A Colorado pet owner’s worst nightmare came true when her beloved dog was found dead after being left in the care of a sitter hired through Wag!, a popular pet walking and animal caregiving app.
Liz Giorgi, the 35-year-old co-founder and CEO of startup company soona, was traveling to Kenya with her husband to scatter her father’s ashes on Jan. 5 when she first became aware that her dog, Fran, was missing.
Giorgi originally purchased the trip for herself and her father as a Christmas gift since he was a huge fan of The Lion King and had always wanted to see the African savanna in person. But following his unexpected death in November 2021, she reworked the trip in order to “bring a small amount of [him] to Kenya to honor his memory.”
As her usual kennel was unable to accommodate the new trip dates, Giorgi says she used the Wag! app and was initially pleased with its positive reviews and decent price point.
She located a pet sitter who had a five-star review through the app, dropped off Fran and her other dog, Hazel, with the caregiver and left for the airport on Jan. 4.
Giorgi explained that she was in the middle of her flight to Kenya when she received a text from her Wag! dog sitter, claiming that Fran had “got out,” and had possibly “snuck out” or jumped over the fence of the caregiver’s home.
“We have had Fran [for] three years and she has never once jumped a fence, so I’m skeptical,” Giorgi told In The Know. “There has been no home security footage, so no way to verify this either.”
The sitter also said she had gone out looking for Fran but did not have any success locating her. Giorgi immediately put the sitter in touch with her best friend, who helped to mobilize friends and family to aid in the search party from the ground in Denver.
Meanwhile, Giorgi was still in the air, frantically trying to contact the Wag! customer support team for details on how to proceed.
“I was on the plane so I couldn’t call, so I emailed their customer support,” she told In The Know. “I got an autoresponder 30 minutes later. A formal email response didn’t come until the next day, missing critical hours when we needed help finding her when she was presumably close to where the walker lost her.”
To Giorgi’s dismay, she also found that Wag! had no publicly available resources for a pet owner in her situation.
“No checklist of next steps, no resource allocation and no explanation of who was my main point of contact,” she said.
She spent the next few days distraught and stuck in rural Africa, unable to fly home due to reduced flight cadences amid the pandemic, trying to contact anyone at Wag! who might be able to provide her with better support.
Giorgi says she reached out to the app’s CEO Garrett Smallwood multiple times, both through Twitter and through her professional network, but says he “ignored our mutual contacts’ requests to introduce us.”
Ultimately, after Giorgi “ raised hell on social for four days straight,” Wag! hired a dog-tracking company to search for Fran, in addition to the dog tracker she had already hired. Although Wag! apparently attempted to pull their tracker after 48 hours, Giorgi says social media pressure caused the company to keep their tracker on-site for another day.
On Jan. 12, Giorgi shared the tragic news on Twitter that her “soul dog” Fran, who had comforted her through the loss of her father, had died.
Giorgi told In The Know that the dog was found by a Good Samaritan about half a mile from where she had initially been lost. She had apparently been hit by a car.
The computer-generated communication she received from Wag! following the discovery, Giorgi says, only exacerbated the already painful situation.
Throughout the ordeal, Giorgi says she was never offered an apology, either by Wag’s support team or by Smallwood.
A Wag! spokesperson told In The Know the company was “deeply saddened by Fran’s passing,” adding that, “our hearts go out to her family.”
“Safety is a top priority at Wag! and every service is insured and backed by the full support of our Trust and Safety team,” the spokesperson continued. “The team worked diligently with Fran’s emergency contact and pet parent, as well as the local community, to search for her and bring her home. This tragic incident is still under investigation, and the pet caregiver has been suspended from our platform pending the conclusion of an investigation.”
As she awaits more information about what actually happened to Fran, Georgi says she hopes her experience can serve as a warning to other pet owners.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Giorgi told In The Know. “Hope this helps someone else avoid Wag.”
Wag, which has been billed as the “Uber for dog walking,” has come under fire for multiple high-profile incidents involving its service, some of them deadly.
According to the New York Post, the company has lost at least eight dogs in New York City alone since its Big Apple launch in 2015. Some were fortunately found while others, sadly, were not.
In 2018, a Houston couple spoke out after their dog, Winnie, was struck and killed by a car while out with a walker hired through Wag. The company reportedly asked the couple to sign a nondisclosure agreement before it would agree to pay the $188 to have the dog cremated.
During the same year, another Wag! walker was investigated for animal cruelty after she was caught on camera returning a woman’s 8-year-old Yorkie, Bella, back to her home “nonresponsive and limp” after a walk. The dog later died.
In a bizarre 2019 incident, a Wag! dog walker stole a New York couple’s dog with the intention to gift the dog to someone else. The dog, Benny, was later reunited with his owners, while the walker was arrested and charged with burglary, petit larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.
The same year, a couple filed a lawsuit against Wag, alleging negligence and fraud, after their French bulldog, Burger, was struck and hit by a car in New York City while out with a Wag! walker. Patch.com reported that footage of the incident showed the elderly dog trailing far behind the distracted walker, who was apparently looking at her cellphone when the dog was struck and killed in a crosswalk.
In a 2019 post, Hilary Schneider, Wag’s CEO at the time, responded to public outcry following the aforementioned incidents, writing, “We hear you loud and clear. We have some work to do on our end, and we’re committed to doing it.”
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