The Dog Spot Sues Two East Nashville Facebook Group Members for Libel

Doggy Daycare

Is The Dog Spot in East Nashville a safe place for doggos like these to play? Two women said it wasn’t, and they got sued. SOURCE: THINKSTOCK

By CARI WADE GERVIN  |   Nashville Scene

Owners of the daycare and grooming business allege women lied about pet mistreatment and deaths

Two members of the prolific and often exasperating East Nashville Facebook group have been sued by twin brothers and developers Andy and Chad Baker, the owners of The Dog Spot. The lawsuit, filed in Davidson County Circuit Court on Feb. 14, alleges that Jamie Bayer and Bari Rachel Miley Hardin are guilty of libel, false light publicity, misrepresentation, fraud and intentional interference with a business relationship — all over a handful of Facebook posts. The Bakers are seeking $2 million in damages

The Bakers own three locations of the doggie daycare, boarding and grooming business — one in East Nashville, one in the Nations and one in Mt. Juliet. Another location of The Dog Spot is in the 505 Building downtown for its residents’ use.

As with probably any pet-related business, emotions run high in online reviews and comments — it is either the best place ever to take your precious ball of fur, or the worst experience you’ve ever had and poor Fluffy will never be the same. According to the lawsuit, Bayer and Hardin didn’t express their own negative experiences, but instead accused The Dog Spot’s staff of killing multiple dogs, something the Bakers say is untrue.

Per the lawsuit filing, Bayer posted in the East Nashville Facebook group on Jan. 31 of this year: “Does anyone have an accurate count on how many dogs have died at The Dog Spot? I used to take my dogs there but stopped when I found out two dogs died there. Since then I’ve heard up to four, and recently even seven. Does anyone have an actual number? I know a lot of people go there and it seems none of them are aware of this.”

Then, on Feb. 7, Hardin and Bayer began commenting on a thread that asked for recommendations for a doggie daycare. When The Dog Spot was mentioned, Hardin posted, “Lots of dogs have been killed there,” and said that people have been paid off not to publicly talk about their dogs’ deaths. Bayer chimed in, “There are too many confirmed things that have happened there to feel comfortable ever taking a dog there.”

On Feb. 13, both posted again on a different thread seeking recommendations for grooming. “I will absolutely mention what’s happened in the past every time someone brings up that business, if I can save one dog from killed, I will,” Hardin wrote. “It would be irresponsible of me to not mention facts.”

All the posts have since been deleted, but the Bakers contend the comments are all false, malicious and libelous.

“The Dog Spot has been voted Best in Nashville every year since our inception,” Chad Baker wrote in an email to Pith. “People who have actually been to our stores know that we operate a great business. Although legal action was our last resort, due to the viciousness of lies posted on social media, The Dog Spot chose to take legal action to protect the reputation, integrity and very foundation of the businesses we have worked so hard to build. Social media is a great way to connect with friends and to get recommendations, but just as people are not allowed to yell ‘fire’ in a movie theater, they’re also not allowed to post outright lies on social media.”

It is factual that at least one dog has died while in The Dog Spot’s care: Hall the Chihuahua, who died in March 2017 while boarding at the East Nashville location with his brother Oates. Hall was apparently placed in a play area with larger dogs and was attacked; he later died from his injuries. When WSMV reported the incident last year, the Bakers said their staff did nothing wrong. Hall’s owner, Rachel Waldrop, sued last month over the death; she did not return a call for comment.

After Hall’s death made headlines, there was predictably a social media backlash, which resulted in a lot of negative posts, which the Bakers or their staff then deleted — and that then generated another round of outrage. But while the Bakers do have a long-documented history of deleting negative posts, they also leave many up. A search of the East Nashville Facebook group finds several comments about bad experiences at The Dog Spot dating back years. And there are a number of posts on Yelp that describe really horrific alleged experiences — and we should warn you, don’t click through if reading about dogs getting hurt upsets you. (The posts about a dog dying are from Waldrop and her husband Matthew, but the other posts are not, and some of them are gruesome.)

Those posts are still up, but Bayer and Hardin got sued? Hardin’s attorney Daniel Horwitz said it’s ridiculous.

