OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - From the creepy to the obscene, 2 Investigates has received multiple reports of dog walks gone wrong after an investigation last month revealed a Wag! dog walker in Danville kicking and whipping a family pet. The walker was later charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty.
Concerns range from dog sitters removing home surveillance camera to a case where a dog died in a walker's care. And the chorus of complaints have been flooding in since Jan. 9, when 2 Invesigates highlighted what happened to Olly, a dog owned by Miranda and Fulks and David Brown.
Prosecutors found the dog walker inflicted unnecessary pain on the dog, seen in the porch surveillance video, and the couple felt as though the company was trying to buy their silence.
Los Angeles-based Wag! and Seattle-based Rover are the two most popular dog walking tech platforms that connect busy dog owners to dog walkers who are hired as independent contractors.
Over the last month, some examples of the complaints that have been reported and vetted by 2 Investigates include:
-- In Oakland, a couple said they hired dog-sitter through Rover who didn’t care for their pets properly and left a mess.
“We felt like we walked into a frat house!” said dog owner Chad Davis-Montgomery. In this case, Rover told 2 Investigates they conducted a holistic review of the situation and the walker is no longer on their platform.
-- In Orange County, a Wag dog sitter is seen walking shirtless in Liz Edmund's home only to take down the home surveillance camera and turn it in a different direction.
-- In another incident out of Colorado Springs, swimming Olympian Klete Keller said he came home early to find his Wag dog sitter in the shower, two shirtless men in his house and a bottle of personal lubricant and a camcorder near his couch.
“So it was pretty clear what was going on,” Keller said. The dog-sitter claimed the lube was to help remove her key that was stuck in her car. She apologized for inviting “guests” over.
The most tragic case 2 Investigates received, however, was out of Houston, Texas where Nick and Sara Moore said their 10-month-old Wheaten Terrier, Winnie, was hit and killed by a car during a Wag! walk.
The couple said it took more than a month for Wag! executives to call them and, at first, the company sent a settlement offer for $188 as long as they agreed not to talk about the case and delete all negative comments about Wag! on social media.
“We felt a little disrespected. They thought Winnie’s story was worth only 180 bucks and we still didn’t have any info,” Moore said.
KTVU legal analyst Michael Cardoza said the fact that these gig-style apps and businesses hire their workers as independent contractors make it extremely difficult to hold the companies liable if something goes wrong with the service.
“They are in business. They have stockholders. Their jobs are to make money. They are not your friend,” Cardoza said. “You have to know these platforms like Wag! and such have lawyers who write these iron clad contracts to make them independent contractors.
Being an independent contractor essentially means you’re your own business. It also means, when there’s an issue, it’s likely going to fall on the shoulders of that contractor and not the business that connects the customer to the worker.
The companies can be responsible for false advertising if they claim certain things like background checks and they aren’t done or aren’t done properly.
While Rover has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, Wag has an F. The BBB identified a “pattern of complaints” with Wag! and, in November, requested Wag To review its advertising claims. Wag is currently working with the BBB on the issue.
2 Investigates reached out to Wag! and Rover asking about the specific complaints of customers but received emailed statements instead.
Rover wrote: “We understand that our users’ homes are their sanctuaries and should always be respected and cared for appropriately. While in most cases owners are extremely satisfied with the services provided, in the rare event they are not, we conduct a holistic review of the situation and take appropriate actions.”
Wag! wrote: “Accidents and incidents are rare, but we know the impact even one can hold on the family involved. That’s why we’re working to help prevent them -- and improve our response procedures when an incident does occur.”
In an open letter to customers late last month, Wag!’s CEO Hilary Schneider acknowledged public complaints that the company was not addressing issues properly or appropriately. She said the company is reviewing its customer service systems and is updating its policy regarding its settlement agreements. Schneider said the settlement agreements, that customers have claimed were insensitive and restrictive, are “a common practice in the business world. It was so routine for [Wag!], in fact, that they didn’t pause to see if it made sense for every situation.”
In past reporting, 2 Investigates revealed both companies background check their walkers once upon hire and do not conduct continuous checks. Both businesses allow you to meet the walkers before hiring them.
“If you’re going to send someone to your house, who is it? What’s their name, address or how do you contact them if something goes wrong,” said Cardoza. “If they don’t give that to you what does that say? I don’t want to do business with them.
Candice Nguyen is an investigative reporter with KTVU Fox 2. Send investigation tips and stories to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.