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  • Kadiri Praveen Kumar

What every pet owner needs to know before hiring someone to care for their pet

(THOMPSON, 2019)

SEATTLE, Wash. (KOMO) - 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."

Pet sitting problems

Licthman 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 their's 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:

"We make no representations or warranties about the quality of boarding, pet sitting, dog walking, house sitting, or other services provided by Service Providers."

Lichtman says she eventually got a refund for the $300 pet sitting fee.

"I only knew that she was backed by this company. And I apparently didn't understand exactly what that meant," Lichtman said.

Bottom line: there are no regulations. So, before you turn your fur baby over to anyone, it's your job to scrutinize.

If you're dealing with a professional pet care company, what kind of training do they require for their employees? How well do they vet their employees before they hire them? What are their standards and policies? Are they insured, licensed and bonded? If they are, what exactly does that mean?

Ask if they belong to an established professional pet sitting or pet care association. The two major organizations are Pet Sitters International and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. Keep in mind, there are excellent pet care providers that do not belong to a professional organization so don't make that a deal killer, but membership in a organization that promotes high standards and ongoing education can be a plus.

You should ask the same of any app-based pet care provider. Can you provide references, beyond online reviews? Have you been certified in Pet First Aid and CPR? What's your previous experience with animals? Will you be caring for other pets at the same time? Do you have insurance (while not required, liability insurance, or homeowner's insurance can offer some protection if something goes wrong)? What's your backup plan if you can't make it? What are the potential danger areas you watch for when caring for or walking dogs?

As an example, professional dog walker Jack Lambert, who's been in business for more than 10 years, employs eight walkers and says he requires them to have two weeks of training after they're hired before they can care for a client on their own.

"My contract with my walkers specifies that they're not allowed to listen to their iPod while on a walk. They're not allowed to be talking on their phone or texting while on a walk. They're never to take anyone else to the client's home," Lambert explained. He says dog walkers must be alert and prepared to anticipate and react to things that might go wrong

Lambert says he drills his walkers on the key dangers during a walk, alley ways, garage doors, elevators, crosswalks, other dogs and dog scavenging — where dogs can ingest poisons or toxins.

"I have all my walkers certified in pet first aid and CPR," Lambert explained.

Lambert and other dog walkers agree the onus is on you as the pet owner to ask the right questions, because the more you ask, the better your chance of getting the quality care that you expect, and your pet deserves.

In preparing for this report, KOMO News reached out to both WAG! and Rover with questions about their vetting and business policies.

Both companies stress they take dog safety very seriously. They encourage pet parents to meet and carefully evaluate potential pet sitters, and they both point to the huge volume of satisfied customers that use their services.

We asked both companies the same questions. Their responses are below:

From WAG!:

Questions & Answers

1.Q: To what extent does Wag! evaluate the prospective sitter/walker’s past experience with dogs?

A: Pet care providers on the Wag! platform are local residents and many are passionate pet lovers who have previously worked as dog walkers, vet techs, shelter volunteers, or animal-welfare advocates. All of our pet care providers are independent contractors who are vetted through a screening process that includes a background check and an online test covering dog safety, equipment, and handling knowledge that each applicant must pass in order to work on our platform. Applicants are also allowed to provide references, which can highlight their previous experience in dog care.

2.Q: How does Wag! weed out prospective sitters or walkers who simply say they are qualified to care for dogs but are only interested in making money and do not follow through with the promised care?

A: We’re committed to allowing only the highest-quality pet care providers on the Wag! platform, and, in fact, approve only a small percentage of those who apply.

1. We screen the applicants through a background check that includes a Social Security number trace (an identity check), a facial recognition check against all official documents provided, a document check, a national criminal check, a county criminal check, a sex offender check, and a global watch list check.

2. Platform applicants must also pass an online test covering dog safety, equipment, and handling knowledge.

3. Once someone is approved and allowed to deliver services on the platform, ratings and feedback by pet parents provide Wag! an ongoing assessment of the quality of the pet care provider’s services and can determine whether a pet care provider is allowed to remain on the platform.

1.Q: Does Wag! limit how many dogs a sitter can sit or walk at one time?

A: Pet care providers on our platform are allowed to walk the dogs from only one household at any one time. Our technology does not allow a walker to schedule more than one walk at the same time.

2.Q: How much of the Wag! sitter/walker’s activity on the job is covered by Wag!'s licensing and bonding? What’s not covered?

