Yes, 2017 is the year of the rooster, but in the sharing economy it’s also the year of the dog.
Dog-sharing, of course, is as much a misnomer as ride-sharing and home-sharing. These dogs aren’t being passed around for free. But there’s been a flurry of activity among startups that offer dog walking, dog watching, and other dog-related services. Dog-sitting platform Rover acquired dog-boarding company DogVacay in an all-stock deal at an undisclosed price. Wag, the self-declared “#1 Dog Walking and Dog Sitting App for Busy Dog Owners,” has reportedly raised $19 million from two rounds of funding over the last two years.
There’s also Fetch (“Walk. Run. Sit. Stay. Make Money!”), DogHero, BorrowMyDoggy, HouseMyDog (“cage-free and stress-free”), BabelBark, Baubnb, and HappyTail (“the app for dogs and dog lovers”). In 2016, the pet-care market was estimated at $103.6 billion globally, and $44.7 billion in the US alone, according to market research firm Euromonitor.
Some, like Rover, are looking beyond canines. “We’re going to be taking a close look at anything that can help people become amazing pet owners despite the challenges of modern living,” Rover CEO Aaron Easterly told TechCrunch.
Whether you deal in houses or cars or food or pets, success in the sharing economy almost universally involves getting laws changed. In the US, many states have legal definitions of “kennel” that apply to even a modest pet-sitting operation. In Michigan, for example, a kennel is considered any establishment where three or more dogs are kept “for sale, boarding, breeding or training purposes, for remuneration.” Operating a kennel requires a license. Missouri defines “boarding kennel” as any place other than a pound or shelter where animals “not owned by the proprietor, are sheltered, fed, and watered in return for a consideration … such as, but not limited to, pet sitters.” A boarding kennel license costs $100, plus “the annual boarding kennel per capita fee for each board day, up to a maximum of two thousand five hundred dollars.”
The Denver Business Journal reports that Lisa Jacobson, a single mother in Colorado Springs who earned $10,000 on Rover in 2016, received a visit from the Colorado Department of Agriculture in February after a “large commercial kennel” lodged a complaint against her for operating a business without a license.
Jacobson has since thrown her support to house bill 1228, or the Home-based Pet Animal Care Technology Platform Act. The bill would make it legal for anyone age 18 or older to watch up to three pets at once through an online pet-sitting platform without a commercial license. The bill also includes other provisions, like requiring platforms to provide pet caretakers with access to on-call veterinarians. And its definitions section is fun:
(3) “PET ANIMAL” MEANS A DOG, CAT, RABBIT, GUINEA PIG, HAMSTER, MOUSE, RAT, GERBIL, FERRET, BIRD, FISH, REPTILE, AMPHIBIAN, OR INVERTEBRATE, OR ANY OTHER SPECIES OF WILD OR DOMESTIC OR HYBRID ANIMAL SOLD, TRANSFERRED, OR RETAINED FOR THE PURPOSE OF BEING KEPT AS A HOUSEHOLD PET, EXCEPT LIVESTOCK, AS DEFINED IN SECTION 35-80-102 (9). “PET ANIMAL” DOES NOT INCLUDE AN ANIMAL THAT IS USED FOR WORKING PURPOSES ON A FARM OR RANCH.
Meanwhile, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper has signed a law that loosens restrictions on at-home child-care providers. That means at-home dog watching is currently more tightly regulated in the state than at-home child care.