“Given that The Dog Spot is currently being sued over the high-profile death of a dog in its care, you’d think that its owners would have enough sense not to file yet another frivolous SLAPP*-suit calling attention to that clearly established fact,” says Horwitz. “The Dog Spot is about to learn a very expensive lesson about free speech, and we look forward to seeing them in court for a very short period of time and exposing this ridiculous case for the sham that it is.”

And, yes, when Horwitz says “another frivolous SLAPP-suit,” that’s not a typo. In July 2017, the Bakers sued Elizabeth McKoy Davis and an unknown John Doe they say was working with her over an unflattering Yelp review.

According to the lawsuit, which is still in the discovery stage, Davis regularly brought her Old English Sheepdog Julia Sugarbaker** to The Dog Spot’s West Nashville location for three years until last March, when the dog bit an employee and was subsequently banned. Davis nevertheless dropped Julia Sugarbaker off for daycare two weeks later. When the staff realized the mixup, they called Davis to come get her dog. When she did so, some sort of confrontation occurred, after which Davis posted on Yelp that The Dog Spot “should be reported for animal cruelty” and that her dog had a huge gash in her leg that required veterinary treatment. The lawsuit claims that Davis “acted with such malice and with a degree of moral turpitude and atrocity that [she] should be assessed punitive damages.” The lawsuit also asks for $2 million in damages.

But Davis’ response tells a different story. She says she was told her dog nipped another dog, not a human, and that she was not told she was banned from the daycare. When she was called to pick up her dog, she says she acted rudely but was not threatening. And she says she deleted her Yelp review under pressure but has provided documentation to back it up as part of the normal legal discovery process.

And pressure to delete bad reviews isn’t new for the Bakers either. In a series of Facebook messages, Chad Baker threatened the administrators of the East Nashville Facebook group with legal action unless they deleted the posts by Hardin and Bayer.

“We put you on notice,”Chad Baker wrote on Feb. 10. “This is no joke. You guys are all getting served SOON. Either at work or at home. We’re stopping this shit now. All the trolls and those assisting them are being named in a massive libel suit.” A message followed that listed all the group administrators’ names and home addresses.

“Let me know if I have the right addresses for everyone,” Baker added with a winking emoji.

The Bakers have also posted positive reviews of their own businesses, under their own names, but pretending to be new customers who have just discovered The Dog Spot.

“Took my dog for daycare and she loved it,” Andy Baker wrote in a 5-star Google review. “i didn’t know they offered grooming but they do, so the next time my furbaby needs a cut I will be sure to try them out too.”

“The Dog Spot is awesome,” Chad Baker commented in a different 5-star review. “I’ve been taking my dog there for years. Once he came home with a small scratch, but that’s just part of life. The good certainly outweighs the bad.”

The Scene asked the Bakers why, specifically, these particular Facebook and Yelp posts had warranted lawsuits, especially given the other comments that are still up — and given that libel suits are notoriously hard to win.

“The legal cases that are being pursued are due to the severity of the ​COMPLETELY​ false allegations that seven dogs were killed at The Dog Spot,” Chad Baker says. “These are serious accusations that are maliciously being shared through social media and other communication channels such as Yelp. We have reason to believe through some of our independent research that there are some competing businesses linked to the sources of the false information.

“The fact is: Seven pets did not die while in our care and we challenge the accusers to produce names and other proof of this slanderous claim,” he continues. “This is still being investigated and is an open legal matter so that is all I can say at this time. And to be frank, that’s really more than I should have said but the integrity of the businesses that I have worked so hard for are under fire and I just can’t stand by and say ‘No comment.’ This is all very painful both professionally and personally. ​Although the wheels of justice move slowly and it may take a long time for the justice system to reveal the truth, we look forward to our day in court.​ Thank you for taking the time to let me share the facts.”

Horwitz said he hopes the case will be immediately dismissed.

A SLAPP — or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — is a lawsuit filing that is intended to censor, intimidate or silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

** We can’t help but comment: Julia Sugarbaker is a damn fine name for a sheepdog.

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