COVID-19 Shutdown: Are Dog Walkers Considered Essential?

Dog walkers all over the world are wondering if dog walking is considered "essential" and if they should continue walking dogs amidst government mandated shelter in place and lockdown orders due to the coronavirus crisis.


Are Dog Walkers Considered Essential Workers?

First if you're not familiar with these type of orders, I am in no way suggesting that dog walkers don't provide a valuable, much needed service. They absolutely do. I've been a professional dog walker for nearly 14 years now. So I am in no way knocking the dog walking profession.

What I'm talking about here are government orders that define which jobs are seen as "essential" and can continue to operate during a shelter in place, lockdown, or similar situation. For example, businesses like clothing retailers and movie theaters will likely be considered non-essential, while grocery stores and hospitals are considered essential.

I can't give you a simple yes or no answer. What I can share is the process I went through to determine 1). If dog walking is considered "essential" in my service area and 2). If I should continue walking dogs.

My hope in sharing this is that it will help you determine if dog walkers are considered "essential" or "key" workers in your own area and to share the considerations and factors I looked at while making my decision, so you can make the best choice for your business.

Keep in mind things may be wildly different based on your location and this is simply the experience I had here in Marin County, California.


Is it Legal to Operate?

First, if a shelter in place order (or other regulation) has been given, take a look at the order for your area. You'll probably be able to find it online by doing a search for "shelter in place order + your county (or your city or town)".  Read the order to see if it mentions professional dog walking. The order may include verbiage telling you if dog walkers are considered essential. 

If it doesn't mention professional dog walking, or it's unclear on whether any reference to pet care would apply to you, you can look for an FAQ about the order. The County websites I've looked at include both the order and a FAQ list clarifying it further. 

If you can't find any added information, or still are unclear, look for a contact phone number or email & contact them. If you don't see any contact info, try contacting your local department of human health services. Most likely, they will be able to help you interpret the order and let you know if dog walkers are considered "essential" or "key". 

If you're not considered essential, then your answer is simple— you shouldn't continue to walk dogs. 


Gray Areas

The order for my area was pretty vague initially; it said it was OK to go for a walk or to care for a pet in another household, but that seemed to be intended for dog owners, or to help out a family member, and not intended for business owners.

When contacting my human health services, there was confusion with the rep I spoke with. After putting me on hold and speaking with a supervisor, I was told they would be updating the FAQ to address this and to check back later. 

The order was updated a couple days later and this was added to the FAQ:

There's still some gray area here since we have to interpret what exactly "health and sanitation" means as well as "non-essential" home services. What is clear though, is that if the service is not essential, they should be halted. In contrast, the adjacent county's FAQ makes it easy:



So as you can see, both the message and clarity of the message can differ based on your location.

As a business owner, it's up to you to do your due diligence to ensure you're complying with any public health orders that may be enacted, so if you aren't sure, the best course of action is to contact an agency who can tell you. If you are in the United States, you can try calling 211 for assistance interpreting the order. Read on for more considerations. 


Safety Considerations

Even though I directed you to find out if it is legal to continue walking first, health and safety should be your top priorities. All business owners should put the health and safety of themselves, their staff, their clients, and their communities ahead of all else. So even if you get the OK to continue walking dogs, it doesn't necessarily mean you should. Here are some other factors to consider:

  • Will continuing to operate jeopardize your safety or the safety of your clients, staff, and/or your community? 
  • Are you and your staff comfortable continuing to operate?
  • Are your clients available and able to care for their dogs on their own?
  • Can the dog's most basic needs, such as access to food and water be met without your service?


Final Thoughts + Recommendations

If your order flat out says dog walking is not essential, adhere to that. Not following the order may result in citations (these orders are mandatory and enforceable), public scrutiny of your business, and most importantly, spreading the virus in your community. 

I know that this will be a huge financial blow for most dog walkers. You might be faced with laying off your employees or not being able to pay your bills. If this goes on for an extended period, the effects will be devastating for many. I get it. I'm living it. But as business owners, we must put ourselves, our clients and our community's health and well-being first. 

On a personal note, I care about all my members and blog readers. Please put your health and safety first. 


Resources for Dog Walkers 

Working with Dog has compiled a list of resources for pet professionals, including companies that are offering financial relief.

Check with your local government for financial assistance that may be available to you. I was able to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance here in California once the state was declared a disaster in California, for example.