…. and then there was a resounding,”16 dogs, WTF?!”

An animal lover’s worst nightmare

Police and helpers secure the stolen dogs after finding them and the van at 200 Queens Quay
Police and helpers secure the stolen dogs after finding them and the van at 200 Queens Quay Photo credit Toronto Star

Friday, November 18, 2016 was a harrowing day, at around 11:30 am a dog walker’s van full of dogs was stolen from the vicinity of a downtown condo. (The van and dogs were found about 9 hours later. All the dogs were accounted for, a bit stinky but otherwise OK.)

Apparently the van was running so the AC was circulating and the door was locked via a second set of keys. This is common practice for dog walkers to insure their charges are comfortable during the few minutes it takes to pick up and drop off.

News quickly spread via all social and regular media platforms and all eyes were on any white van. The dog walking community’s phones were blowing up as everyone texted the news. Plans were put into action, dividing the City into sections so they could split up and look. Tips and ideas circulated throughout the agonizing hours that followed.

However as is usually the case some people were quick to focus on the negative by criticizing the number of dogs and cast blame.  According to the police that type of van has been targeted recently, most likely thieves looking for tools, whether there was one dog or twenty, that van would have been taken. When people could have been spreading the word or actively looking they were tapping away on their keyboards passing judgement.

Yes, the number was excessive. Soulmutts, the company that owned the van rents a private spot (apparently the City is their landlord) to exercise their dogs, they are exempt from any City rules and laws related to commercial dog walking.  They can have as many dogs as they like so that aspect of the story was a moot point.

(see link to their statement at the end of this post)

Before you slag the dog walking industry and paint them all with the same brush here are some things to think about:

Prior to 2005 when the City of Toronto implemented the Dogs in Parks Strategy (DIPS), the commercial dog walking industry was self regulating. They gave themselves the 6 dog limit and when the City tried to lower it to 3 they fought for and won back the original 6. The City then brought in the annual Commercial Dog Walker permit which currently costs $260. It should be noted that in order to obtain this permit walkers must cover the City of Toronto for $2 million liability through their business insurance ($600-$700 annually).

That’s it. Toronto doesn’t care about how they operate their businesses or how qualified they are, they just want their asses covered. During the DIPS meetings the City officials suggested that the dog walkers police themselves in the parks.

It’s the dog walking community that’s pushing training, education and certification.

Conscientious pet care pros educate themselves and share tricks of the trade and advice with their counterparts. Handling an average of 20 dogs a day (no, not all at once)  is no easy feat, knowledge is power and there’s lots to learn so kudos to them for taking the initiative. Since the theft on Friday the Commercial Dog Walker’s page has been buzzing with ideas and suggestions on improving safety and how to prevent this from ever happening again.

Here’s a blog post  from the Toronto Dog Walker’s Association (founded by dog walkers)  regarding safety on the job. Originally posted  Nov. 30 2013.

City rules relating to legal number of dogs :

  • All dog walkers handling over 3 dogs at a time in City parks must be insured and licensed. The maximum amount of dogs they can walk is 6. All dogs in their care must also be licensed with the City.
  • A dog walker can walk as many dogs as they like on leash, on the sidewalks. They do not need insurance or a permit.

So now what?

If you  have a walker or are thinking about hiring one this is good time to evaluate current situations. There are many types of dog walkers, some are solely on foot, some are large companies that have separate facilities and adhere to their own rules and practices and others are independents that pick up small groups and frequent City parks. If you are looking for a pet care professional you need to ask questions. Where do they go? How do they get there? What is the safety protocol? What is the handler’s experience?

Check out their vehicle. Does it have adequate space? Are there numerous dings and dents on the car? Does it have climate control? A remote starter?  Do they smoke in the vehicle? Yes, dogs are affected by second hand smoke.

If you were picking out a care facility for a family member you’d probably scrutinize all aspects of it, you need to do that with your pets too.

Pick the situation that fits you and your dog and above all follow your gut.


Read Soulmutts’ Statement here 

You may also want to read What Makes a Dog Walker Great?

City of Toronto Commercial Dog Walker Policies 

Toronto Dog Walkers Association




2 thoughts on “…. and then there was a resounding,”16 dogs, WTF?!””

  1. “They can have as many dogs as they like so that aspect of the story was a moot point.”

    I’ll agree that that aspect of the story was irrelevant when pertaining to actually finding the dogs, and I don’t think anyone disagrees that the actual thieves should be found and held responsible for stealing the van.

    What is relevant is Soulmutts did not take the proper precautions to prevent this from happening. If they are picking up and dropping off clients there should be two people in that van – one to get the other dog, the other to say with the van. That van should NEVER EVER be left unsupervised when there are dogs in the back. The fact that people are focusing on the number of dogs in that van is also relevant. That’s just too many dogs in one van, especially under the supervision of one person and ESPECIALLY when no one is there to supervise at all.

    It is not a question of them being legally allowed to have that many dogs in their care, it’s a question of whether they should and how they should, and as professionals they should have done better. They’re just darn lucky those dogs were found safe, or Soulmutts would have had a heck of lawsuit on their hands for negligence, and how they would have been able to live with themselves….I couldn’t even imagine.

    Let’s hope they’ve learned from this and realize they can keep tooting their own horns about how great their van design is, but if they aren’t responsible with it, that point is moot.

    1. This unfortunate event has created a lot of dialogue in the pet care industry. Although it’s a rare occurrence it’s created a call to action and rest assured a lot of companies are reevaluating their practices and tailoring changes to their specific ways of doing business. Just so thankful the outcome was positive!

Thanks for reading. I'd love to know your thoughts.