Uber for Dogs

CBC article on Calgary's newest tech start-up!

Uber for Dogs

It's billed as an Uber-style app that's going to the dogs — but not in a bad way.

Calgarians John Minchin and Mark Lester left their officer-tower jobs in the oil and gas sector to create Spot, an app that connects dog lovers with busy dog owners who don't have enough time to walk and socialize their four-legged friends throughout the day.

The idea for the app — available on Android and iPhone — came a little more than a year ago, when after moving out of his parent's home, Lester found he missed his family's labradoodle, Cassie.

"Me and John had always been talking about various business ideas and how AirBnB and Uber had been working and one day it sort of just clicked," Lester told the Eyeopener.

"There was a need for me in my life. I was working downtown in oil and gas, I had a pretty busy work schedule and it was really impossible for me to own a dog without being able to get it enough walks and give it enough attention throughout the day," Lester said.

"This is a solution that's good for not only people who own dogs, but people who want more dogs in their lives and maybe they can become walkers with us."

The way the app works is simple. Log on and a map shows where each dog walker is located in the city. Dog owners can then chat with walkers in real time, and arrange a face-to-face meeting to make sure it's a good fit.

"We have a pretty rigorous screening process. We've had over 300 people apply to be walkers and we've selected 25 or 30 of them," said Minchin.

"We interview them all personally, then we put them through a rigorous police background check and then we also train them."

Minchin said dog walkers are also bonded and insured along with undergoing background checks and training.

The walks are one-on-one — though up to four dogs living in the same home can go on each outing — and always on a leash.

Mark Lester, left, and John Minchin, take pooches Howard and Debbie for a walk. (Dave Dormer/CBC)

Additional training

Spot is partnering with Dekens Veterinary Housecall Services in September, when walkers will receive leash-specific training.

"There's a common misconception that when a dog walk is an on-leash walk, the risk is significantly lower, but that's just not the fact," said Lester.

"So we're really excited for the team there to educate our walkers as to what potential cues might set a dog off and what might lead to an incident down the road."

Customers are given a free lock box so they don't have to be home when the dog is taken for a walk

Following the walk, which ranges in cost from $15 for 15 minutes to $30 for a hour, owners are sent a GPS map showing where their furry friends went, along with a photo and a report.

The City of Calgary says there are about 99,000 registered dogs in the city.

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