A dog trainer who claims his posh doggy daycare business has been compromised by online trolling is suing a former employee and a rival in a High Court dogfight.
Oliver Sciota, the boss of ‘For Dogs’ Sake’, charges dog owners in southwest London up to £13,000 a year to have their pampered pets looked after.
His website says the business helps pet owners that need assistance in tackling “dog/owner” problems.
“We believe in empowering the owner and their family with the tools and knowledge to nurture their own unique bond with their dog,” it reads.
But Mr Sciota said lies on social media – including claims that his staff were seen to “punch and smack” dogs, risked ending his successful business.
The claims were made in “terrible comments” and “one-star negative reviews” being posted on Yell and Google, seriously damaging the reputation of his company, For Dog’s Sake Ltd, he says.
Mr Sciota is now subsequently suing former worker, Adam Tanner, who he says worked for the company for just two days last year, and Hampshire-based dogsitters Doggieville Pet Services.
He claims libel damages of £10,000 each from Mr Tanner for posting the allegations of canine abuse, and from Doggieville for online messages by its manager Hollie Colenutt relating to the claims, which he says were totally groundless.
“One star negative reviews can destroy any type of business, but in particular when dealing with a dog related business it can potentially end it completely,” says Mr Sciota, 38, in court papers.
Both Mr Tanner and Doggieville deny liability, with Mr Tanner claiming he was genuinely concerned for the dogs and his comments were “an honestly and reasonably held statement of opinion.”
According to claim documents, the comments were initially posted on Instagram in October last year by Mr Tanner, who was,a former worker who had been hired as a “freelance dog day care assistant and dog walker”.
“Lovely dogs horrible staff…Something needs to be done about this…. I just feel so bad for these babies… This should’ve been my dream job but it turned into my worst nightmare,” it said.
Ms Colenutt, of Doggieville, became involved when she along with a number of other people posted online messages relating to the claims.
She was allegedly responsible for a one-star Google review, and for contacting one of his clients directly to suggest that For Dog’s Sake was not properly registered.
Mr Sciota denies that his company mistreated dogs, pointing out that the local council in Merton, south west London, had never received a complaint about For Dog’s Sake and had confirmed that it was properly registered.
The RSPCA had also looked into the allegations last October and found the dogs there were not in overcrowded spaces and were clean and happy.
Mr Sciota had been planning to expand the company from its London base to become a nationwide service, but the online “trolling” had put “immense strain” on the business’ growth, he said.
“All these negative reviews and comments made on social media and on different advertising platforms such as Yell and Google were made by individuals that have never even visited our grounds, have no dogs of their own in our care and don’t possess the professional experience to judge business,” he said.
For Dog’s Sake Ltd’s claim is for £10,000 damages each for libel and malicious falsehood from both Mr Tanner and Doggieville, plus a written apology from both stating the “falsity and dishonesty” of allegations so that it can be shared with clients.
In his written defence to the claim, Mr Tanner’s barrister Mina Heung pointed out that For Dog’s Sake was not even mentioned in the Instagram post, which was per
He also denies “spreading rumours” about For Dog’s Sake and said anything he said was in a bid to protect public interest. He also said the suggestion there was a plan to ruin the company’s reputation is “audacious and vehemently rejected,” the barrister continued.
“The allegations contained in the Instagram account do not identify the claimant at all. In any event, the words represent the truth and an honestly and reasonably held statement of opinion.
Ms Colenutt, in Doggieville’s defence, denies leaving a negative review on Yell or Google, insisting that she was not the author.
“The comment I made on Instagram was my honest opinion,” she says. “The claimant has removed my comment from his Instagram almost immediately. The claimant failed to provide any proof that the comments I made were slanderous or caused any damage.”
She denies saying that any dog abuse actually happened and says statements she made in private messages to clients were also simply her “honest opinion.”
“The claimant has not submitted any proof that he has suffered serious harm (or) that as a direct and natural result of the publication they have suffered loss that can be specified in monetary terms,” she says.
“I did not make any comments confirming Mr Tanner’s allegations with regard to the claimant.
“Any and all communications both public and private made by me with regard to the claimant’s business are within the scope of the defence (of) honest opinion and public interest,” she concluded.
The case is set to reach court for a pre-trial hearing next month.