A couple who sued A Place for Rover Inc. after one of their Pomeranians died in 2018 while in the care of a Canyon Country woman working for the online pet-sitting service will have to have their case heard before an arbitrator rather than a jury, a judge ruled Friday.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rupert A. Byrdsong found that plaintiffs Lauren Astore and her boyfriend, Jason Richardson, agreed to arbitrate disputes when they signed their contract with the company. He scheduled a post-arbitration status conference for Nov. 5.

The couple’s lawyer, Jill Ryther, maintained in her court papers that the arbitration clause was one-sided in favor of A Place for Rover and also unenforceable.

According to the suit filed Dec. 11, Astore used Rover’s app to send a boarding request to pet sitter Rebecca Ooten for boarding of both of the couple’s dogs, Winnie and Sonic, from Aug. 15-24, 2018, during the couple’s trip to Europe to celebrate their 10th anniversary as a couple.

Ooten accepted the proposal and Astore dropped both pets off with the sitter as scheduled on Aug. 15, the suit says. The couple claim they repeatedly told Ooten to be careful with Winnie when the temperature was hot because black Pomeranians are prone to overheating.

Astore learned of Winnie’s death the next day from a woman she had instructed Ooten to call in case of an emergency, the suit states.

On Aug. 17, the couple received a message from Ooten on the Rover app, in which the sitter expressed her condolences for the loss of 8-year-old Winnie, the suit states.

“Hi Lauren, I’m extremely sorry for your loss,” the message read in part. “We are all still shocked and can’t stop thinking about it.”

Ooten told a veterinarian before Winnie’s death that the dog was having trouble breathing and was vomiting, according to the lawsuit, which says Winnie likely died on Aug. 16 and alleges that Ooten did not try to contact the couple until the next day.

“Plaintiffs are now left wondering what was happening in the interim,” the suit says.

Ooten and Astore had exchanged messages through the Rover app prior to the dogs being dropped off, so the sitter knew how to reach the plaintiff, according to the suit.

Ooten tried to have Winnie cremated, but a crematorium employee said he would not perform the task without consent from the dog’s lawful owners, according to the complaint, which alleges the dog’s body was later frozen at the crematorium without her owners’ approval, depriving them of the chance to have a necropsy performed on their pet.

The couple subsequently granted permission for Winnie to be cremated on Aug. 18 at Crescenta Canada Pet Hospital in La Crescenta, the suit states.

Astore and Richardson tried to come home right away after learning of their pet’s death, but could not return until Aug. 24 because it would have been too expensive to fly home sooner, according to their lawsuit.

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