When you hire someone to take care of your dog or cat, how qualified are they to walk or sit your pet? What’s their level of training? Are they prepared to handle emergencies? How will they respond if something goes wrong? Who’s responsible if your property is damaged or your pet gets hurt, bites someone, or is killed while in their care?
With the explosion of pet care services nationwide, these are questions every pet owner should ask in depth before agreeing to pay someone for pet care services.
Many pet sitters and dog walkers work for small pet care businesses, which evaluate, train, monitor and assume accountability for the people they hire. Many are sole business owners in full control of the services they provide.
A growing number of pet care providers are part-time walkers and sitters who find work through apps and websites that offer the service of connecting dog and cat owners with people who sign up to be pet care providers. Online reviews about app-based services range from glowing compliments, to scathing complaints.
Laura Lichtman and her husband went the app route during their vacation last year.
“The woman that we hired, she had really, just glowing reviews,” said Lichtman. “And then I met her in person and my husband met her in person. And we just felt really good about it.”
Lichtman said the two family dogs and the prospective sitter interacted well and the sitter confirmed that her schedule would work so that the dogs would not be left alone for more than five hours, which Licthman said she stressed was imperative. Licthman hired the sitter to say at their home during their time in Hawaii.
But, it didn’t go well. Lichtman says the sitter was not at the home when she said she would be.
“She left early in the morning. She didn’t come back until late in the evening. The dogs peed and pooped all over the carpet due to the stress. They tore up a bed due to the stress. They were alone. And I was paying her to be there and take care of them, and that’s not what happened,” Lichtman said.
Lichtman says her Ring home security log shows the sitter repeatedly left her two dogs alone for 9 to 11 hours. She says she filed a claim with the app company for a refund and reimbursement for damage to the carpet and dog bed.
“They fought me. They wanted all kinds of proof of, ‘Well, what exactly did you ask her to do? Can you show us where she agreed to do this? How do you know she was gone from your house for all this time?’ And on the one hand, I understand the question, but I was able to prove it. And they still fought me,” Lichtman said.
Lichtman had assumed that since the app company provided the sitter, they would take responsibility. She also assumed the sitter had been thoroughly screened for experience, and expertise.
“You should read the fine print,” said attorney Robert Tauler.
Tauler represents a client whose dog was killed by a car, while in the care of an app-based dog sitter, at the sitter’s home.
“The facts are, that the people are not vetted. That there is no rigorous testing,” Tauler emphasized.
A May 14, 2019 review of the online Terms of Service of the two biggest app-based pet care companies, Wag! and Rover, offers enough fine print and legal jargon to make your eyes glaze over. But there are important disclaimers. WAG! had theirs in upper case font:
“WAG! MAKES NO REPRESENTATION, WARRANTY, OR GUARANTY AS TO THE RELIABILITY, TIMELINESS, QUALITY, SUITABILITY, AVAILABILITY, ACCURACY OR COMPLETENESS OF THE SERVICES.”
And from Rover: [ … ]