Christine Peters needed to get her assistance dog, Brew, to a dog trainer every morning for a weeklong refresher course, but she doesn’t own a car. When she checked bus schedules, she realized that it would take her at least two hours to make the round trip to the training facility, and she couldn’t miss that much work.
“What was I going to do, give Brew a bus pass and tell him transfer when he gets to Lake Street?” she said.
She was joking.
Instead, she called Brew a taxi.
This time she wasn’t joking.
Pet taxis that drive dogs and cats to appointments at veterinarians, groomers and pet day care centers have been around for a long time in places like New York City, where many people don’t have cars. Now they’re making inroads in the Twin Cities, where the notion of door-to-door animal shuttles is gaining traction.
“I started offering this service 10 years ago, but not many people would bite on it until recently,” said Daniel Peleske, owner of Diggers Dog Walking (www.go-diggers.com). Now he has taxi runs about three days a week, sometimes as many as five.
The growth of the taxis is a byproduct of the surge in urban living, said Mike O’Dell, co-owner of Lucky Dog Pet Care (www.luckydogpetcare.com), which also includes a pet taxi among its services. More people are living in high-density residential areas where cars are less of a necessity than in the suburbs.
“We’re seeing more and more people who don’t have a car,” he said. “They either take a taxi or walk everywhere they go.”
City taxis — the kind that cater to humans — are supposed to let passengers take a pet with them if it’s in an approved carrier, he said. “But a lot of pet owners get turned down because the drivers don’t want animals in their cabs,” he added. “They think the animals are dirty.”
People who don’t have the leeway to leave work for Fifi’s appointments are another part of the growing market, Peleske said. One of his clients is a construction worker. When he was assigned to an early-morning shift that required him to start work before his regular doggy day care center opened, he arranged with Peleske to pick up his dog and deliver it to the center every weekday.
“He didn’t want his dog sitting around home being bored,” Peleske said.
That sort of intense interest in their pets is common among his clients. “These are people who care a lot about their dogs,” he said. “They want to be there but can’t be.”
Peters learned about Peleske’s dog taxi from Brew’s veterinarian.
“It hadn’t occurred to me that there was such a thing” as a pet taxi, she admitted.
Vets have a mixed reaction to the taxis, said Kate Meyer, manager of Uptown Veterinarian.
“We’d much, much, much prefer to have the owner there with their pet because, as we’re examining the animal, there are questions that come up,” she said. “But if it’s the only way to deal with it — if the owner is homebound or just can’t be there — then it’s necessary, obviously.”
In fact, veterinarians occasionally find that they need to call a taxi service, O’Dell said.
“We get calls from vets who need animals moved from one clinic to another,” he said. “A dog will need surgery, but they don’t do surgery at that clinic. So they call us to drive it.”
Dog taxis have become old hat to Jeff Woon, a trainer at the Canine Coach in Minneapolis. His training style fits well with their services. He spends a couple of hours working with the dog alone before being joined by the owner. As a result, many owners send the dog by itself to the start of the session.
Some of the requests that the taxis get are special ones. Lucky Dog Pet Care got one from a client who was coming home from a business trip and was so pumped up about seeing his dog that he wanted it to be picked up at the kennel and driven out to the airport to greet him.
Digger Dog Walking got a call asking to have a dog taken to a church, where it was serving as the ring-bearer in a wedding ceremony. Peleske delivered the dog, the dog delivered the ring and then Peleske rounded up the pooch and took it home again.
There are other forms of specialization. In addition to the standard pet taxi, Peleske offers a step-up service he calls a pet limo. “It’s the pampered-pooch treatment,” he said. The dog can bring along a favorite blanket or even its bed to ride in. The service also includes a text message sent to the owner every half-hour with updates on how the dog is doing at its appointment. “It’s not just drop off and go,” he said. For these clients, “everything is about their dog.”
Pet taxi prices start at $20 for a one-way trip and are available seven days a week, holidays included. A day’s notice is preferred, although they will make exceptions for emergencies. And while most of their fares are dogs, they do transport cats.
The drivers also won’t complain if the passenger is a tad messy, especially if they can’t help it.
“You can’t mind the shedding,” Peleske said. “I vacuum a lot.”