LEAWOOD, Kan. — Her name was Lola. She was an English Bulldog with all the distinctive charm.
“She snored really loud. She had really bad gas. She was drooly,” said Stacy Miles, laughing as her husband Jason added that Lola was definitely the biggest personality in their Leawood home.
She was one of three dogs they left in the care of a dog sitter when they went on vacation last year. They never expected it would be the last time they saw healthy 9-year-old Lola alive.
But a few days into their Canadian vacation, the Miles got a call from Jeff Graves, the owner of the pet-sitting company KC Dog Runners.
“Jeff Graves called and at that time notified me that Lola (had died),” said Jason Miles, his voice breaking.
“It sounds so silly,” said Jason, apologizing for his tears. “I get it because she’s a dog. But I think it’s normal that most people view their animals as family.”
The young couple even felt bad for the dog sitter.
“How bad would it be for a dog sitter to have a dog pass away?” asked Stacy.
But once the Miles had cut their vacation short and returned home, their empathy turned to outrage.
“We realized something wasn’t right within minutes of walking into our home,” Stacy said.
Their house smelled like urine. Furniture was out of place. There were stains on Lola’s dog bed. Blood spatters on the refrigerator. Plus, the Miles said, the dog sitter was acting strangely.
“He was nervous,” Jason said. “He was fidgety. His story kept changing.”
Later neighbors told them what they say the dog sitter hadn’t. A written statement from a neighbor states that he saw the sitter carrying their 65-pound English Bulldog home from her walk. That’s something the Miles say Lola would have never allowed unless she was suffering.
For the next two days, the Miles believe, Lola struggled to survive as her organs shut down from what a necropsy later showed was most likely caused by overheating.
What’s equally upsetting to the couple is that during that period they were texting the dog sitter every day asking about their pets. They say they were always told everything was fine.
The Miles believe Lola could have survived if the dog sitter had taken her to their veterinarian or wrapped her in cold towels — a standard remedy for overheating. English Bulldogs are prone to overheating, something the couple warned the pet sitter about in writing. The Miles said it chose the pet-sitting service KC Dog Runners because its website touted how its employees are prepared to handle emergency situations.
“It said they were all trained in first aid,” Stacy said.
The couple was shocked when owner Jeff Graves revealed to them how little training his staff receives.
“He said he’s been worried about this that he doesn’t personally train them. He sends an email (once a year),” Stacy said.
What the Miles wish they had known is that pet sitting services, like KC Dog Runners, are unregulated in Kansas and Missouri. There is no state-sanctioned training that dog walkers are required to complete.
The Miles and their attorney Katie Barnett want that to change.
“Oh I’m sure this is going to happen again,” said Barnett. “They say they are trained. They are not trained. Sending an email, if that is in fact training, is absolutely insufficient.”
KC Dog Runners owner Jeff Graves refused to talk to us on camera about Lola’s death, so we spoke to him by phone.
“Yes it was an unfortunate accident,” Graves said. “But in no way were we grossly negligent or anything like that. They didn’t file suit. They settled with my insurance company and I don’t have any comment.”
Graves wouldn’t tell us what type of training he gives his employees. He said he runs a successful business with hundreds of happy customers. In fact, the Miles had used the service twice before. Graves also said he no longer employs the dog sitter who cared for Lola.
Since Lola’s death, the Miles have added a new member to the family — a baby boy. They wish Lola could have met him.
Although they reached a financial settlement with KC Dog Runners’ insurance company (they wouldn’t exactly how much, but it was more than $10,000), their goal is to warn others that no one is watching the people who watch your pets.