Some dog owners are filing complaints about the popular dog sitting company Rover after they said their dogs died while in Rover's care, and they're learning they have little recourse when something goes horribly wrong.
Lauren Astore and Jason Richardson's European vacation last summer was suddenly cut short.
"They took everything from us. Winnie was everything to us," Astore said.
Just one day into their trip, the couple learned their 8-year-old dog Winnie died while with a Rover sitter.
"We feel she took Winnie for a walk when it was too hot," Astore said. "And then basically left her alone for too long. And she had a heat stroke and died."
Astore and Richardson say the five-star rated Rover sitter avoided telling them Winnie had died, and even tried to have her cremated without their permission.
"They deceive everybody, they mislead everybody," Richardson said of the company that boasts on its website "safety is our top priority" and they have "dog sitters you can trust."
Astore and Richardson demanded Rover remove the sitter from its app. The company didn't. They tried to sue, but a judge tossed the case. The couple learned they had unknowingly agreed to arbitration when they signed up for Rover.
Astore and Richardson are not alone.
Colleen Nolan said her 12-year-old blind dog Mooshu fell off a Rover sitter's apartment balcony and died.
"I just don't want any more dogs to die," Nolan said. "I don't want anyone to suffer like I did."
Nolan said the sitter wasn't supposed to take the dog outside her home, but she did anyway. Nolan said Rover offered her a settlement, but only if she agreed to keep quiet. Nolan said no, and started a Facebook group instead called: "My Dog Was Killed By My Rover Sitter." Nolan and some 300 other alleged Rover victims are sharing their experiences there.
"Consumers need to know that what they're getting on this website is not what they're getting in the fine print," Nolan said.
The fine print, boiled down, says Rover is nothing more than a middleman, connecting dog owners with dog sitters and walkers. That leaves pet owners with little to no rights when something goes wrong.
Attorney Robert Tauler said Rover markets itself as a company built on trust and safety — not a middleman.
"They're selling the public a bill of goods that is completely false," Tauler said.
Tauler said Rover is misleading pet owners and he's suing the company for false advertising.
"They're double-faced," he said. "All of their marketing collateral says, 'Trust us, we're the dog people, we love dogs.' But they're all empty promises. When people seek justice, they're often intimidated by their legal team."
In a statement to NBCLA's I-Team, Rover said Tauler's false advertising claims have "no merit." It said: "Our Terms of Service (which all new users must accept...) are designed to provide clarity to all parties before they use our site."
As for the deaths, Rover said they're "extremely rare," but it wouldn't disclose how many have been reported. It said safety is its top priority.
Astore, Richardson and Nolan said they want others to learn from their tragedies.
"They do not care about pets," Richardson said.