Almost exactly two years ago, before I called Hoboken home, I attended Bark in the Park (Liberty Humane Society’s fabulous fall event) as a vendor. The table next to me was a lovely British woman advertising her local dog-walking business. Throughout the day, I chatted with her and her husband and pet their beloved black lab who lounged next to their booth. She was great with my little fear-aggressive dog, Giorgio, and I took her card thinking that I might move to Hoboken eventually and would like to use her services.
My boyfriend and I ended up moving that January, and we reached out to Carly* not long after. I always thought I would have such trust issues giving someone a key to my apartment and letting them take care of the dog I call my little soulmate, but my boyfriend and I both loved Carly* from the moment she walked in. She was perfect for us and (after a couple of getting to know you days) Giorgio adored her. Over the next year and a half, Carly* became part of our little family. She even helped us with the decision to foster fail and keep our other dog, Felipe. We trusted her completely, recommended her to everyone, and felt beyond lucky to have her. When we found out she was leaving Hoboken, we were devastated. If you watched the Real Housewives of New York last season, you might remember Heather Thompson’s whole “woe is me” speech about losing her nanny. At the time, I thought she was being totally over the top. Well, I can now say I cried my eyes out when my dog walker told me she had to move away.
Carly* rounded up a few recommendations for us and we met with two of them. We needed to move pretty quickly, since my boyfriend works late nights and I sometimes get stuck at work as well. So when we met with a woman named Maggie* who wasn’t going to charge us more for having two dogs, we decided to go with her. She talked a good game and another resident of our building was going to use her too.
On our fourth week of using Maggie* our neighbors alerted us on Wednesday that she lied to them about walking their dog on Monday. They were home the entire day and when they realized she never showed up, they reached out to ask how things went. She told them a detailed lie about walking their dog. My boyfriend and I were in shock. The next day, my boyfriend wasn’t feeling well and decided to stay home sick and use the opportunity to observe Maggie*. He put our dogs in the kitchen and went into the bedroom to wait. I’ll spare you the details, but Maggie* did not walk our dogs. She came in, opened the cookie jar and presumably gave them each a treat, turned around took the money and left. She was in our apartment for no more than 2 minutes and our beloved dogs were never given the walk we paid her for. In retrospect, there were some signs that the four weeks of walks we paid for were never performed.
I consider myself a tough critic in many ways. I’m not someone who recommends a doctor or dentist or any service that I didn’t think was superb. Friends laugh and say that anyone who gets through my rigorous interview process has got to be top notch. That made it all the more shocking that we were duped. Had our neighbors not stayed home from work, I don’t know how long this could have gone on for. Here are some things that I will ALWAYS do in the future, and I hope you will too:
- You’ve heard stories about this. Believe them! When my best friend moved to Hoboken she suspected her dog walker wasn’t actually walking her dog. She never had hard evidence but ended up firing him. Another person in my building told me about a dog walker who her roommate caught coming in and giving her pup a treat before writing her a note and leaving without walking the dog. I heard these stories, but I never thought it would happen to me. Which brings me to my next point:
- Don’t trust a lone recommendation, make sure you call references. You’re allowing this person access to your home and to your beloved pets, take it seriously. Carly* had met Maggie* out and about and she talked a good game. Carly* is a wonderful person who trusts people and this woman was a good liar. The day we caught her, she texted us saying, “The boys had a great walk in the sunshine. They both peed and pooped.” when she had never walked them at all. Two of the dog walking businesses that my neighbors have alerted mentioned seeing her walking large packs at a time. No one knows how many dogs she’s not walking. We should have asked how well our dog walker knew her. We should have called references. I should have trusted that red flag that popped up when her Facebook business had 4.7 stars but no actual text reviews. Don’t make my mistake – do your own homework even if you get a recommendation.
- Hire a registered business. Our former dog walker had us sign forms at the beginning and was a registered business with insurance. It didn’t occur to me (everything was happening pretty fast) that Maggie* didn’t give us any forms until my best friend pointed it out. Even still, I justified it with the stories she had told us about her love for dogs and this being her retirement career. At this point, we are taking actions against her, but we cannot contact the Better Business Bureau which would have been an option if she was a registered business. Again, you’re putting a lot of trust in this person and they should take that as seriously as you do. Use a company or individual who is legitimate and on the books.
- Dogs do have instincts – trust them! My dogs did not warm up to Maggie* in the way they had with Carly* and even other dog walkers we had interviewed. In fact, when I ran into her with them once, they showed no interest in greeting her and I think they both barked at her. If I had ever thought to be suspicious, I would have realized in that moment that my dogs wouldn’t bark at someone who was coming to give them walks.
- Consider a camera or a GPS… or hide in your bedroom/bathroom on occasion… or request a daily photo of your pup hitting the town. This sucks, but we learned our lesson. When we broke the news to Carly* so she could alert anyone else who was using Maggie*, she was stunned and heartbroken. We never had a single trust issue or concern with Carly*, but even if we had, my friend’s dog has a GPS collar and we knew for certain that Carly* gave long walks to our dogs. My roommate happened to be home on various occasions over the year and a half she walked our guys, and he would see her. All of our neighbors also knew and recognized her because she was always in and out with our dogs. We never took precautionary measures, but after our experience with Maggie*, we will. Carly* suggested getting a camera and that’s probably what we’ll do. It sucks to feel like you can’t trust people, but as my mom said, “There are more Maggies* in the world than there are Carlys*”.
- Don’t pay in cash. My fortune cookie last night said, “There are coincidences.” Maybe it was referring to the fact that I ran out of checks the week before Maggie* started. Can you believe that? I paid Carly* for a year and a half in checks and ran out of them the week she had to stop walking our dogs. For the past four weeks, while my checks were being ordered and then arriving this week accidentally at my family’s home where I have yet to go pick them up, we paid in cash. I don’t know how much that will influence our Consumer Fraud report (especially considering we have two neighbors who also caught her), but it is unfortunate not to have financial documentation.
- Get your locks changed. Maggie* has been unresponsive. We sent her a long letter by text message asking her to return her FOB for our building. When we didn’t get a response, we went to the police and had them call her. We also had our locks changed as a precaution. It’s such a violation to know that someone was coming into your home week after week and taking money without performing the service you were paying for.
- If it does happen to you, spread the word. As my neighbors and I tell other local dog walking businesses to watch out for this person, we have heard of at least one other client who used to use her and caught her in the exact same way (the dad waited in the bathroom and heard her toss a treat at the dog and leave). They fired her but apparently did not pursue further action. It’s frustrating to think that she has gotten away with this for years. So if you do catch you dog walker scamming you, SPREAD THE WORD.
We feel lucky to have found out when we did and are thankful that our four-legged family members are safe. Along with our neighbors, we are filing with the state and taking measures to inform her other clients. As I said, it scares me how long this could have gone on for. I encourage anyone reading this to take measures to ensure that your best friends are in the right hands.