LONG ISLAND, N.Y. (CN) – Still in a howl despite the intercession of actress Olivia Munn, a Long Island woman claims in a federal class action that the dog-walking app Wag is profiting handsomely off a system of connecting conscientious owners to unvetted strangers.
“In short, Wag reaps huge profits in this new age of a mostly unregulated gig economy where lives are sold for profit, at the cost of silent deaths to the dogs who are meaningless in this technological business model,” the complaint states, filed this morning in Brooklyn by lead plaintiff Barbara Meli.
A Nassau resident with three pet pooches, Meli says she signed up with Wag just this past weekend based on the app’s promise to pair her with a “thoroughly investigated” dog walker.
After doing a little research though, Meli says she discovered a “horrendous history of Wag dog killings, thefts and beatings and Wag dog walkers committing other crimes in consumer homes.”
Electing to sue instead of complete the booking, Meli seeks punitive damages for deceptive acts, negligent misrepresentation and unjust enrichment.
As counted by Meli, Wag has lost at least 11 dogs between 2015 and March 2018, including one that was hit by a train and died in June 2019 when his walker lost him.
Meli says Wag is aware that the walkers on its site are not adequately trained, but it opts on payoffs instead of background checks.
In one high-profile incident Meli mentions, Wag even “sen[t] actress Olivia Munn to meet and greet the distraught pet owners.”
Munn is not a party to the suit, or in any way involved in Meli’s booking, but she is a celebrity spokeswoman for Wag.
Last month, after a New York couple accused a Wag sitter of kidnapping their Shih Tzu-Yorkie mix Bennie, an Instagram post tagging Munn brought media attention that eventually brought Benny home. Police have since charged the Wag sitter Christian with burglary.
A representative for Wag said Monday the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation but that it is serious about user safety and security.
“Accidents and incidents are rare, but we know the impact even one can have on the family involved,” the company said.
Similar to the ride-hail app Uber, dog walkers on Wag are dispatched to owners within their radius and their walks are monitored via GPS. Walkers often send photos of the dogs from the walk as well, a feature that helps boost ratings and lets users know their pets are safe.
Meli notes in the lawsuit though that when Wag users sign the Terms of Service, they “unwittingly” grant the company the right to use those photos for advertising — a departure from U.S. intellectual property law that otherwise grants the photo rights to the photographer.
“It is inconceivable that anyone would just give up their rights to any profit made from their dog, but the hidden … terms do just that, unbeknownst to the consumer,” the complaint says.
Meli is represented by Susan Chana Lask in Manhattan. The complaint says that, due to confidentiality agreements and settlements with dog owners, the discovery process could bring hundreds or even thousands of customer dog deaths to light.
“The case cannot change the law, of course, but it will definitely get the attention of the city and local legislators,” Lask said in an interview Monday, calling on New York Attorney General Letitia James to get involved.
In addition to damages, Meli seeks increased an external auditor, oversight and regulation, as well as an injunction that will make Wag change how it recruits walkers.
Wag operates in 43 states and over 100 cities nationwide and employs thousands of dog walkers, according to the suit. The company claims its walks have resulted in “more than 10 trillion steps” and “more than 4 million potty breaks,” the suit says.
If that’s true, Lask reasoned, the company brings in $7 billion per year, which should be “ample money to personally interview, actually train their dog walkers, and fund competent background checks, which are evidently not in place by virtue by the demonstrated criminal conduct of their walkers dispatched to consumer homes.”
The company also touts a million-dollar “promise,” which seems to be some kind of insurance commitment, though Lask pointed out it’s negated by the terms of service, which limits liability claims to $500.