Nick Moore claims the pet care company initially offered to pay for Winnie's cremation only if he agreed not to mention the dog's death publicly

By Kelli Bender
January 23, 2019 04:10 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Nick Moore

Nick and Sara Moore are going through a pet owner’s most trying moment, starting the new year without their dog Winnie.

The Houston couple’s Wheaten terrier died shortly before the holidays in 2018. Her death has been especially difficult for the pair, because Winnie did not die from a health issue or old age — both heart-breaking goodbyes in their own right — but from being hit by car while on a walk with a dog walker arranged through the on-demand dog-walking app Wag!. Wag! allows dog owners to book dog-walking and pet-sitting services on their mobile devices, and at short notice if necessary

In a statement to PEOPLE, Nick Moore says that Winnie’s death was made even worse by how Wag! responded to the incident. He claims that the pet-care company tried to buy his family’s silence instead of providing details about Winnie’s death.

The source of this troubling claim begins during happier times. In his statement, Nick explains how he and Sara brought Winnie, then just a little puppy, home for the first time in August 2018. Based on friends’ recommendations, the Moores started using Wag! shortly after bringing Winnie home, to set up regular visits from a walker to let the puppy outside to do her business in the backyard.

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Credit: Courtesy Nick Moore

“Our first big experience with Wag! was in August of 2018 when we took a 10-day vacation,” Nick says in his statement. “We hired a walker through the app to stay at our house and watch her. That walker fell in love with Winnie and Winnie fell in love with her. So from then on we only used her if at all possible. When we did ask her to walk Winnie it was maybe once or twice a week.”

After this vacation, Nick says, and outside of the occasional strolls with her aforementioned favorite Wag! walker, Winnie spent the rest of her time at a local doggie daycare or at home with her owners.

So on December 10, when Nick realized he had a lunch meeting that would keep him from walking Winnie, the Moores had not used Wag! “hardly at all.”

“I had forgotten that I had a work lunch and asked Sara to order a Wag! last-minute,” Nick says. “Because it was last-minute we could not request a walker that we were familiar with. Instead we had to use the first available.”

According to Winnie’s dad, that dog walker was someone who gave he and his wife a “weird feeling from the get-go,” as the walker had two different names on her profile and allegedly didn’t respond when Sara asked her over the app what her real name was. This feeling became more intense when Sara realized that, after following the first part of Winnie’s walk on the app, she never received the customary message from Wag! notifying her that Winnie’s walk was complete.

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Credit: Courtesy Nick Moore

“When Sara did not receive a report she texted the walker with no response. She called the walker who said that Winnie was home safe, but also that someone from Wag would call us,” Nick says. “She then called me to ask me to go home and check on Winnie because she had a weird feeling. Right after she hung up with me she received a call from a Wag! representative saying that Winnie had been killed.”

Distraught, Nick and his wife both rushed home and walked in together to find Winnie’s empty crate, causing Nick to “completely break down.” Realizing that Winnie was really dead, Sara reportedly called Wag! back to find out where the dog’s body was being kept.

“Winnie had been taken to a nearby pet hospital. We still don’t know who took her or how they got there. We went to the hospital to say goodbye,” Nick continues. “It was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. Wag! assured us that they would pay for any expenses we thought were necessary, e.g., the cost to have her cremated and the cost to have a clay paw print made. Wag! also stated that they would be opening an investigation to figure out what happened.”

Over the next few days, Nick claims he and Sara talked to Wag! several times over the phone about the reimbursement process and also in an effort to get more information about what happened to Winnie the day she died.

“We asked Wag! for details on what happened and all we got in response was conflicting information or them simply saying they didn’t have much information to provide us with,” Nick says.

Eventually, the Moores went to pick up Winnie’s ashes and paid for the cremation themselves. Nick claims he than sent the receipts in to Wag! to be reimbursed for the cremation expenses, a total of $188, and received a response that left him feeling disrespected.

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Credit: Courtesy Nick Moore

“We sent them our receipts and they sent us their ‘Wag! Trust and Safety Guarantee’ that said if we wanted to get the $188 we paid for Winnie’s cremation and paw print we would have to sign the agreement saying we wouldn’t say anything, orally or in writing, regarding the incident. We felt disrespected, and respectfully declined to sign,” the owner says.

After declining this offer, Nick claims he and Sara did not hear from Wag! for more than one month and that it wasn’t until the couple started posting about Winnie’s death and their experience with Wag! that the company got back to them.

“After we made our posts on social media, and those posts starting getting much more attention than we anticipated, Wag! sent us an automated email saying something along the lines of ‘click here to immediately receive money from Wag! directly to your bank account.’ We responded to the email asking what it was about,” Nick explains in his statement.

Nick says the response he and Sara got said that Wag! decided to authorize a reimbursement “without any further documentation.”

“We responded that it was never about the money, that our grievance was due to their lack of compassion, and respectfully declined again. We just received another automated email asking to send us money again tonight. That has been the extent of our contact with Wag!,” Nick says.

Nick, who readily admits that he previously had good experiences with Wag!, says he is not out to get the company, but wants to tell Winnie’s story so other dog owners can take it into consideration when looking for a walker.

“We fully recognize that we trusted a stranger with the most important thing in the world to us. We will have to live with that forever,” Nick concludes his statement. “We also know that Wag! provides a service that is life-saving to some dog owners with busy lifestyles. We wanted to share our experience simply so that people could make the most informed decision possible.”

Nick says, when he and his wife are ready to get another dog, he will seek out qualified local services for dog walkers instead of relying on a stranger to take care of Winnie.

In response to the Moores and their claims, Wag! provided PEOPLE with the below statement:

We extend our sympathy to the Moores during this difficult time. As a company of dog lovers and pet parents, we were devastated about what happened to Winnie. The hit-and-run accident involving Winnie was an unusual situation, and we provided the Moores with updates as we investigated what happened. We’re addressing concerns about our response procedures, and we’re changing our policy for paying claims to reflect a higher level of sensitivity to each situation.

We’ve reviewed the walker’s records and can confirm that she is who she said she was, and that the name she used on her profile is a nickname. We cannot speak for the walker’s response to the pet parent, but we do know that she, along with a good Samaritan, took the dog to a nearby veterinarian immediately after the accident. The walker has been deactivated from the Wag! platform. Prior to this incident, she had very high ratings for her walks and no safety incidents.

We care very deeply about the health and safety of the dogs walked on our platform. We use a robust vetting process that includes an application and verification process, a third-party background check, and online tests covering dog safety and handling knowledge that each applicant must pass to be approved to work on our platform.

In addition to this statement, Wag! also posted a public statement from CEO Hilary Schneider on Jan. 21 addressing the company’s response to recent incidents.

“Some of you have recently reached out to us through social media, email, and other channels. You said that we got it wrong in terms of both how we responded to certain, recent pet incidents and — when we finally did respond — not doing the right thing in addressing the pet parents’ needs. We hear you loud and clear. We have some work to do on our end, and we’re committed to doing it,” Schneider says in the statement.

In the statement, the CEO says this work includes a review of the company’s customer service systems and Wag!’s process for paying out claims.

“We’ve taken a close look at one of our standard processes when paying a claim. In the rare instance when there’s an incident in which we need to work with the pet parents to make sure their needs are addressed, we’ve required them to sign an agreement — a common practice in the business world,” the CEO adds. “It was so routine for us, in fact, that we didn’t pause to see if it made sense for every situation.”

According to the New York Post, this is not the first time Wag! users have had a serious issue with the company. The paper says that Wag! walkers have lost several N.Y.C. dogs and that one New York dog was also hit by a car and killed while under a Wag! walker’s care.