TO MANY busy young professionals, commercial dog walkers provide a vital service in keeping their canine companions happy while they are at work.
But now an Edinburgh lawyer has launched a campaign to crackdown on the booming industry after she was attacked by three dogs, part of a pack of 13 being exercised by a commercial walker.
Catriona Brown, 35, decided to take action after finding out there is no legal maximum limit on the number of dogs someone is allowed to walk.
She said: "I am concerned for the safety of the public, given that large groups of dogs are more dangerous, they are more difficult to control and they can act with the pack instinct."
Ms Brown was pursued by the three dogs, two boxers and another large breed, while skiing off piste at Hillend Ski Centre in Midlothian. The dogs jumped up on her and chased her at high speed as she careered down the steep hillside.
The commercial dog walker involved was walking 13 animals at the time of the attack.
Ms Brown, from nearby Fairmilehead in Edinburgh, reported the incident to police but believes the case has not been treated seriously enough by the authorities. It was not only this incident that motivated Ms Brown to act. Last summer, a friend was attacked by a dog and lost part of his nose and face, leaving him permanently scarred. No charges were brought in that case either.
The Control of Dogs Bill was passed at Holyrood last month, after being introduced by Christine Grahame MSP.
However, Ms Brown says that the new legislation does not specifically address commercial dog walking, despite her raising it as a concern with MSPs.
She added: "As well as public safety, it is also a matter of people being able to enjoy their parks and public spaces. Commercial dog walking is a growing area of business and it can be done responsibly with sensible numbers of dogs and breeds, with insurance in place for anyone who might be injured.
"However, given my experience, I remain concerned for public safety. It is frustrating that the new legislation has not specifically addressed this dangerous dog issue, and it will be a tragedy if somebody is mauled or killed by a dog as a result."
Ms Brown also wants to make it easier for commercial walkers to be issued with Dog Control Notices.
"The new legislation should place a maximum on the number of dogs somebody can walk at a time. It should require somebody commercially walking a large group of dogs to have third party liability insurance."
Ms Brown's MSP, David McLetchie, has backed her calls for tougher guidelines for commercial walkers, although it is too late to change the recent Dogs Act passed at Holyrood.
He said: "Catriona was attacked by three large and powerful dogs, which were under the control of a commercial dog walker.
A number of dog walkers appear to be running such businesses and using the (Pentland Hills] park for that purpose. I hope that in putting together its guidance, the government will consult councils throughout Scotland to determine whether it is a problem in parks and public spaces elsewhere.
"I also hope that the government will remind dog walkers of their obligation to comply with the legislation."
Katy Clarke: Regulation key to avoiding incidents
I HAVE been walking dogs commercially for eight years and there is no doubt it is a booming industry.
For that reason, we would agree that there needs to be a strong framework in place to regulate professional dog walkers.
It appears that this lady has had a bad experience because somebody has not been keeping control of their dogs.
I agree with her that there needs to be better regulation of the industry. I would like to see a licensing system put in place, to make sure all walkers meet certain standards.
Scottish Dog Walkers has its own system in place, so that all walkers who operate under our banner subscribe to certain regulations.
These regulations include walking with a maximum of six dogs. That must include your own dogs if you are walking them as well.
Dogs must also be fully vaccinated and they must be kept on a lead in places where they might cause a nuisance, or if they might run out of sight.
All legitimate dog walkers also have proper insurance in place, and this would normally stipulate that only six dogs can be walked at once.
However, some walkers are obviously not working to these standards, which affects all of us.
• Katy Clarke runs Scottish Dog Walkers (www.scottishdog walkers.co.uk), an umbrella group for professional dog walkers.
An image previously used to accompany this story featured a group of dogs being walked by the Citidogs service. Citidogs wish to make it clear that they would not endorse large packs of dogs being walked together. scotsman.com is happy to set the record straight.