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Choose dog sitters carefully, business owner warns

Friday (left), a flat coat retriever; and Harriet (right), a cross between a spaniel/basset hound cross are shown in these undated handout photos from the Creature Comforts Pet Care Services Facebook page.The dogs, who were stolen when a thief made off with a dog-walker's truck in Vancouver, have been found more than 100 kilometres away.


A dognapping scare is underscoring the importance of diligence in selecting pet-care services for one's pampered pooches.

While all four dogs stolen along with Creature Comforts Pet Care Services' company pickup truck on Tuesday have since been recovered, owner Amy Vilis said her 20-year-old business has paid a fortune in liability insurance over the years should the unthinkable ever happen.

"If something did happen and the owners wanted to sue me, I would happily hand over every bit of money they wanted," said Ms. Vilis, whose flat-coated retriever, Friday, was among the taken.

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Dog-care services, and specifically dog-walking services, have grown "exponentially" in Vancouver, said James Woller, president of the dog-care company Release the Hounds. But while a stranger might advertise a cheap dog walk online, larger, more established companies can offer trained staff, strict safety protocols and liability insurance.

"A larger company will have a lot more options," Mr. Woller said. "For instance, if a bad scenario arises, they most likely would have more tools to deal with it."

At his company, for example, a staff of 10 would immediately be dispatched to search for a missing dog. If it was not located within a couple of hours, the company would start printing flyers and notifying affiliate companies, Mr. Woller said. That's something a lone dog-walker might not have the resources to do.

Corinne Byblow, owner of Fetch N'Go Pet Services, said she is surprised dog owners don't ask more questions during initial meetings.

"They give us the information we're asking about the dogs and off we go," she said.

"Ask questions: 'If my dog ran away, what do you do?' That company should be able to answer on the spot what procedures they have in place."

At Fetch N'Go, where staff put harnesses with identifying tags on each dog before heading out, all of the handful of dogs that have ran off in the past decade have been found within 15 minutes, Ms. Byblow said.

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Tuesday's incident began around 3 p.m., when a Creature Comforts employee was dropping off a dog to a client near Woodland Drive and 11th Avenue in Vancouver.

As the employee was returning to the truck, which still had the key in its ignition, a man suddenly jumped into the driver's seat and sped off.

A passerby found two of the dogs in the vicinity a short time later.

In the meantime, volunteers – spurred by pleas on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit – continued the search throughout the night.

On Wednesday morning, a 911 caller reported the truck had been abandoned at an Agassiz tree farm. Agassiz RCMP located the dogs – cold, wet and dirty but otherwise unharmed – nearby.

Staff members will now be required to lock the car doors and take the keys with them, no matter how quick the stop, Ms. Vilis said.

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Anyone with information about Tuesday's incident is asked to call the Vancouver Police Department.

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