‘No words to describe the pain’: Family dog drowns at Rover.com pet sitter’s house

Coco died in April after drowning in her Rover pet-sitter’s pool

Coco, a 1-year-old French bulldog, died after drowning in a pool on April 27. She was being watched by a dog-sitter through the Rover app.
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Coco, a 1-year-old French bulldog, died after drowning in a pool on April 27. She was being watched by a dog-sitter through the Rover app.

Amy Houston and her husband, Sean, looked to find a dog sitter for their French bulldog while they hosted a graduation party for their 17-year-old daughter.

They were afraid, Houston said, that the pup — named Coco — would fall or get knocked into their backyard swimming pool. Better to be safe than sorry.

So she went to Rover.com, scoured through profiles, read every review and decided to book with a woman who seemed to be the best.

But six hours later, the Houstons would be at a veterinary clinic saying goodbye to Coco after she drowned in the pet sitter’s own pool.

‘She’s gone’

Amy Houston, of Coppell, dropped Coco off at the dog sitter’s house at around 1 p.m. on April 27.

She left food for the dog in case she got hungry and noted that there were about 10 other dogs in the home. The sitter herself was a bulldog owner, so Houston felt comfortable leaving Coco in her care.

They agreed to pick up the dog at around 6:30 p.m., but at 6:05 p.m., Houston received a frantic text from the sitter, according to documents provided to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“OMG she’s gone,” the text started. “I don’t know how. There is no marks under the fence.”

Both Amy and Sean Houston immediately left their daughter’s party.

The sitter and the Houstons searched throughout the neighborhood, separately.

But 20 minutes later, the dog sitter called Houston. She kept her conversation vague, but told Houston that they needed to get back to her house immediately — Coco had apparently fallen into her pool.

Once there, they went into the backyard and found the sitter standing above the pool, holding a long pole with a net at the end.

“She said she had ahold of Coco at one point but lost her off of the net and asked her daughter to find goggles so we could jump in the pool to find her,” Houston said in an email to Rover.

Houston described the pool as being dirty and covered in a film. In that state, the sitter was fishing blind for Coco’s body. They couldn’t see to the bottom of the pool, Houston said.

Houston said she believes if the pool had been cleaned, the sitter might have noticed Coco was in the pool earlier and possibly could have saved her.

But when Coco was finally pulled out, her body was stiff and cold. They rushed her to a vet, and Coco was declared dead after life-saving measures were taken.

In an email to Rover, Houston said that they spent $2,000 on Coco and another $951 on her cremation.

“I cannot begin to put a price on the mental anguish we are all experiencing individually and as a family and there is nothing that will bring our sweet baby, Coco, back into our lives,” Houston wrote.

No record of Rover deaths

In an emailed statement to the Star-Telegram, Rover said, “Incidents of this nature are extremely rare, and our heart goes out to Coco’s family. Because the wellbeing of pets is a top priority, our Trust and Safety team conducted a thorough review of this sitter, and has removed them from our platform. We will continue to support Coco’s family throughout this challenging time.”

Houston told the Star-Telegram on Thursday that instead of taking responsibility for what happened, Rover is pushing that onto her family.

“They said they would reimburse for the vet cost, they thought they were gracious in waiving the $250 deductible,” Houston said. “They suggested I contact the pet-sitter to cover the purchase cost of Coco and I said I was not interested in ever speaking or seeing her again. The relationship between myself and the pet sitter is solely because of Rover and I expected them to take responsibility.”

Houston said she wanted to talk publicly about what happened to Coco so other pet owners know they should take extra precautions when using Rover or similar pet-sitting companies.

“There are no words to describe the pain that it has caused to my family,” Houston said.

Her oldest daughter, Makayla, was supposed to have a second graduation party later this month for her family.

“She doesn’t even want to have it,” Houston said. “She’s thinking about exactly what happened and she doesn’t want to experience those emotions again.”

Her youngest daughter, 12-year-old Ava, will run out of the room if someone mentions Coco, Houston said.

“She breaks down,” she said. “I got her a journal so she can get it all out. She’s writing and that’s good, but it’s concerning that she can’t even talk about Coco and recall her happy memories.”

Elijah, her 12-year-old stepson, seems to be handling Coco’s death better, but is still adjusting.

“This is my husband’s first pet,” Houston said. “I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to get another pet because of this. I can’t imagine a worse way to lose your pet. She was our little baby. I work from home and she was the one who was on my lap or at my feet. She was the one I spoke to throughout the day.”

According to a lawsuit filed by California attorney Robert Tauler, Rover has refused to reveal the number of dogs killed or injured while under their dog sitters’ care.

Rover didn’t answer questions about dog deaths when asked by the Star-Telegram on Thursday.

The company says the information is irrelevant, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also alleges that Rover made false representations to clients about the safety of the app.

“Consumers should know the likelihood their dog will die using the Rover app,” Tauler argued in court documents. “Is there a 1 percent chance? Two percent? Instead of telling customers, Rover says it would take too much time to figure it out. Coming from a billion-dollar tech company, this is insulting to all consumers.”

Houston said one of the rules of the service is that pet-sitters cannot leave dogs unattended outside, even if there is a fenced backyard. Rover didn’t answer a question by the newspaper asking about the policy.

“There is no safety, there is no protocol and you don’t find that out until it’s too late,” Houston said.

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Nichole Manna is an investigative reporter for the Star-Telegram. Before moving to Fort Worth in July 2018, she covered crime and breaking news in Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska and Kansas. She is a 2012 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and grew up in Florida.