Ximena Davila says she still can’t walk near Spadina Avenue and Bremner Boulevard without reliving the horrible moment she spotted her dog alone on the street.
“Every time I walk by the intersection, I panic,” she said. “I get goose bumps. It’s so fresh in my mind, it was terrifying. I could hear the sound.”
On Sept. 20, Davila happened to spot a dog that she initially noted looked like her own Great Dane, Cornichon. Just as she realized it was indeed her dog, the animal bolted onto the road. Davila witnessed her pet get hit by three cars.
She was shocked because at that time, Cornichon was supposed to be with a dog walker, who was nowhere to be seen.
According to social media posts and other customers CBC Toronto spoke with, it’s not the first time an incident like this has happened while dogs were under the care of Shannon Pike, owner of the dogwalking service Pup and the City.
Three cyclists came to Cornichon’s aid and Davila rushed the dog to emergency.
Cornichon sustained injuries to her lungs, hips, paws and now needs to be sedated to remain calm.
“She’s basically terrified,” Davila said.
“Every time we bring her outside to go to the bathroom she doesn’t want to be outside, her heart rate goes up, she starts panting.”
Davila said she was never alerted by Pike that Cornichon was missing. She says Pike sent her a text saying she heard Davila located the dog, but says she never received an apology or a follow-up.
“I’m really frustrated and really hurt to know that someone who was supposed to be taking care of my dog, who is essentially a family member for us, took it so lightly and so it’s such irresponsible behaviour.”
CBC Toronto reached out to Pike for comment last week multiple times via email, text and phone. Pike did say she would issue a statement but hasn’t.
2nd customer comes forward
Vera Todorova says she had a similar experience with Pup and the City, which was recommended to her by other clients in the Fort York neighbourhood two years ago.
“[Pike] basically lost my dog and didn’t tell me about it,” Todorova said.
Her dog Charles was just five months old at the time. She says Pike was instructed to walk the puppy twice a day, but ended up finding out the dog walker was transporting Charles to her own home without telling the owner.
One day, the puppy got away.
“My concierge found him outside the building crying and scratching to get in,” she said.
“He was just running by himself on Fort York. The worst part was [Pike] lied about it.”
She said Pike never told her the dog was missing, but did say she didn’t have to pay the last invoice after the incident.
Todorova stopped using the service and alerted other dog owners in the neighbourhood about what happened.
“If she just followed what she was supposed to be doing, my dog wouldn’t have been lost in the first place.”
Former employee speaks out
Nicole Labbe says she worked for Pup and the City from December 2017 to November 2018.
She says she was heartbroken when she heard about the incident with Cornichon, because she used to walk the dog when she worked there.
“It wasn’t necessarily shocking because [Pike] was never the most professional, but it’s really sad to hear,” she said.
Labbe recalls that the company was disorganized and at one point she was walking up to 25 dogs in one day.
“I was never on time for dogs, I was never walking dogs that got along well together,” she said.
“As a dog owner myself, I felt really guilty and bad for the clients.”
Labbe claims at one point the company had close to 100 clients and only three employees walking the dogs.
Humane Society stresses importance of research
Hannah Sotropa with the Toronto Humane Society says when seeking a dog walker, it’s important to ask questions about what protocols are in place.
“When looking for a dog walker, you really want to carry out an important conversation before you send out an animal with that individual. You want to see are they proactive or reactive,” she said.
Sotropa says the organization has its own walking service, which meets with the owners and asks questions about the animal while informing the client of procedures in case of emergency.
“We’re 100 per cent transparent letting them know this is exactly what happens if we hit a thunderstorm, if an animal becomes unwell or if an animal breaks away from the lead,” she said.
“There’s certain steps and processes in place to ensure the most effective response is taken.”
Sotropa recommends asking dog walkers about their experience handling animals, if they have any animal walking or training certificates to show, and looking into whether there’s a socialization period to ensure the dog is going out with other dogs it gets along with.
The OSPCA also has a list recommending tips for finding the right match.
Dog walkers must obtain a permit
According to the City of Toronto, all commercial dog walkers who walk from four to a maximum of six dogs in city parks must obtain a permit.
Residents are not supposed to be walking more than three dogs at once anywhere in the city without the commercial dog walker’s permit.
The permit is also required to be prominently displayed around the walker’s neck or on their clothing.
The website encourages residents to call 311 to complain about dog walkers who aren’t adhering to the rules.
Davila says it will be a long road to recovery for Cornichon. Vet bills are close to $2,000 so far and the owner expects they will have to give the dog some training to help her adjust to crowds and the city again.
She’s also left wondering why she hasn’t heard anything from the company.
“We trusted her. She hasn’t called. She hasn’t apologized.”