A couple whose dog was stolen by a dog walker employed by the app Wag are calling on other pet parents to boycott the company until "serious changes" are made.
Sophie and Max Troper live in New York City and adopted their dog Benny in 2015. The couple told BuzzFeed News that Benny "quickly became an integral part of our family."
"Initially, we were planning to only foster him until he found a forever home, but after one night with us we knew he was ours and adopted him," they said. "We didn’t know his official breed or even his actual age, but none of that mattered."
Benny even walked down the aisle at the couple's wedding last year.
The couple began using Wag several months ago, usually multiple times per week. They wanted to ensure Benny "was getting a walk and some love during the work day" while they both were away.
According to the couple, one of them typically would schedule a walk with Wag, which would then inform them who was assigned to their walk. Then, the walker received a code to a lockbox hanging on their door. Only those assigned via the app were supposed to receive the code.
On Thursday, the couple scheduled a walk for Benny as usual. At about 9:30 a.m., they were informed "Christian" was assigned to their walk. However, about an hour later, they got another notification that another walker had been assigned.
Pretty soon after, the couple got a call from their assigned walker. The walker couldn't find Benny in the apartment.
"Initially, we thought he might be hiding somewhere, as dogs tend to do. Max rushed home from work and quickly saw that Benny was gone," the couple said.
The couple immediately sprung into action, contacting police. They collected video surveillance from surrounding businesses, and eventually found footage of a suspect leaving with Benny in his arms around 11 a.m.
"We do not know how or why he picked out Benny, besides being the most adorable guy in the world. He is not a show dog, he is a rescue, he is middle-aged and neutered," the couple said.
They also launched a social media campaign, even getting the attention of actor Olivia Munn, a spokesperson for Wag who is known for her animal rights activism.
Sophie and Max said during the investigation and search for Benny they felt totally "stonewalled" by Wag, who they said "made empty promises" about how much they could help and were not responsive during the investigation.
In response to the incident, a spokesperson for Wag said they worked directly with the Tropers and law enforcement on the investigation, saying they were "distraught" about what happened.
"We want to apologize to our loyal Wag! community, but most of all, we want to apologize to Benny and his parents for what happened and what they had to go through. We are in direct communication with Benny’s parents to discuss this situation and to ensure their needs and concerns are addressed," the spokesperson said.
On Friday, New York police found Benny safe and arrested a suspect.
Detective Annette Shelton of the NYPD confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the suspect, 21-year-old Christian Madriaga of the Bronx, has been charged with burglary in the case.
The Tropers said police believe the suspect took Benny to give him as a gift to somebody else, but said they couldn't say much more about the case.
Now that Benny is home safe and sound, Sophie and Max are determined to hold Wag accountable.
They said that they weren't able to speak to a security official at Wag until Benny was back home, and they are left with "serious unanswered questions" about how the incident happened.
Wag told BuzzFeed News that incidents like this are "extremely rare" and always investigated. In this case, a spokesperson said, it appears the suspect was able to access notes about Benny's care through a notes portion of the Wag app.
"We discovered that a prior walker had shared Benny’s lockbox code, which the offending individual was able to obtain and then use to take Benny," they said.
The spokesperson added they have plans to make changes due to the incident, namely the company has "changed our algorithm so walkers will not be able to share lockbox numbers via the walker notes system."
"Out of an abundance of caution, we also emailed all pet parents to encourage them to change their lockbox codes, and called pet parents who had direct experiences with the offending individual to make sure they are aware of the situation and that they change their lockbox code right away," the spokesperson said.
But the Tropers have one message for those who saw their story and tried to help them find Benny: #BoycottWag.
They say that they still haven't received an apology or explanation from Wag, and haven't spoken to them since their call with security last week.
The Tropers want Wag to publicly apologize, give them a "full debrief" on how the incident happened, and change security measures to ensure it won't happen to other pet parents.
"We know we are incredibly lucky and fortunate and that not every kidnapping or burglary ends like this," they said. "We want to speak to Wag! to better understand how this happened and what they are doing to prevent this from ever happening again. We will never use Wag! again and encourage others to do the same until serious changes are made that make the platform safer."
They added: "It really is every dog parent's worst nightmare."