A dogsitter who charges up to £13,000-a-year to look after some of London’s most pampered pets is suing an ex-worker and rival business for £20,000 over claims he ‘punched and abused’ animals in his care.
Oliver Sciota says lies posted online, in the form of ‘terrible comments’ on Instagram and ‘one-star negative reviews’ on Yell and Google, risked ending his company, For Dog’s Sake Ltd.
He claims former employee Adam Tanner, who he says worked for the company for just two days last year, made a scathing assessment of the business on social media, alleging canine abuse, and that ‘horrible staff’ turned his short time there into his ‘worst nightmare’.
Mr Sciota, 38, is claiming libel damages of £10,000 from Mr Tanner, and the same amount from Hampshire-based Doggieville Pet Services, over ‘groundless’ reviews allegedly posted by its manager Hollie Colenutt.
The businessman says in court papers: ‘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.’
But 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.’
Oliver Sciota, who charges up to £13,000-a-year looking after the pampered pets of well-heeled Londoners, says lies on social media – including that his staff were seen to ‘punch and smack’ dogs – risked ending his successful business
He is now suing former worker, Adam Tanner (pictured), who he says worked for the company for just two days last year
According to claim documents, the comments were initially posted on Instagram in October last year by Mr Tanner, 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 became involved when she, along with a number of other people, posted online messages relating to the claims, allegedly writing a one-star Google review, and 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.
He 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.
‘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,’ Mr Sciota said.
‘We have a great reputation and have worked very hard to reach this level of success.
‘At no point were any dogs and/or any other pet or animal intentionally harmed by any of the claimant’s employees.’
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 points out that For Dog’s Sake was not even mentioned in the Instagram post, which was permanently removed on the same day, and so could not have been harmed.
He also denies ‘spreading rumours’ about For Dog’s Sake and says the suggestion there was a plan to ruin the company’s reputation is ‘audacious and vehemently rejected,’ the barrister continues.
He is also suing Doggieville Pet Services for online messages by its manager Hollie Colenutt (pictured) relating to the claims, which he says were totally groundless
In his written defence to the claim, Mr Tanner’s (pictured) barrister Mina Heung points out that For Dog’s Sake was not even mentioned in the Instagram post, which was permanently removed on the same day, and so could not have been harmed
‘The allegations contained in the Instagram account do not identify the claimant at all,’ she says.
‘In any event, the words represent the truth and an honestly and reasonably held statement of opinion.
‘He believes the allegation complained of was a statement on a matter of public interest, that is, the welfare of the dogs.’
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 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.
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