Come (around, fi­nally). Fetch (up­dates). Pet­sit. Good state.

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Ethan Mill­man

Lisa Ullery is a part-time in­de­pen­dent pet­sit­ter from Den­ver, and for nearly a year she has been us­ing a pop­u­lar app to help her find work.

Ullery and hun­dreds of other peo­ple in Colorado have a lot in com­mon with Uber and Lyft driv­ers and home­own­ers who rent out their places on Airbnb to make a lit­tle ex­tra cash. But un­like those more es­tab­lished prac­tices, Ullery’s place in the gig econ­omy has only re­cently be­came le­gal.

Colorado re­cently made le­gal changes with pet­sit­ters in mind. Up­dates to Colorado’s Pet An­i­mal Care Fa­cil­i­ties Act carve out room for peo­ple to care for three or fewer pets with­out the li­cens­ing that would oth­er­wise be re­quired for ken­nels or doggy day cares.

“I think the shared econ­omy is a new topic for ev­ery­one,” Ullery said. “It’s good to of­fer an al­ter­na­tive for these pet own­ers.”

While pet care has be­come a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try — a re­port from the Amer­i­can Pet Prod­ucts As­so­ci­a­tion re­ported that pet­sit­ting and groom­ing brought in nearly $6 bil­lion last year — ath­ome pet­sit­ting in Colorado has for years qui­etly oc­cu­pied a le­gal gray area.

Be­fore the up­date to the state’s pet care law, board­ing some­one else’s pet with­out a li­cense, or even watch­ing neigh­bors’ an­i­mals while they were on va­ca­tion, was tech­ni­cally il­le­gal.

The old re­stric­tions were de­signed to tar­get the in­hu­mane treat­ment of an­i­mals and peo­ple run­ning com­mer­cial busi­nesses in un­der­ground ken­nels. They weren’t in­tended to pun­ish lo­cal pet­sit­ters, said Nick Fisher, pro­gram man­ager at the state De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture.

“A lot of what we would look at when in­ves­ti­gat­ing was in­tent,” Fisher said. “Peo­ple who are watch­ing three an­i­mals or less aren’t look­ing to make a busi­ness out of watch­ing dogs. We’re more con­cerned with peo­ple who were try­ing to do

this com­mer­cially with­out fol­low­ing reg­u­la­tion.”

One cat­a­lyst for the up­dated law is the com­pany be­hind the dog care app Rover, which lob­bied state law­mak­ers to pass the mea­sure and is one of the largest ser­vices of its kind. Other sim­i­lar apps that stand to ben­e­fit from the law in­clude Wag and Rover-owned Dog Va­cay.

Pet­sit­ting apps can be more con­ve­nient than li­censed board­ing fa­cil­i­ties for some pet own­ers. When us­ing an app such as Rover, peo­ple choose who watches their dog. They also can pick whether they’ll drop their pet off at the sit­ter’s home or the sit­ter will come to their home.

John Lapham, gen­eral coun­sel to Rover, said Colorado’s new law of­fers an al­ter­na­tive to ken­nels and doggy day care ser­vices, where some an­i­mals might not do well.

“We just want to give you in­for­ma­tion to help pet own­ers make a safer de­ci­sion,” Lapham said.

That’s a point even the brick-and-mor­tar com­pe­ti­tion ac­knowl­edges.

“For those dogs who aren’t thriv­ing here, I own that im­me­di­ately,” said Mar­cus Newell, owner of the doggy day care ser­vice Mile High Mutts. “Some dogs have sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety from own­ers. Some just aren’t so­cial but­ter­flies. In that sit­u­a­tion, this may not be the place for them.”

But Newell, who has run his pet care ser­vice for 15 years and tes­ti­fied at a hear­ing about the up­dated pet law, also has con­cerns. He points to a key way that com­pa­nies like Rover dif­fer from their brethren in other cor­ners of the gig econ­omy, one that he con­tends could leave busi­nesses like his at a dis­ad­van­tage.

“With Uber, you can’t just call the Uber driver you re­ally liked and ask him to drive you. You have to go through Uber again, and that’ll stay on the books and in the sys­tem and it’s go­ing to be tax­able,” Newell said. “Maybe that first time they’ll go through Rover.com, but any time af­ter that own­ers can just call the sit­ter out­side of Rover tax-free.”

At the state De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Fisher said the up­dated law could also open the door to il­le­gal ken­nels pos­ing as per­sonal pet­sit­ters. And with pet­sit­ting now le­gal in Colorado with­out li­censes and reg­u­la­tion, Fisher said the po­ten­tial to hoard pets in makeshift ken­nels in some­one’s home is much higher — and the abil­ity for the state to po­lice them a lot harder.

“The prob­lem we run into from an in­ves­ti­ga­tion or a reg­u­la­tion per­spec­tive is that we’ll get the com­plaints; we’re still go­ing to have to in­ves­ti­gate,” Fisher said. “But it just cre­ates some com­plex­ity for us at this point. In the past, these peo­ple would have had to be li­censed, which means they’d have to meet some stan­dard for clean­ing and san­i­ta­tion, and they need to prove to us that they’re tak­ing good care of the dogs or any pet an­i­mal. Now with­out reg­u­la­tion with three pet an­i­mals or fewer, there’s some con­sumer pro­tec­tion is­sues.”

The de­part­ment can’t vet the pet­sit­ters, but some app-based sys­tems like Rover have their own vet­ting process. A spokesper­son for the pet­sit­ting ser­vice said in an email that Rover ac­cepts less than 20 per­cent of their ap­pli­cants, and all sit­ters and dog walk­ers go through a crim­i­nal back­ground check.

Be­yond po­ten­tial safety and reg­u­la­tion qualms, Fisher raised con­cerns that the up­dated law gives the tech sec­tor an un­fair ad­van­tage over their brick-and-mor­tar coun­ter­parts.

“There’s noth­ing we can do about that,” Fisher said. “That’s one of the pit­falls of this leg­is­la­tion. Even if some­one does this as a part-time job and watches three dogs a day for five days a week. If they charge $30 to $50 ev­ery day — you start do­ing the math — it adds up.”

Newell said that while the pre­vi­ous law on pet­sit­ting was costlier to­ward busi­ness, reg­u­la­tion is key to en­sur­ing pet safety.

“Colorado has one of the strictest set of reg­u­la­tions for in­ter­act­ing with dogs, and this place was on board and be­hind that,” Newell said. “We’re try­ing to ad­vo­cate for the dogs. This bill says you can do all this work with­out ad­her­ing to reg­u­la­tions. Now any of these sit­ters don’t need any kind of over­sight, reg­u­la­tion or train­ing. There’s no ac­count­abil­ity. It’s re­ally the wild, wild west.”

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Rover pet­sit­ter Hai­ley Cole­bank plays in the back­yard with her dog, Sum­mit, top, and three dogs she is sit­ting: from left, Lucy, Zola and Li­nus.

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