No, dog trainers and boarders do not need strict licensing

This op-ed was originally published in the Deseret News.

Our family’s previous dog sadly succumbed to bone cancer, and it took us a long time to be emotionally ready for another pup — but at the end of August of this year, we rescued a shelter mutt.

She’s a great dog and already knew a few basic commands when we brought her home, but she still needs a bit of training, so — after a lot of personal research — we’ve hired a local dog trainer to work with her.

Honestly, that’s how it usually goes when hiring a dog trainer, and that’s all the story usually is. Some trainers are great and some are not so great, but generally you can figure out which one is which through user reviews and other forms of word-of-mouth.

So it felt especially tragic to me when I read the heartbreaking story about a Utah couple’s dog named Bear, a husky mix, passing away after being in the care of a dog boarder-trainer. Losing a pet is always tough, and it’s especially hard when that loss is unexpected.

It’s understandable and reasonable to want answers when your dog dies while in somebody else’s care. But if that’s where it had ended, Bear’s unfortunate passing would have simply been a personal tragedy, not a news item.

However, in response to the loss of their dog, the couple is calling on the Utah Legislature to require licensure standards and inspections for businesses that keep pets overnight.

Ashley, one of the dog’s owners, cited the licensing requirements for cosmetology that she had to go through in order to be a hairdresser as a point of comparison to the lack of licensing for pet boarding. The brutal reality of her point is that she herself shouldn’t have needed to deal with that heavy burden from the state, not that similar burdens should also be imposed onto other industries and professions.

The news article states that no lawmaker has yet signed on to the proposal for stricter licensing for pet boarders, which shouldn’t be any surprise. Gov. Spencer Cox has made it crystal clear that he wants to see fewer and less-burdensome professional licensing requirements in Utah, not more.

In fact, a new bill that will be considered during in January’s legislative session would heavily revise how current licenses are reviewed (in order to decrease their regulatory burden) as well as what scrutiny occurs when someone wishes to propose entirely new licensure burdens on another profession. This process would help the Legislature make data-driven decisions instead of emotionally reacting to pleas from practitioners or others, such as this couple, requesting new licensure laws.

As tragic as Bear’s case is, it is emphatically not the role of occupational licensing to guarantee quality or prevent problems from ever occurring. A fry cook at the local fast-food joint and a Michelin-starred chef have the exact same food handler’s license, and that’s as it should be.

Not only does it not make logical sense to create new restrictions on everyone practicing a specific profession for an incident at one location that isn’t even clearly their — or anyone’s — fault, but this kind of situation is already covered through civil and criminal law. Making animal cruelty extra-illegal won’t solve the problem, but it will make it harder for everyone else to earn a living.

The knee-jerk reaction to more tightly regulate industries and professions every time a customer is dissatisfied tends to hurt honest professionals, who are just trying to do their jobs, more than it prevents negative outcomes.

My heart goes out to this couple over the loss of their pet, but no amount of legislation will bring back Bear. And no amount of regulation will prevent problems for others in the future.

The loss of Bear is very sad, but it doesn’t warrant another new law.