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Unlicensed Pet Sitters: The Latest Victim of New York's Regulatory State

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Tags Bureaucracy and RegulationMonopoly and Competition

08/11/2017

The New York City Health Department wants to ensure that pet sitters are licensed, and has warned a popular internet-based pet sitter service that its users are in violation of the law.

Following outrage, the Health Department clarified and somewhat softened the regulations, stating that “individual families” would not be targeted, but that commercial pet sitters in private homes would be.

It’s worth discussing how a regulation like this will apparently be enforced, as it explains a lot about how state agencies think about us.

First off, we get the usual justification from the Health Department about why these rules are necessary to protect us:

Health Department spokesman Julien Martinez said the ban is justified by public health 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,” he said. “We also conduct inspections of these facilities to make sure animals would be secure and safe.”

Note the keywords, “health” and “safety” at the beginning, as well as “public health” — who can be against “health,” “safety,” and “public health”?

One rare article that tried to defend the regulation is very enlightening. We learn that, for some reason, the Health Department will not issue the licenses to private homes that house or board pets. But, not to worry, hiring someone to come to your home to care for your pet, or perform walking services, remains legal. And, if someone simply watches your pets while you are gone, and no money changes hands, that’s acceptable (according to the city), too.

So, the target here is someone who wants to mimic, and improve upon, the services offered by commercial pet boarders.

As explained here:

Pet owners themselves also lose out, since these apps are more convenient than traditional boarding kennels. Whereas traditional kennels usually require pets to be dropped off on-site, which can mean more time spent schlepping a crate around the city, Rover [the competing pet sitting app] allows pet owners to select from a bevy of care options, including drop-in visits, midday walks, in-house pet-sitting and traditional boarding.

Which leads to the most telling part of all:

As The Wall Street Journal put it in 2014: “While it’s hard to find a cage in a Manhattan kennel for less than $60, rates on these sites [such as Rover] start at around $20 a night.” This is a significant difference for lower and middle-income New Yorkers, who could potentially be priced out of the market if forced to use traditional kennel services.

So, we see how this regulation, whether intentional or not, is serving to protect commercial pet boarders who might be put out of business from this new competition. While earning $20 and up per customer per night could serve as a nice source of supplemental income, the fact that the Health Department fines begin at $1,000 serves as an effective barrier to anyone thinking about performing these services.

And, the fact that these services have sprung up at all suggests a market need. Indeed, one of these interest-based service providers has 95,000 register pet owners, and 9,000 sitters — surely enough to scare the established commercial pet boarders.

Beyond the obvious protectionist effect of these rules, the role of the licensing in helping to ensure the “health” and “safety” of the pets can easily be questioned. While it does appear that a licensed pet boarder has to undergo an annual inspection, most of the process seems to focus on getting documents and paying fees. The documents indicate that an Animal Care and Handling course has been successfully passed, but whether this is even relevant when compared to the experience (as mentioned here, one pet sitter is a former zookeeper and wildlife researcher) of those wishing to board pets in their own homes is unknown.

Why can’t pet owners and potential boarders simply meet, as often as necessary, and make mutually-beneficially arrangements (which is happening with the new service providers)?

This is yet another example of how a state agency is attempting to save us from ourselves. As mentioned above, currently, there are limits on state authority in terms of who has to have a license for pet sitting, but why? Why is it acceptable for someone’s neighbor to care for their pets? The neighbor hasn’t has any type of training, presumably. There is no certificate telling everyone that all is well. What about the “health” and “safety” of pets in these situations? Taken further, what about the well-being of horses kept on someone’s farm, or animals raised for food? Potentially, there is no end in sight for this “solution” that seems to be looking to find a “problem.”

Dave Albin conducts process development research and provides technical support for a food equipment manufacturer in Iowa.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
Image source: Robert van Rijn https://www.flickr.com/photos/robertvanrijn/
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