Dog-Walking Apps Want Customers To Entrust Their Pups To Strangers

Image courtesy of Wag

Ride-hailing apps ask us to get in strangers’ cars, something that our parents specifically warned us against. Now a new generation of gig economy apps asks us to let strangers into our homes and take our pets on walks. While most walks and boarding stays using services like Wag and Rover end well, enough have resulted in lost or killed pets that investors are becoming skittish, and maybe customers should be.

The business model is simple: Customers order an on-demand dog-walker through the app, who is insured and on whom the companies have run background checks. Other options include drop-in visits to play with dogs, and in-home boarding when you’re out of town.

The companies handle bookings, background checks, and insurance, and take a substantial cut of the fees: Rover takes around 20% for pet-sitting, and both services take around 40% of the fee customers pay for dog-walking.

Uber for puppers

Yet these services have a publicity problem, which Bloomberg Technology compares to the safety problems with some drivers for ride-hailing apps. No, walkers haven’t abused or attacked dogs, but there have been a few high-profile cases where dogs went missing during walks.

A couple whose terrier went missing in Brooklyn during a walk with a Wag contractor earlier this year told Bloomberg that the company was “concerned” when the couple went after local surveillance footage that might provide clues about what happened to their dog. The dog was eventually hit by a car, and Wag paid for its cremation.

“They seemed more interested in keeping things quiet than helping us find our dog,” one of the dog’s owners said. The company disputes this, saying that it has a dedicated team for finding lost dogs, and it pays for professional searchers and pet AMBER alerts.

One expensive lost dog

One Wag user whose dog, Buddy, was found unharmed told Bloomberg that the company tried to silence her, sending her a cease and desist notice to take down her complaints against the company and apologize. She still claims that the company offered her money to stay quiet after she went to a local news station to get her dog’s story out to more people.

“People familiar with the situation” told Bloomberg that multiple investors backed out amid the publicity around Buddy’s case, when the company was trying to raise another $100 million in to expand. One venture capitalist said that his firm was no longer interested after hearing stories about lost dogs.

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