The former employees made the claims against Winter Garden’s Fur & Feathers Pet Resort on Facebook.
WINTER GARDEN –– A Facebook post written by a Sanford resident formerly employed by a Winter Garden pet-boarding business caused an uproar of shock and anger among West Orange residents.
The post — published by Olivia Burris Tuesday, Jan. 9 — alleged the owners of Fur & Feathers Pet Resort, Darren Korito and his wife, Sky, are guilty of fraud and animal neglect.
Included among the many accusations, the post alleges the owners coerced employees into deceiving pet owners, instructed employees to administer non-prescribed medication to several dogs who suddenly began suffering from an illness that caused bloody stools and vomiting without the owners’ consent, placed dogs in two-foot-by-two-foot grooming kennels when overbooked without the pet owners’ knowledge, and allowed the continued operation of the business despite a roach infestation and mold issues.
Darren Korito declined to comment directly on the allegations per the advice of his attorney, but he emphasized his 12-year business has never been cited with a violation and an inspection of the facility conducted by Orange County Animal Services on Thursday, Jan. 11 did not find any violations. Korito expects a recent inspection by the Winter Garden Police Department will also result in a positive report.
In a comment left on the Facebook post, Korito said the online statements are 100% false, adding he and his wife will be suing for defamation.
“Unfortunately, we recently had to say goodbye to a number of employees that we felt were not living up (to) our high standards,” Korito wrote. “Sadly, this has created animosity and anger among those no longer employed by us. These former employees have now taken it upon themselves to band together and attack Fur & Feathers using the internet. These former employees are posting false and untruthful statements with the intent of hurting Fur & Feathers.”
However, several former employees — some of whom worked at the pet resort years ago — have agreed with the accusations made by Burris.
Alexa Burch, a former employee who said she worked there for about two years starting Feb. 29, 2016, corroborated the claims made by the Facebook post.
“The place was super roach-infested,” Burch said. “It was really nasty. We couldn’t eat snacks or anything without being mobbed by roaches. And second off, dealing with the customers and telling them their dogs get three playtimes and five potty breaks per day when really everyone gets two playtimes and two potty breaks. People would sit there and figure it out. They’d ask, ‘Well, if you start playtime at 9 a.m., and there are this many dogs, then how do you have enough time to do so many playtimes?’ We’d pretty much just have to lie and tell them that we make it work, when really that didn’t happen.”
Burch said she once confronted Korito about the deceit.
“I let him know my issues in the beginning,” Burch said. “I told him I was curious if he really thinks it’s OK that I’m telling people they’re getting this when they’re actually getting something else. And he just said, ‘Oh honey, all of the pet resorts do this to make their profit, and it’s not lying.’”
When asked about how the employees manage to walk all the dogs under their care the required number of times — which can range from three to five times based on the bronze, silver and gold packages that start at $12.95 and reach up to $24.95 per night — Korito said his employees work on a rotation throughout the day.
“There’s a certain number of potty breaks included in each package, so I think it’s about three potty breaks in the basic package and then up to five potty breaks with the gold package,” Korito said. “So we have to look at what package was purchased for each dog and take them out based on that, but the dogs go out a minimum of three times a day, because we all know a dog has to go out at least once in the morning, afternoon and the evening.”
According to Korito, the facility can hold up to a maximum of 100 to 107 dogs, and the number of pets in their care and staff employed fluctuates widely based on the season. Summer, he said, is the business’s busiest time.
And summer 2017, Burch and Burris said, is when several dogs in the facility contracted an illness that resulted in bloody stools and the vomiting of blood.
“The experience I felt the most strongly about was when we had a bunch of dogs who got really sick over the summer and instead of letting us contact the owners, Darren took it upon himself to bring medication from his own house for one of his dogs, whiteout the name on the bottle and then instruct employees to give them to the dogs, which is really illegal,” Burris said. “And it could’ve ended really badly, and that’s what most of us were concerned about, especially because the dogs hadn’t had any medical attention so we didn’t know what was wrong with them. But all he worried about was getting a bad reputation because that’s about the time when the canine influenza was going around.”
When asked about the procedure he takes if a dog gets sick, Korito emphasized they immediately contact the pet owner, if possible.
“We almost always call the customer right away and let them know what’s going on,” he said. “Sometimes, people are on a cruise ship or are unavailable, but they do sign a boarding agreement with us, which basically just gives us the authority to make decisions in the best interest of the dog. If we feel the dog doesn’t require veterinary care then we will take care of it in-house, and if we feel that it’s something serious, we take it to the vet.”
According to both former employees, Korito threatened to fire any employee who tried to call the owners or refused to give the medication to the dogs, reminding them that they could be easily replaced. The constant threat succeeded on Burris until she reached her breaking point and walked out in the middle of a shift, she said.
“It was near Thanksgiving, and we were pretty much all booked full, and me and my coworker told Darren we weren’t going to take any more reservations because we were full,” Burris said. “But then he said, ‘Well what about the grooming kennels?’ So I asked, are we going to tell the owners we're putting their dogs in there and give them a discounted rate? He told me no, and then he called me into his office shortly afterward and was like, 'This is about the needs of the business and maxing out the amount of money we could make over a holiday and to do that we need to use all the available space."
The grooming kennels, Burris said, are two feet by two feet, while the standard kennels measure six feet by six feet. Although Burris included photos in her post of various dogs in small grooming kennels, as well as the photo of a blue prescription bottle and list of dogs who were sick last summer, the owners insist the photos are fake and the employees making claims against them are disgruntled employees.
“Their claims of us being disgruntled are pretty ridiculous,” Burch said. “I witnessed it all firsthand. And I mean, I don’t think Darren is a horrible person; I just think at the end of the day money trumped anything else.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article linked to an inspection report from Orange County Animal Services, claiming it to be from the Winter Garden Police Department. This has since been modified, as the results from WGPD's inspection has yet to be released.