dog walking toronto

Owner of Toronto dog walking company harassed for helping pets of frontline workers

The owner of a dog walking company has been experiencing harassment in light of continuing to help frontline workers with their pets, a service that's been in a perilous grey area since a new set of lockdown restrictions were put into place on Dec. 26.

It's a restriction that's even caused in-fighting amongst the dog walking community itself, according to Helga AuYeung, founder of Liberty Pooch, and has attracted negative comments about her business posts online.

"As of late, my team and I have faced scrutiny and harassment from members of this community for helping out our clients who are essential/frontline workers," AuYeung wrote in a post to a Liberty Village neighbourhood Facebook group.

"We are not out to break the rules, but those rules are admittedly grey. We have closed our dog walking business to clients who do not fall into the frontline/essential categories and we have letters for each of our clients from their workplace if we are still walking their dogs."

The clause that had allowed groomers and businesses like hers to operate legally was revoked Dec. 26, and only service animal training is now allowed.

"For those who have repeatedly come on this forum to chastise us, you know who we are as you know our branding (there are other walkers walking in plain clothes) and if you had asked before assuming I would have showed you these letters," AuYeung continues in her post.

"Passive aggressively picking on us is cowardly as you know me and we have spoken numerous times in the past."

AuYeung told blogTO that she feels her work is an essential service, in that it's essential to the welfare of animals, and that the harassment can come from people with a privileged perspective who assume everyone is currently working from home and can care for their pets.

"I used to work an eight hour day, I know how hard it is to balance work and the health of your pet," says AuYeung. "There are many reasons why we're essential."

AuYeung also points to the "puppy boom" as a reason why her services are especially needed right now. Though there's an increase in people getting puppies, puppy schools are limited right now and socialization for the young animals is actually critical, especially so that they are not rehomed later in life.

She notes that obviously, all her work as a dog walker is done outside, and everyone always wears a mask and brings their own leash. They can pick up dogs curbside or from the hallways if the owner is home, and if the owner isn't home they sanitize when heading inside and never crowd elevators.

AuYeung has also noticed that without dog walkers taking pups out during the day, more people have to take their dogs out at night after work hours, which not only can be disproportionately dangerous for some clients, but also actually hinders social distancing in her eyes.

"It's everyone coming out instead of one dog walker with multiple dogs," says AuYeung, who says Fort York recently was "busier than a summer weekend" with the rush in the evening.

Although when it comes to the situation as a whole AuYeung says she feels "rather helpless," after her post asking people to lay off she's experienced less bullying and harassment, feels "very lucky" and has gotten "lots of support."

She says the best thing you can do to support dog walkers in providing their essential service to the frontline workers that keep the city going for the rest of us is to sign and share a petition allowing dog walking businesses to stay open.

"People have very different reasons why they need us, for the welfare of animals and the mental health of clients," AuYeung says. "Frontline workers are already so stressed out."

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