LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — With the holiday season approaching, many of us will travel to be with loved ones. Sometimes that means leaving our furry family members behind.
Increasingly popular apps offer pet sitting and boarding services, promising loving care from trusted and approved sitters who say they’ll treat your pets like family.
But 13 Investigates found that those claims aren’t always true.
Jodi Leishman: “And this is super hard because this is where his food and water normally are.”
Darcy Spears: “So you’re looking at that empty mat every day?”
Jodi: “Yeah. And just hoping that we can find him pretty quick.”
Leishman holds back the heartache as she talks about Louie, her family’s 7-year-old Pekingese – Shih Tzu mix.
Instead of getting her southwest valley home ready for the holidays, she’s posting flyers, searching streets, and combing social media for any sign of the dog they’ve had since he was 8 weeks old.
“How is he going to survive out in the wild?” Leishman questions.
Louie went missing October 20th when he was in the care of a Rover dog sitter.
It all started when the Leishmans planned an October trip to California. They turned to the Rover app, which many describe like a ride-share platform but for pet sitting and boarding. The user creates an account and searches for a sitter in their area who they think will be a good fit.
“We looked at Rover and looked through reviews,” says Leishman.
And she focused on one with multiple five-star reviews, she says, as well as multiple repeat customers.
“And we went over and did a meet-and-greet with her and felt like it was kind of like this family environment,” Leishman explains.
The sitter they hired was 29-year-old Angelica Strickland who lived in a house at the time in a neighborhood near Jones and Warm Springs. Leishman says Louie bonded during the meet-and-greet with Strickland’s toddler. That increased their comfort level, as did the “Rover Guarantee.” According to the website, it covers $25,000 in vet bills and offers 24 / 7 support if something happens to the pet while in their care.
“It just seemed like this is going to be a good situation for him to be in,” says Leishman.
At 6-pm on Wednesday October 19th, they dropped Louie off at Strickland’s house and hit the road to California.
Not one day had passed before devastating news came through the Rover app.
“I got a text message that said Rover is involved,” Jodi says. “That there had been a domestic fight at the house and that my dog was missing.”
Their immediate reaction?
“Pure horror,” says Leishman. “He’s in a neighborhood that he’s never been in before. He had only been at the house for less than 12 hours.”
They called friends and family who immediately started searching for Louie, then cut their trip short to come home.
They’ve been looking for Louie ever since.
Ring video shared with 13 Investigates shows an out-of-breath Strickland holding her daughter and knocking on a neighbor’s door at 4:00 am on Oct. 20:
Strickland: “Could you please help us?”
Neighbor: “What’s wrong?”
Strickland: “I live across the street. My boyfriend, he just….kicked my ass and took my phone. Please, I just need to call my parents or somebody.”
13 Investigates obtained this arrest report from that night. Strickland told Metro her boyfriend, Sergio Arturo, started pounding on a bedroom door and demanded that she leave the house.
Fearing Arturo “…would leave to Mexico with their daughter” and because she was boarding dogs, Strickland told police she refused to leave. That’s when she claims Arturo punched her in the face. He was arrested on two charges of domestic violence–one a felony. He pleaded not guilty and is set for a preliminary hearing in December.
The Leishmans later learned Strickland herself has a criminal record.
“I was terrified. I felt terrible,” says Leishman. “I chose this person. I chose this person to watch our dog.”
Court records show Strickland was charged with child abuse and domestic battery after an incident in May.
“And if she would harm a child or a spouse, then what would she do to a dog?” asks Leishman.
The Leishmans say Strickland’s profile, which has since been taken down, showed she’d been a Rover sitter for several years.
Rover says it, “…requires every pet care provider to pass a criminal background check… A safety quiz, and having their profile reviewed… before being approved to list their services on the platform.” And they say we, “proactively remove sitters, owners and pets from the platform if we believe they pose a safety risk.” A full statement from Rover is below.
But we learned Rover only does that one, initial background check. They don’t re-check to catch crimes that may be committed after the sitter is approved, like the one involving Strickland in May.
According to the police report from that night, Metro officers responded to a domestic disturbance call at Strickland’s home. She told police she got upset with Arturo because he was “…chewing his food loudly…” When their argument became physical, their daughter was injured.
Strickland was arrested. The report says she admitted scratching Arturo’s neck and said, “If I wanted to beat his ass I would have put the child down and beat his ass, Okay?”
Strickland’s child abuse charge was dismissed when she pleaded no contest to the domestic battery offense. She got a suspended jail sentence and, if she stays out of trouble, the battery charge will also be dismissed. The case is set for a status check in December.
Neither Strickland nor Arturo have responded to our multiple requests for comment.
Meanwhile the Leishmans continue to search using an infrared camera, saturating social media with postings, and plastering flyers around local neighborhoods.
“I think we’re at 1400 flyers now,” says Leishman’s husband, Mike.
The Leishmans are holding on to hope, they’ll still be able to locate Louie.
Rover would not provide anyone for an on-camera interview. They provided this statement instead;
“As pet parents ourselves, we join with Louie’s family in hoping that he is quickly found and safely reunited with those who love him. This situation is highly unusual and we take it very seriously. As soon as we were informed Louie was missing, our 24/7 Trust and Safety team immediately took action to help bring him home, including sponsoring a $500 reward, paying for hundreds of flyers, and posting in online pet-finding forums that send alerts to local shelters and veterinarians. We have also issued Louie’s family a complete refund.
The safety [rover.com] of the pets and people in the Rover community is a top priority for our team. We require every pet care provider to pass a criminal background check [rover.com] provided by an industry-leading third party, in addition to passing a safety quiz and having their profile reviewed by our team before being approved to list their services on the platform. Our Trust and Safety team is available around the clock to assist pet care providers and pet parents, and every booking made through the platform is backed by the Rover Guarantee rover.com.
For additional context, the vast majority of bookings on the Rover platform go exactly as planned. More than 149,000 services have been booked in the Las Vegas area, with over 97% of reviewed stays receiving 5 stars.”
The Leishmans say there’s got to be more oversight.
“And if I can save one family from going through that,” says Jodie. “That is my goal.”
Louie’s story is not an isolated incident. Our investigation continues Friday with a look at more issues involving local Rover sitters, and a national push for accountability and oversight of the pet sitting industry.
As for Louie, the Leishmans caution not to chase him down. Try to sit on the ground so you’re not a threat and try to get a photo. Call the Leishmans at (801) 361-5691 with your location.