Investigation: Watching your dog walker

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The I-Team reveals surveillance video that may be upsetting as a pet owner says his dogs were left in their cages for 18 hours. (WLS)

The ABC7 Eyewitness News I-Team at sister station WLS in Chicago reveals surveillance video that may be upsetting as a pet owner says his dogs were left in their cages for 18 hours, and he blames a dog-walking company.

If you have animals you have probably hired a pet sitter, but how do you know if that person is properly doing the job? The I-Team looks into a case where a home camera seems to show a heartbreaking situation.

Boston terriers Ripley and Homer are happy and healthy, but their owner, Evanston resident Martin Walsh was angry when he saw the video.

Walsh says his nanny cam was rolling as his dogs sat in their cages for 18 hours. Walsh showed the I-Team what he says is his compressed time lapse video

You can see the sun going down and then up again, two sets of eyes, the two dogs sitting in their cages.

"Because it is a major betrayal of trust you trust someone to come into your home and take care of your pets you expect them to do the job," Walsh said.

Walsh also questions one moment that night when he says the lights went on in the home.

"In the midst of the 18 hours, he comes home at 12:30 at night, turns on the lights and never lets the dogs out, never checks on them, never opens the cage, nothing," he said.

Walsh says he became suspicious during his three-week summer vacation when he stopped getting "push notifications" to his phone, which are supposed to alert him of movement in front of the home camera.

After that, he says he noticed the dog walker spotting the camera and turning off the lights. As the night vision kicks in, you can see what seems like the camera getting shut down.

Walsh says he saw that specific moment remotely, while on vacation. He says he fired his longtime dog walking service, "Follow Your Nose," in Evanston, and asked a neighbor to take over.

He says when he returned home and was able to inspect all of the footage, he discovered that 18-hour time period.

The I-Team showed the owner of Follow Your Nose the video clips.

"I am sickened by the fact that the dogs were left alone that long," said Ramie Gulyas, Follow Your Nose. "I'm just sitting there going, 'Homer and Ripley. I have known them, I have known them since they had them.' It breaks my heart."

She blames what she calls an "oversight" on scheduling confusion, saying that Walsh had special requests, asking for overnight service on some days and just daytime service on others.

But what about this moment that July night when the light goes on, but it looks like the dogs remain in their cages?

Gulyas says the sitter thought the dogs had already been taken out in the evening by another sitter.

"We gave him a full refund and certainly if there had been any issue with the health and welfare of his dogs I would have taken care of that," Gulyas said.

And as for her employee who allegedly shut off the camera...

"Well, my reaction is we don't agree to cameras for house sitting and vacation care and we have always been clear with that," Gulyas said. "No cameras for sleepovers. We do not do cameras for house sitting because that is a time when we would be changing. We don't know about is if they are not being honest about that. Are they being honest about where they are placing the camera and who has access to the video stream?"

Dog training experts say when you hire any dog walker you should first shadow them, watch how they interact with your dog and see if they have an emotional connection.

"It is like finding a babysitter for you kid," said Garrett Mercado, Sanzone School of Dog Training. "You know you want to know what they are going to do for you kid. With a dog walker you want to know what they are doing for your dog. The more questions they ask about your dog the better."

Walsh says he may now only use friends and family to take care of his pups.

"Think about you not going to the bathroom for 18 hours," he said. "It is not a pleasant thought."

The dog walking company's owner again saying this was simply "human error" and she says the company has added safeguards and upgraded its scheduling system so it is now fool proof.

As for that camera issue, the owner also says Walsh was made aware of her business's policy, when he first became a customer years ago.

But Walsh points out that the camera was never hidden.


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