Is this dog owner technically guilty of neglect?
February 20, 2008 8:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm a dog walker in NYC and despite having stated that dogwalking is not a substitute for overnight care in the service agreement that I make owners sign, a customer is using 2 x 10 minute dog walks a day as care for her dog while she has been away for two nights.

This job came in as an emergency short term thing (regular dog walker couldn't cover these few days etc.) so I left the service agreement with the owner for her to sign saying I'd pick it up when I came round to give the dog it's first walk the next day. During the interview I asked what time she usually left for work and returned home so I could get a sense of the best time to walk the dog to break up its day and she told me but then insisted that she liked the dog walked early in the day and as late as possible and could I also put some food down for it if it's bowl was empty? Alarm bells right? But with a new contract I tend to avoid calling new clients out as liars with no evidence to back me up.

So 2 days into the job it's obvious that she's not been home since it started so the only attention that the dog is getting is from me. I'm changing pee pads that are left out on the floor, feeding the dog, giving it an anti-arthritis pill, walking it and hanging around to pet it and give it some much needed company as I found it cowering in a cupboard when I first arrived.

Obviously I'll continue to care for the dog until she gets back and I've told her over the phone that much, so, aside from the fact that I'm doing a whole heap more than I'm getting paid for, is this owner guilty technically of neglect? I've tried to look up New York State laws regarding this kind of thing but am having no luck except from the info on the ASPCA website which doesn't mention this kind of abandonment as neglect.

Any Mefites clued up about this stuff?
posted by merocet to Law & Government (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Keep track of your time and bill her for it. She's taking advantage of you and your obvious compassion for animals in a very underhanded way. I'd skip the website and call the ASPCA or a local animal welfare organization directly and talk with them about the situation. They deal with these things all the time, right?
posted by gyusan at 8:53 PM on February 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sounds like neglect to me, whether it's technical or not. The dog was hiding in the cupboard, for crying out loud.
posted by fusinski at 8:53 PM on February 20, 2008

Yeah, I don't see the point of getting all Animal Rescue on her ass, but definitely bill her for your time.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:56 PM on February 20, 2008

Bill her, then after she pays up mention that you aren't happy with the care the dog is receiving from her. She needs to know. People shouldn't keep dogs if they aren't prepared to put in the time.
posted by mattoxic at 9:01 PM on February 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's not neglect, in and of itself (although cowering in a cupboard is a bad sign). She's done nothing to the dog that would reach that level. She has, however deviously, arranged for the dog to be looked in on, fed, and watered, and she is only away two days.

What she's done to you, though, you may have some recourse for.
In and of itself, providing this sort of service is reasonable and you're obviously competent and caring enough to do it. But you have the right to charge for it, and the reasonable expectation to be told in advance exactly what's required of you. What exactly does your service agreement say? Do you have a set rate for, say, house calls, feeding, pills, company? If you're charging $X for 10 minutes, and you're spending half an hour, surely you can reasonably charge 3 x $X. Do you have a penalty clause, ie a "messing with me fee"?

If so, as a business owner, you are here in the fortunate position of being able to take advantage of one of the major problems with US business practices: the trivially easy, even lack-a-daisical way in which a business owner can do damage to a customer's credit. Give her an invoice, itemized for the above, and if she protests, threaten to report her for non-payment. If not, well, seriously consider rewriting your standard contracts.

In the meantime, check with the neighbors to see how the dog normally behaves and is treated - does he bark all day? Does she yell at him? Is the apartment inadequately sized for that breed and age of dog (presence of "pee-pads" seems to indicate as much)?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:04 PM on February 20, 2008

Response by poster: To be honest, the job is small enough that I'd rather write off the additional charge side of it and avoid spending precious minutes of my life trying to get the excess back. Thanks for all the "bill her!" responses though. They feel good to the morally indignant side of me ;-). I do have different rates for the feeding/pills/company side of things. I'll just make sure in future to get the service contract signed before cancelling it would harm the dogs wellbeing.

I know she's been an ass to me but I'm a grownup and can handle it. Really the thing I want to know is whether her behaviour towards this poor pup is legally neglect/abuse and I'll phone the ASPCA tomorrow morning to see what they say.
posted by merocet at 9:36 PM on February 20, 2008

I think you'd have a hard time proving neglect since it's not starving and she bothered to trick a dog-walker into watching it rather than just leaving a bunch of food and water out and hoping for the best.
posted by moift at 10:16 PM on February 20, 2008

Not that you have to prove anything to the ASPCA really, but I don't think it'd warrant a response.
posted by moift at 10:17 PM on February 20, 2008

Neglect is pretty much defined as "no food or water" and if outside "no shelter". It is not defined was "left alone way too much", otherwise two of my neighbors would be in the clinky.
posted by dhartung at 10:21 PM on February 20, 2008

It sounds, at least to me, like your role is one big thing that separates her behavior from "technical neglect."

In short... is a parent neglectful if they leave their adolescent children with a sitter for two days? Probably not. What if they leave them alone for two days? Probably so.

Does this person deserve to have an animal in their care? Almost certainly not... but that's not what the neglect statues are there for.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:34 PM on February 20, 2008

I'm with the people who say to bill her. Not so much to be compensated for your time, but since you are barred from calling her out on her neglectful attitude toward the dog and her underhanded way of getting you to care for it while she's away, a detailed invoice might be the only way you have to communicate that you know you were being taken advantage of, and that her behavior was inappropriate and harmful to her pet.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:16 AM on February 21, 2008

I ditto the suggestion to bill her if for no other reason than to discourage her from doing it again to some other dog walker. You don't want her to think she has this new trick she can pull whenever she is too lazy/cheap/whatever to make the proper arrangements for her dog. Sometimes people only learn when they get hit hard in the bank account.
posted by SoulOnIce at 4:25 AM on February 21, 2008

"Cowering in a cupboard" could also mean that the dog heard you entering, knew you weren't his owner, and hid in a comfortable spot (don't dog's like to nest?).

It is quite possible that this person is a very considerate pet owner who just got caught in a tough situation.

Benefit of the doubt and all.

Kudos to you for caring.
posted by yesster at 6:33 AM on February 21, 2008

I think it'd be hard to claim neglect - although the owner seems to be neglecting the dog . . . you are not - so then, the dog is not being neglected. It's being taken care of. I do agree that the owner isn't very cool to do this, though.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:09 AM on February 21, 2008

Chiming in to say bill her- there are dog-walkers who do provide petsitting services, at an extra charge. This is what she is doing with you, without your consent. If she was going out of town she should have arranged for a pet-sitter but probably thought this was a cheaper alternative. Bill her so she knows it isn't. Even if you don't get paid, even if you decide not to expend any extra energy on it, billing her for your time will communicate that she can't cheap out on petsitting by hiring a dogwalker instead, and that your time is worth something to your business, just on principle.
posted by ambrosia at 9:41 AM on February 21, 2008

nth-ing the "bill her" brigade. It's not about the money, and you don't have to hound her ass to get her to pay up. In the case that she is just truly stupid (and a shocking number of pet owners are truly stupid), this will drill it into her head that she needs a pet sitter and not a dog walker if she is going to be out of town for a couple days.
posted by tastybrains at 1:13 PM on February 21, 2008

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