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Denver Dog Dies While In The Care Of Rover App Sitter, Dog Owner Calling For Heightened Screening Requirements

DENVER (CBS4) - Terence Rugg lost his father and his dog within weeks of each other. He says thanks to a dog sitter he found through the app Rover, the last few weeks have been "the most difficult time of (his) life," and he's hoping his story will help alert others to potential risks.

Rugg, 35, needed a dog sitter for his Pit Bull-Chihuahua mix named Watson so he could attend his father's funeral out of state in February. He turned to Rover, an app that connects pet owners with sitters, and found a sitter who seemed to have experience.

Watson died while in the care of a Rover sitter in February (credit: Terence Rugg)

"He had quite a few return customers," Rugg recalled. "Then quite a few reviews stating that he did great with their dogs and it was a great experience."

But within less than an hour of dropping Watson off with the sitter, Rugg got the call no dog owner wants to hear.

"I see a missed call that Watson got loose and somehow slipped out of his collar," Rugg said. "So, I called them and they said they're chasing after him trying to find where he went."

Even though he had a plane to catch for his dad's funeral, Rugg rushed back to help look for Watson, but it was too late.

"The sitter helped me out, and drove me around for 25 minutes or so, until we finally saw him, a car hit him. He was bleeding. No one stopped. They just hit him and kept going," Rugg said in tears. "We rushed him to the vet and he died in my arms in the car."

Rugg says Watson had never slipped out of his collar before.

"I gave him multiple different harnesses, and the one that he left on was what they call a no-pull harness. It's a training harness. So, the second he pulls, it's going to pull them right back straight," Rugg said.

Other Incidents Found In Metro Area

CBS4 Investigates found Rugg isn't alone. Police reports from other cities in the metro area detail various problems with Rover sitters over the last few years.

Reports show a Rover sitter in Broomfield was charged in 2019 with cruel treatment of animals, after she left a customer's two dogs locked in the dog owner's apartment for two days without food or water.

Police only discovered the dogs, because neighbors were complaining about incessant barking. Police said when they opened the apartment, urine and feces covered the floor, and one of the dogs was locked in a kennel while another was able to roam around the room.

According to the police report, when police asked the sitter why she didn't stop by the apartment to take care of the dogs as promised, she said she "f***** up."

Last summer in Brighton, a dog owner was stuck with the pound bill after his two dogs got out while in the care of a Rover sitter. Police reports say officers spent an hour and a half chasing the dogs.

The dog owner - not the Rover sitter - was required to go to court to sort out an animals running at large charge against him, even though he was out of town when the incident happened. The dog owner told CBS4 it was a major inconvenience.

CBS News reported in 2019 about other incidents nationwide. A Japanese Chin named Mooshu died while in the care of a Rover sitter. The owner said the sitter ignored strict instructions on how to properly care for Mooshu, who was blind.

"She said Moosh fell off my porch," said Mooshu's owner Colleen Nolan in 2019. "I'm like, 'how far did he fall,' and she said, 'two stories.' That's not a porch."

Despite repeated issues over the years, incidents persist. Rugg believes the company should make systemic improvements to its sitter-screening process.

Rover says sitters are already required to pass a background check, and take a safety quiz with training videos. Rover says it also offers "educational resources for sitters and walkers on a variety of pet care and safety topics."

A Rover spokesperson adds 97% of Rover stays booked in the Denver area that were reviewed received a five-star rating.

"The vast majority of experiences on our platform go exactly as planned, but in the rare event that something goes wrong, our 24/7 Trust and Safety team will carefully investigate the events and take appropriate steps to support and protect our community," a spokesperson for Rover wrote to CBS4. "All stays booked through the platform are covered by the Rover Guarantee."

terence and watsn

For Rugg, Rover is fully reimbursing him for vet and cremation costs, and offered a $1,000 reimbursement if he chooses to get a new dog.

"They kept bringing up the word 'property,' and I understand they're not a child, but I mean these animals are family," Rugg said. "It's just weird that they are ready to move on so quickly... and hey, let's get you a new dog."

Now Rugg is moving out of Colorado to live closer to family, saying the loss has been too much to bear alone.

He urges anyone leaving their dog with a sitter they don't know to do their homework carefully, arrange a pre-meet with the sitter before the stay begins, and vet the sitter carefully.

"You got to make sure that the person you're working with cares about this animal as much as you do, because you're just going to go through a heartbreak," Rugg said.

Rover also provided the following statement regarding what happened to Watson:

"We extend our deepest condolences to Mr. Rugg and everyone who loved Watson. Our 24/7 Trust and Safety team immediately launched an investigation, and we removed the sitter from our community... Most of us at Rover are pet parents ourselves, and it's heartbreaking when a fellow pet parent has a negative experience on our platform. Pet safety is a top priority and we strive to ensure every pet parent who uses our platform feels safe and secure with the sitter they select."


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