Dog-Sitting Apps; Convenient, but Not Without Risks

11 Feb Dog-Sitting Apps; Convenient, but Not Without Risks

People travel a lot during the holidays, and much as they’d probably like to, they can’t always take their pets with them. If the traveling owner has no friends, family, or kennels able to care for their dogs, then they are in a conundrum. A conundrum that popular dog-sitting apps like Rover and Wag are eager to fix.

On these apps, potential dog-sitters go through supposedly rigorous background checks to be allowed on. Once the applicant has been cleared, their profiles and pictures go up on the app. Clients can browse what sitters are in their area, and choose who they want to watch over their dogs while they’re on a trip or vacation. Unfortunately, unsuitable people still get onto the app, and into people’s houses.

Denver woman Colleen Covell hired a man from Rover to stay overnight to watch her two dogs. She met him beforehand and found him to be a nice and trusting young man. Collen also made sure to lay out ground rules for him during his stay, which included no drugs, no drinking their liquor, and no using the master bath.

When she got home, the house smelled of weed. She looked up the sitter’s Instagram and found a picture of him in the master bath, drinking her expensive wine, and watching the Cowboys game on a TV he moved from her bedroom to the top of her toilet. After she complained, local news station Denver7 did some digging and learned he was a convicted felon and still on probation. A Rover spokesman could not explain how a convicted felon made it onto their app after the background check, even after pledging to explain after getting more information.

According to the spokesman, Rover has two background checks; a basic, and an enhanced. The basic goes over the potential sitter’s SSN, name, address, sex offender status, and goes over the national crime database and terror watch list. The enhanced, which a potential client can request, involves additional, court-related checks, but it’s not known in what capacity. Wag’s background checks are similar and include “visual image scans” to make sure the applicant’s government ID matches the applicant’s selfies. Wag says about 10% of applicants are accepted. But Joe Cybert, a Castle Rock police officer, told clients to make sure they know what databases are being checked and inquire if they do not. Are these databases only concerned with major crimes and overlooking local arrests and incidents? “If you don’t ask those questions if you don’t understand what database or what resources they are checking, you don’t really know how thorough that background check is.”

Now, understand that these apps are not necessarily shady. Thousands of people use them and most are happy at the end of the trip. But stinkers like Covell’s still slip through, and all sorts of horror stories come out of it. Money goes missing, and beloved pets end up uncared for or even dying.

The Better Business Bureau recommends not only interviewing dog-sitters in person, like Covell did, but also calling up previous customers to get their opinions on them. “To really get (an) accurate picture, you want to personalize the experience by actually talking to past customers rather than just relying on what’s been written on the app,” said Ezra Coopersmith, who heads the BBB investigations in Denver. The BBB also has a list of highly rated dog services for walking, sitting, and boarding as alternatives to apps.

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