Raleigh, NC – Whether you’re going away for the weekend or you need care for your dog while you’re at work, hundreds in the Triangle rely on pet sitting apps for boarding and dog daycare.
However, most of the people who offer those services on the popular Rover app, don’t have the required licenses.
North Carolina requires pet boarders and daycare services to be licensed through the Department of Agriculture. Rover says they require it too, but 5 On Your Side has learned that Rover does not take any steps to check for a license.
In May, two German Shepherds, Nala and Jager, died of dehydration and starvation after just 5 days at an unlicensed boarding facility in New Hanover County. The facility was listed on the Rover app.
“These pets, they’re part of your family,” said Dr. Patricia Norris, director of animal welfare with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. “It just breaks our heart when we find and hear of deaths at facilities, especially when it could have been prevented.”
Norris’ office inspects animal boarding and daycare facilities across the state. Recently, she’s seen problems with unlicensed facilities getting worse.
“Our number of unlicensed complaints have gone up significantly in the last year or two,” she said.
State records show seven dogs have died in unlicensed facilities in the last 12 months. That’s compared to one death across licensed facilities and in that case the dog was elderly and the facility was not issues any notice of violation for the death.
Norris doesn’t know exactly how many unlicensed facilities there are in North Carolina, but estimates it’s probably in the thousands. Scroll through pet sitting apps and it’s easy to see how she gets to that estimate. There are hundreds of people in Wake County alone, offering to board pets in their own homes. Most are not licensed and in North Carolina, boarding a pet without a license is a misdemeanor.
“And every day is a separate offense,” he said. Norris says.
Rover says sitters on their site have to follow all local laws, but they don’t check for licenses and Dr. Norris says their precautions are lacking.
“None of the internet booking services inspect the facilities for safety, keep records on safety or anything along that lines,” she told us.
Larkin Combs has owned and operated K9 Resorts Daycare Hotel in Apex for more than three years. He is licensed.
“North Carolina is a pretty strict state and it works to all our benefit because it makes us do extra steps for the dogs safety and well being,” he explained.
The state knows how many animals and employees Combs has, how he cleans, vaccination requirements and what his staff will do in an emergency.
“Our vet is very close and if something was to happen, we can take the dog to the vet or the vet can come here,” Combs said.
All of it is approved by a veterinarian and state inspectors.
Rover declined an interview for this story, but did send a statement:
“As pet parents ourselves, we are appalled by this incident and our hearts go out to everyone who loved Nala and Jäger. Our 24/7 Trust and Safety team immediately launched an investigation when we were alerted to these concerns. We promptly removed the sitter. from the platform, meaning they can no longer accept future bookings through Rover. We’re committed to assisting law enforcement in their investigation to the fullest extent legally possible. As part of our commitment to the safety of our community, pet care providers must pass a background check provided by an industry-leading third party.These background checks include diligent monitoring for crimes including theft and animal abuse to help protect the well-being of the pets and people booking care through Rover. Pet care providers must also pass a safety quiz and have their profile reviewed by a member of our team before they’re approved to list any services on the Rover platform. In accepting our Terms of Service, pet care pro viders agree to follow their local laws and regulations regarding licensing and other requirements. Additionally, every service booked through the Rover Guarantee is backed by the Rover Guarantee, which is designed to support pet parents and pet care providers in the rare event a stay does not go as planned. We believe pet parents know their pet better than anyone, which is why our platform is designed so that customers can tailor their search to find a provider who can meet their pet’s unique needs. We encourage meeting with multiple pet care providers prior to any service to talk through expectations and ensure the stay is a good fit for everyone. An incident like this is heartbreaking and nowhere near the typical experience on Rover: Nearly 600,000 stays have been booked through the platform in North Carolina, with 98% of reviewed stays receiving 5 stars. “
While there are surely good pet sitters on Rover and other sites, licensed boarders, like Combs, have made a greater commitment to animal safety.
“To some this is all they have, so we treat dogs as if they’re our kids when they’re here,” he said.
Combs and Dr. Norris both advised anyone looking for a boarder to tour a facility before letting your pet stay there. Dr. Norris says if they won’t let you do a walk-through and see where they’re keeping your animals, don’t use them.
And to be clear, people are required to get a license if they are hosting dogs at their facility or home for boarding or daycare. If someone comes to your home to watch your dogs or let them out, they are not required to be licensed with the NC Department of Agriculture.
Resources to protect your pet and others
Click here to visit the NC Department of Agriculture Animal Welfare Section. This is where you can file a complaint, learn more about the Animal Welfare Act and find other helpful pet-related links.
Click here to search boarding licenses from the last four years. Under “License Group / Division” select “Veterinary – 3rd Floor – Animal Welfare” from the drop down options, then select your county in the advanced search or search by facility name.
Norris told us their policy is to educate before they regulate. So, while it is a misdemeanor to board without a license, officials will give people a chance to stop boarding or get licensed, as long as there hasn’t been an egregious offense.