Great news for pet parents looking for honest reviews. A Texas pet-sitting company’s $1 million lawsuit against clients who gave it a one-star review on Yelp has been thrown out of court.
You’re planning a vacation, and unfortunately, your furry (or finned) family member is not able to go.
What to do?
Typically, you look for the very best in pet-sitting services, interview and hire, knowing no one will take care of your pet like you, but hoping that someone will come close enough.
But what happens when it doesn’t? In fact, what happens when coming close is the farthest thing from what actually happens?
That’s what pet-owners Robert and Michelle Duchouquette encountered when they went on vacation and hired a pet-sitting company out of Texas. The Duchouquettes have security cameras throughout their home, and as most pet-owners missing their pets are apt to do, they checked in via the cameras.
Imagine their surprise when they saw that their pet betta fish bowl was cloudy, a common sign of overfeeding. Not being able to get in touch with the assigned sitter taking care of their fish, when they returned, they did what many of us would do–give a Yelp review about how she wished she could have gotten in touch with the sitter personally to have avoided the overfeeding.
You’d think that would have been that, right?
But it wasn’t. Apparently, the company, Prestigious Pets, wasn’t a fan of the Yelp review, and decided to sue the Duchoquettes for the expressing of their opinion. Turns out… in (very fine print) the contract they’d signed with Prestigious Pets, they agreed not to say anything disparaging about the pet sitting company, and Prestigious Pets was looking for a large payout, as well as the review to be removed.
(We’re shaking our heads too!)
As if the concept of a clause that prevents you from speaking your mind (in a pet-sitting contract, no less! What do they want to keep you from telling?) wasn’t wild enough, the Duchoquettes decided they were not going to be gagged, and got a lawyer to have the suit dismissed under Texas’s Anti-SLAPP statute. The statute essentially allows you to maintain your right to free speech when the matter is of public concern and punishes those who would frivolously sue you for expressing that right.
As the story went viral, Prestigious Pets dug their feet in and went on to sue again, with the new lawsuit seeking millions (yes, millions) in damages for loss of business–claiming it was the Duchoquettes’ fault that their business dwindled. (Ummmmm….how about the fact that they essentially did a poor job, didn’t like when it was brought out, and then harassed the people who had the audacity to tell the truth losing them a customer or two? Yeah, we thought so as well!)
So, as is prone to happen when there are laws that allow for freedom of expression (oh, and that thing called the, “Constitution”!), a judicial district court judge in Dallas granted the Duchouquettes’ Motion to Dismiss the suits, and also dismissed with prejudice (Which means it’s done -Prestigious Pets can not bring any aspect of this situation back to court!) everything from the original suit. More, and especially cheer worthy was that the court ruled that the Duchouquettes were entitled to recover court costs and attorney’s fees (which were a pretty penny after all the back and forth frivolity), as well as sanctions against Prestigious Pets to prevent them from bringing similar lawsuits to the courts in the future.
And I think it’s pretty safe to say that everything is bigger in Texas… including sanctions, so we have a feeling that Prestigious Pets is going to feel the bite of this big dog for a long time to come. Gotta say, that makes us happier than a dog with two tails.
Moral of the story? If you’re going to offer services to take care of family members (and we all know that pets are), then don’t put clauses in your contracts that say if you don’t, there is no recourse, and you’ll be sued if you just try to tell the truth. And if you SHOULD come across a company that tries to do that, run! And don’t be afraid to tell people WHY you ran–no one should require you to sign a contract that prevents you from simply being truthful, and if they do, you know they are NOT the company for you…or your furry/fishy friends!
Lori Ennis is a wife, mama and friend to all animals. A self-confessed “Hot Mess,” she lives wherever the Marine Corps takes her husband. Currently, that’s Maryland with her very spoiled Labrador Retriever-mix rescue pups and a ton of saltwater fish just tanking around. Lori’s family has fostered dogs for years, mostly Golden Retrievers, and knows no home is complete without an animal buddy (or seven)!