A: When an incident occurs, state laws typically govern whose liability insurance provides coverage — Wag!’s, or that of walkers, pet parents, or a third party. Wag! liability coverage is up to $1 million in general liability insurance.

3.Q: Are walkers/sitters required to carry their own liability insurance?

A: Pet care providers are independent contractors and can choose whether to provide their own liability insurance for any services they provide on Wag! platform. They should comply with any relevant regulation for their jurisdiction.

4.Q: What is Wag!'s response to claims that Wag! does not truly vet sitters and walkers, but merely runs a criminal background check and relies upon whatever the sitter/walker applicant fills out on the form, or says during questioning?

A: All of our pet care providers are independent contractors who are vetted through a screening process that includes a background check and an online test covering dog safety, equipment, and handling knowledge that each applicant must pass in order to work on our platform.

5.Q: To what extent is the consumer assuming responsibility for further vetting the sitter or walker when they hire someone through the Wag! App?

A: We want pet parents to be comfortable with the independent contractor that is caring for their dog through the Wag! platform. Pet parents are welcome to schedule a “meet and greet” with a prospective pet care provider before engaging with the person for walking, sitting, or boarding services. They can also view the ratings and feedback provided by other pet parents.

Additional Information

As a company of dog lovers and pet parents, we take the health and safety of all dogs on our platform very seriously. Every day, pet care providers with Wag! successfully complete thousands of services for dogs in more than 110 cities across the U.S.

Over the past year, we’ve implemented significant changes to help ensure the safety of people and pets who use Wag!. These include:

Establishing a Trust and Safety team made up of industry experts to help implement meaningful improvements across the company

Creating an advisory board of respected professionals from the fields of veterinary medicine, public safety, and canine behavior to help review and improve our policies, procedures, and products

Publishing Community Guidelines to set expectations for those on the Wag! platform

Developing educational content for pet parents and pet care providers

Empowering our pet care providers with additional information, enabling them to make more informed decisions about the services they choose to provide

Implementing new processes, so that when an incident does occur on our platform, we’re able to respond quickly and thoughtfully

We love dogs, and we want those who use Wag! to know that we care about the people and pets on our platform. Since early 2018, we’ve built a new leadership team whose members are committed to doing the right thing and ensuring that trust and safety are integral to every product and service we offer.

From Rover:

Safety is a top priority at Rover. As dog lovers ourselves, we recognize that most people consider their pets to be part of their family. Here are the steps we take to promote safe services:

Through our marketplace, we’ve empowered pet parents to find the best care provider for their beloved dog or cat.

The screening process for sitters and walkers is designed to allow only those we believe are committed to delivering good experiences to offer their services on the platform.

We review every sitter’s profile to ensure our standards have been met.All new sitters and dog walkers pass a background check and a safety quiz, request testimonials, and are offered educational programs focused on safety throughout their time as a sitter.Additionally, we leverage data from every stay and walk to facilitate smarter, safer matches and ensure sitters continue to meet our standards. We are constantly using data and user reviews to reevaluate whether sitters should or shouldn’t be on our platform.

After finding potential care providers (we suggest contacting at least three to determine the best fit), owners are encouraged to conduct a meet and greet to see if the pet sitter is a good match.

During the meet and greet, owners and sitters can discuss specific care instructions and expectations, behavioral quirks of the pet, and any veterinary issues.For house sitting services, owners can show sitters specifics of their home and vice-versa for boarding services.

All sitters on Rover are subject to public reviews by verified clients. We encourage pet owners to leave reviews after a stay and to read all of a sitter’s reviews before booking with them. We closely monitor these reviews and make improvements to our marketplace to better support our community.

Pet parents in the Seattle area have booked nearly half a million pet services through the Rover platform, with virtually every service going exactly as planned. In the rare event that it doesn’t, we are prepared to assist owners and sitters.

We have a 24/7 Trust and Safety Team dedicated to helping users navigate challenging circumstances and which includes former veterinary technicians, pet insurance adjusters, 9-1-1 operators, and police officers.The team connects users with helpful resources such as live veterinary consultations.Every stay on Rover is backed by the Rover Guarantee, which reimburses users for costs arising from certain injuries or damages. More information is listed on our website.

Bibliography


THOMPSON, C. (2019, may 16). What every pet owner needs to know before hiring someone to care for their pet. Retrieved from komonews.com: https://komonews.com/news/consumer/what-every-pet-owner-needs-to-know-before-hiring-someone-to-care-for-their-pet


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