Dog’s death under care of Rover sitter raises questions about app’s screening policies

Concerns over “Uber for dogs” app after dog dies in transporters care. Photo via AP

Wag and Rover, nicknamed the “Uber for dogs” and “dog bnb,” offer on-demand dog walking and dog sitting services through your phone. The popular apps have made it easier than ever to find someone to walk and watch your pets, but a growing number of reports of dogs being mistreated are raising new questions about how well these apps screen their walkers and sitters.

Colleen Nolan blames Rover for the death of her dog. Nolan told CBS News’ Chip Reid she built her life around her 12-year-old Japanese chin named Mooshu, adopted at eight weeks old. When a work trip came up last year, Nolan said she was worried about leaving him, Mooshu was not just old, he was blind.

“He was the one dog that was meant for me,” Nolan said. “I wanted to make sure that he was comfortable in his surroundings. That he stayed in the home. So I reached out to Rover to try to find a sitter.”

Rover and Wag advertise “rigorous screening” and “background checks.” Nolan says she chose a Rover sitter who had badges on her profile for working with senior and special needs dogs. Nolan said she gave the sitter specific instructions: Mooshu was to be taken out of the house only for short walks. Those instructions, she later learned when she got an emergency text from the sitter, were ignored.

“I called her and I said ‘what happened?’ And she said Moosh fell off my porch,” Nolan said. “I said, ‘What do you mean ‘your porch?'”

According to Nolan, the sitter then told her that Mooshu had fallen two stories. Rover, she said, offered to cover half of the expenses following Mooshu’s death including vet bills, cremation and the cost of a new dog, totaling $2,600, but with one condition: sign a strict confidentiality agreement. Nolan says she “never called them back.”

Rover advertises that fewer than 20 percent of sitters who apply are accepted. They say all must pass a background check and be approved by a team of specialists.

“I thought that with Rover saying that they only select a small few and that they hand review each one of these sitters that clearly those badges had to mean that they vetted that,” Nolan said.

Nolan’s is not the only case. CBS News news spoke to 14 families who say their dogs died while in the care of Rover or Wag sitters. Twelve of those incidents involved Rover sitters. One user said she discovered her Rover sitter had a criminal record and users of both apps told us they were also asked to sign non-disclosure agreements following incidents.

In December, a Wag walker was caught on surveillance video kicking and intimidating a dog. The Better Business Bureau is currently investigating Wag over claims made in their advertisements, including that walkers are “vetted through a rigorous screening process.”

In a statement to CBS News, Wag told us that in addition to background checks, they collect real-time information through the app to regularly assess walkers. Rover told us sitters must also provide photos, testimonials and pass a safety quiz.

Pet care industry experts such as Carmen Rustenbeck say the industry is beginning to adopt more regulations, but for now, pet owners should be looking for pet care providers with professional licenses.

“Just pasting a badge on the website is not going to work anymore, they’re going to have to back that up with some kind of training,” Rustenback said. “If you had a child would you just accept a person on an app to take care of your child? Or would you do more investigation? And that’s what I encourage all pet owners to do.”

Rover and Wag told us that incidents like Nolan’s are “rare” but declined to provide exact numbers. In a document obtained by CBS News from a lawsuit against Rover in California, the app says they don’t keep track on their platform of how many dogs have died. They also told us that the well-being of pets is their “top priority” and they are “continually working to improve safety.”

Wag told us that they are “committed to constantly improving their service” and “care deeply about the safety” of dogs.

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