Wasp||

    Unfortunately, her success attracted the attention of a large commercial kennel in Colorado Springs, which filed a complaint against her. Then an inspector from the Colorado Department of Agriculture came to her home and told Jacobson that she was advertising pet sitting without a kennel license. The inspector said that Jacobson had to get a state license or take down her Rover profile.

    How do you know you're an asshole? Well, if you're running a large, commercial kennel, but you still have time to go trolling Rover for the profiles of successful independent pet sitters and dog-walkers, so you can narc on them to a friend of yours at the Ag, because you're doing a shitty job of running your business on your own without Big Mommy Gubmint coming in to sweep your would-be competition away, that's one way to tell.

  • RBratten||

    1/2: Excellent and accurate article.

    The original bill that was sponsored was a terrible bill that would have been a large expansion of government regulation and oversight. It would have required pet animal care platforms (like Rover) to pay fees and meet certain requirements in order to obtain a permit from the state, show proof of various insurance coverages, follow any rules the state would make up regarding administration, fees, and "safety", provide access to on-call veterinarians, verify that pet sitters are at least 18 years old, and document that pet sitters have never been convicted of or pled guilty to any felony offense regarding animals. It also would have set a limit that pet sitters would not be allowed to have more than 3 pets at any one time. There was a large contingent of lobbyists and cronies who were for the bill, big government legislators (both R and D including the bill sponsors) who tried to sell this bill as "saving the free market" through regulation, plus agents of the state who wanted to maintain their power. The kennel associations and other interests are heavily represented on the board within the Department of Agriculture who make the rules for "pet animal facilities." This is a classic example of "regulatory capture."

  • RBratten||

    2/2: Principles of Liberty Colorado, working behind the scenes with some libertarian leaning legislators, not to mention the people who took the time and made the effort to testify in committee on their use the platform as highlighted in your story, successfully pushed back against that approach. Fortunately, the original bill was amended with what's called a "strike-below" amendment, meaning that the entire original 6 page bill of regulations was stricken below the title and replaced with only two sentences. Sentence one says that the state's regulations on "pet care facilities" shall not apply to the boarding of no more than 3 animals (protecting the sitters from state regulation). Sentence two says that pet animal care platforms shall not be considered "pet animal facilities" (protecting the pet care platform from state regulation). Problem (mostly) solved.

    A highlight of the argument against the original bill was that the state legislature had just passed legislation weeks before exempting the provision of childcare for up to 4 children from the state's onerous daycare facilities regulation. People could drop off their kids for someone to watch without regulation, but not their dog!

    While we would have preferred having no limit on the number of pets, the Colorado state legislature basically said NO to regulating this little corner of the gig market.

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