A New York consumer has filed a proposed class action lawsuit in which she alleges on-demand dog walker provider Wag Labs, Inc. has pulled in huge profits on the backs of dogs that were “lost, stolen, abused and killed” while in the custody of walkers that were supposed to have been thoroughly vetted.
“Uber for dog walkers”
How venture capital-backed Wag works is simple. Customers can request via mobile app or the company’s website for a “verified” dog walker to come to their house and walk their dog. Much like someone in need of a ride would use their cell phone to request an Uber, Wag Labs’ service works the same way, with the company dispatching dog walkers to customers’ usually vacant homes, which can be accessed via a key or door code.
At the center of the complaint are allegations that despite Wag’s prominent assurances that its dog walkers are well qualified to care for customers’ pets and are licensed, bonded and vetted through a thorough background check process, such promises are both deceptive and misleading. In fact, the plaintiff alleges that Wag, which the suit says operates in 100 cities across 43 states, uses “thousands of dog walkers they never personally met or interviewed.”
The case links Wag’s alleged shortcomings with regard to the vetting of its dogwalkers to the company’s volume-reliant business model. As the plaintiff tells it, Wag’s statements concerning “trusted dog walkers” and its apparent use of “thorough background checks” are “incredible and unverifiable” considering the sheer enormity of the company’s operation.
Further, though Wag touts that its walkers are supposedly “licensed and bonded,” the lawsuit says that New York City has no law requiring a license or bond for dog walkers. All of this is to say that Wag’s dog walkers, at least those in New York City, cannot possibly be licensed and bonded.
“Yet, New York City consumers are misled to believe, and can reasonably believe, that is what they are paying for,” the lawsuit scathes.
Peace of mind? Your dog pictures belong to us now.
“In other words,” the case stresses, “those intellectual property rights unwittingly waived means a pet owner’s cute little dog’s pictures taken by Wag’s walker is now owned by Wag and can be sold by them—ending up on a can of dog food that makes Wag and everyone else millions of dollars except the pet owner.”
More troublesome is the allegation that while Wag claims to be willing to pay up to $1,000,000 should something go wrong, the company’s terms of service apparently wholly contradict this insurance by saying that Wag “is not responsible for anything.” From the complaint:
Wag convinces the public that its methods are reliable and safe by affirming on its website in an unconditional promise that ‘Our $1,000,000 Promise, Your peace of mind’ and continues to baldly and deceptively promise that every booking is protected at no additional cost ‘to the tune of $1,000,000’ (see above). The net effect is that consumers believe Wag is so trustworthy and reliable that they are willing to pay $1,000,000 if something goes wrong.”
Interestingly, and though not mentioned in the suit, it’s worth noting that Wag’s terms of service prohibit dog owners from handling disputes with the company through class action litigation.
Alleged dog deaths, disappearances
The lawsuit goes on to cite a March 2018 New York Post article that included comments from users of job-rating website Glassdoor who said the interview process to become a Wag dog walker was “simple,” “quick” and “easy,” and took only a few days. That same article goes on to claim Wag dog walkers had lost at least seven dogs in the New York City area since 2015, adding that the month prior a goldendoodle was hit by a car near Central Park after escaping from its Wag walker.
Another New York Post article cited in the suit, from May 2018, describes yet another incident in which a dog under a Wag walker’s care reportedly went missing. The piece states that after slipping away from a Wag walker, a New Yorker’s three-year-old German shepherd/basset hound mix wandered 20 blocks overnight back to its owner’s home. Like the article from March 2018 and the complaint note, the piece says that dog walkers who work for Wag receive only “cursory” training that varies depending on where they live.
From there, the lawsuit says a dog was found dead in June 2019 after being lost while out with a Wag walker. Earlier the same month another dog was reportedly killed while in the custody of a Wag dog walker in New York City. And these are just a few of the instances the public knows about, as others, according to the lawsuit, have been hushed up by the company. More from the case (links have been anchored to text for readability):
Further examples of Wag’s ineptitude are legion. Duckie the dog, from Brooklyn, was walked by a Wag dog walker who failed to leash the dog, ending in Duckie being struck and killed by a car. Buddy the dog from Long Island disappeared after a Wag dog walker took Buddy, at which point Wag tried to buy the owner’s silence to avoid unfavorable media coverage. In Houston, Winnie the dog was killed by a car while with a Wag dog walker who later tried to conceal her death; and Wag offered to pay for Winnie’s cremation and send her dead paw print if the owner signed a confidentiality agreement. Temporal to Winnie’s death, a Wag dog walker beat Ollie the dog in Danville California.”
What does the lawsuit look to accomplish?
The plaintiff says she aims to “change the way Wag does business” by asking the court to force Wag Labs to implement stronger recruitment, training, certification, app functionality and pet tracking processes; replace its current “Trust & Safety” management program with guidance from an external auditor and establish ISO 9001/ Six-Sigma standards; improve oversight by swapping out a current board member and replace the individual with an expert on animal welfare and safety; and boost regulation by using only licensed and bonded dog walkers who pass independently audited safety and background checks.
The suit looks to represent dog owners nationwide who, from June 18, 2016 to date, paid money for Wag’s dog-walking or pet-sitting services through the company’s website or mobile app and had a dog walker or pet sitter come to their home and walk or pet sit their dog.