British Columbia

'Sorry I've lost your dog': family learns hard lesson after using pet-sitting website

A Vancouver family learned the hard way that not all information posted on a dog-sitting website, Rover, was accurate after the sitter they hired lost their dog, launching a five-day search.

Five star-rated dog sitter hired on Rover website loses dog then cuts off communication with owners

Sami gets a big welcome home hug. (Submitted by Shannon Lercher)

The Brennan family nightmare started with a curtly worded text from the Vancouver pet sitter hired to care for their dog while they went to a wedding on Pender Island. 

"He just said, 'Sorry, I've lost your dog. I won't be returning any more of your messages.' And that was it," said Michael Brennan.

What followed was an an excruciating five-day ordeal to recapture Sami — a 40-kilogram German Shepherd-Rhodesian Ridgeback cross — as she ran scared through some of Vancouver's busiest streets.

Ultimately, there would be a happy ending, but the story is a lesson in buyer beware for anyone looking for pet care online.

Michael Brennan and Sami. (Submitted by Shannon Lercher)

Michael Brennan said it all started when his partner Shannon Lercher booked what appeared to be a trustworthy and experienced dog sitter from the website Rover.

"Christian Z" had a five-star rating, glowing reviews and advertised a fenced-in backyard that seemed perfect for containing their large dog. 

'Looked like a reputable setup'

"From all appearances it looked like a reputable setup,' said Brennan. "The big attraction was that this isn't a kennel, it's someone's home and ought to be more comfortable."

Rover is the largest dog-sitting platform in the world, according to company spokesman Dave Rosenbaum. The website claims to offer more personalized care than a kennel. It also advertises "trusted sitters and dog walkers who'll treat your pets like family."

"We're sort of like Airbnb for dogs," said Rosenbaum. "When you log onto the website or app, you put in information about your dog and then our algorithm surfaces sitters that we think might be a good match for you."

Michael Brennan said he was dismayed to find part of the fence advertised by the dog sitter consisted of wooden pallets rigged to stand upright. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

He called the Brennans' experience "an outlier." According to Rosenbaum, sitters on Rover have passed a background check and safety quiz.

He said the company reviews each profile "to make sure that we feel confident the person is going to be able to deliver the level of service that we expect."

But Brennan discovered the hard way that information posted on the site isn't necessarily accurate.

The first warning sign came when Brennan arrived to drop off Sami at the sitter's East Vancouver residence. A portion of the fenced-in back yard wasn't a fence at all, rather some wooden pallets rigged to stand upright.

"I was concerned immediately and said cannot have my dog in this yard off-leash or unattended at any point because she will jump that the first chance she gets," said Brennan.

One hour later, that's exactly what happened, although the details of Sami's escape only came to light the next day when someone claiming to be Christian Z's roommate contacted Brennan to apologize.

The roommate told Brennan he had arrived home to find Sami alone and whimpering so he opened the door to let him out. In a flash, she hurdled over the pallets.

Five hours later, Christian Z sent the message that the dog was missing.

"Our understanding is the sitter put our dog inside the house and went off to his other job," said Brennan. "We wouldn't have hired the sitter if we knew [Sami] was just going to be stuck in an apartment with him gone the whole time."

Rover told CBC it does not verify what dog sitters post in their profiles, nor does the company inspect properties.

"We encourage owners to go and look for themselves to make sure it will work for their dog," said Rosenbaum.

It was also problematic,said Brennan, that they didn't have Christian Z's full name.

Rosenbaum said Rover doesn't require sitters to post their full name for privacy reasons.

Dropped from site

Christian Z was removed from the platform by the company, he said.

Michael Brennan says it's a miracle Sami wasn't killed by a car during the five days she was on the loose in Vancouver. (Submitted by Shannon Lercher)

Rosenbaum claims Rover did everything it could to help the Brennans, including putting out an alert to other Rover members, and offering to cover any resulting veterinary care.

In what seems like a miracle, Sami — who was spotted along Knight Street, Fraser, Victoria Drive and King Edward —somehow managed to dodge traffic for five days. She was finally recaptured near Mountain View Cemetery, exhausted, starving and traumatized. 

Lercher says the family is also traumatized, especially her children. Brennan says they are considering legal action.

But according to Rosenbaum, individual sitters, not Rover, are liable for any damages arising from a situation gone wrong because everyone on the platform operates as an independent contractor.