When Denver pet owner Elaine Conoly went on vacation over the Fourth of July, she did not expect to lose her best friend, her pet dachshund, Wally, who was killed by an aggressive mastiff while in the care of a sitter found through popular pet-care service Rover.
According to a GoFundMe campaign soliciting donations for attorney fees, Conoly hired someone to take care of her two dogs for the dates that she would be away. She ended up using Rover, an online service that connects pet owners with animal caregivers. Conoly selected Seonaid H. to be her pet sitter because her Rover profile stated that Seonaid owned one friendly female German shepherd and had a fenced yard, which Conoly thought would be a healthy environment for both of her dogs.
However, Seonaid did not disclose either to Rover or to Conoly that another dog would also be on-site during the stay: a 150-pound mastiff with a history of aggression. Two days into Conoly’s trip, she received a message from Seonaid that detailed every pet owner’s worst nightmare: Wally had been “killed instantly,” according to a vet that examined the dachshund after the attack by the mastiff.
When Conoly’s friend went to pick up Conoly’s other dog, she questioned Seonaid for details regarding the dog’s death. But Seonaid only offered excuses, according to Conoly, shifting blame to “everything and everyone but herself.”
Rover did not offer Conoly a much better response, she claims, stating that the company “simply apologized and wished me a good day.” Furthermore, Conoly was still charged for the pet sitter fees she had incurred through Rover.
“Wally was my best friend for almost 10 years, and he was to make it for several more but his life was gruesomely taken away due to gross negligence,” Conoly said in her GoFundMe campaign. “Rover plasters a ton of false security on their website such as ‘guaranteed’ and ‘verified’ and the like, yet when they actually are responsible for your dog being murdered, they simply told me sorry and to carry on with my life. They were not even sure they were going to terminate Seonaid H. as a sitter from their site.”
Conoly plans to press charges against Rover, and has retained an attorney to address the “gross negligence” toward Wally. Conoly’s GoFundMe campaign is soliciting $1,500 toward her attorney fees. As of the time of publication, the fundraiser has received $300 in donations.
Rover spokesperson Dave Rosenbaum told TPG that, due to ongoing litigation, the company was not at liberty to comment on the investigation itself. However, the company released a statement stating that, “As dog owners ourselves, we are distraught by Wally’s passing and join his family in their grief during this heart-wrenching time. Upon learning of the incident, our trust and safety team immediately opened an investigation, and we remain committed to providing support to the Conoly family. We have deactivated this particular sitter from our platform.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Rover is valued at $970 million after the start-up successfully raised a $155 million round of funding in May 2018. Although the exact number of pet owners who utilize the service is unknown, Rover has more than 200,000 pet caregivers across the United States, according to TechCrunch. On its About Us page, the company boasts “millions of services booked. Thousands of wagging tails in more than 10,000 cities.”
“As emotionally exhausting as its been to constantly relive this tragedy and share anything personal on social media, it is my responsibility to help other animal lovers make the best possible choices for their furry loved ones,” Conoly said via a public Facebook post. “I do not want Wally’s death to be in vain or allow this to happen to anyone else’s beloved pets and I hope you will stand beside me in support. Pets are family and their lives do matter.”
The incident serves as a reminder for pet owners who travel frequently to verify with their sitter — especially from a service like Rover — the conditions of the service. Will any other dogs be around? Where will your pet be going while in the care of the sitter? Or, if you elect to travel with your pet, keep in mind that there are also best practices to keep your beloved animals safe while traveling.
Featured image courtesy of Elaine Conoly.