They hired her to train their dog. He starved in her care. Now she's facing felony charges

A Massachusetts family is grieving the loss of their 3-year-old French bulldog who officials say apparently starved to death in the care of a woman who was supposed to be taking care of him.

A couple from the Boston suburb of North Reading hired an-out-of-state dog trainer through the app Thumbtack for $2,250, North Reading Police Department Chief Mark Zimmerman told USA TODAY on Thursday.

The trainer, identified by Zimmerman as a 27-year-old woman from Haddam, Connecticut, now stands accused in a multi-state dog training scam after she agreed to board and train the couple's dog.

Police are not naming the woman because she had not been formally charged as of Thursday, Zimmerman said.

"(In) her listing, (on the home services app) which was called 'Wagging Good', she used the name 'Lilly' and I say quote unquote 'Lilly' because that was not her name," Bart Hanson, one of the dog's owners told KKCI-TV.

"I spoke with her on the phone, and she had a program which was a board-and-train, where she would take Charlie and live with her for two weeks."

But when the training period came to an end, the outlet reported, the woman told the Hanson family Charlie was lost.

The dog's emaciated body, police told USA TODAY, would later be found some 115 miles away from home.

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A lost dog report

According to a news release from police, Charlie's owners contacted police on Sept. 16 and told them their dog had not been returned by the woman following "an agreed-upon training period."

An initial investigation found the dog died around Sept. 4, "though the trainer sent the owner photos of what was purported to be training after that date," a detective wrote.

The woman also lied and gave misleading statements to officers during interviews in an effort to hinder the investigation, police shared.

"(In the end) she told the victims different stories," Zimmerman said.

Charlie's body found nearly 115 miles from home

The chief confirmed the dog's remains were eventually found by authorities in Norwichtown, Connecticut, a roughly 45-minute drive from where the trainer lives and more than 115 miles from the Hanson's home.

A necroscopy performed by the University of Connecticut determined Charlie was emaciated when he died, according to the release.

According to KKCI-TV, Charlie's owners said they learned the trainer's parents "disposed of Charlie's body off the Canterbury Turnpike."

"How can people do it to him?" Charlie's other owner, Jessie Hanson, told the outlet.

Police would not released additional details about how Charlie's body ended up so far away and how it got there due the pending criminal charges.

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A French Bulldog puppy at Christmas. A Massachusetts family is grieving the loss of their 3-year-old French bulldog police said died in the care of a woman hired to train the dog.
A French Bulldog puppy at Christmas. A Massachusetts family is grieving the loss of their 3-year-old French bulldog police said died in the care of a woman hired to train the dog.

Trainer faces felony charges

On Thursday, Zimmerman confirmed police had obtained a criminal summons against the 27-year-old woman.

The chief said she faces felony charges of larceny over $1,200 by false pretense and obstruction of a police officer and her case will be heard before a District Court Clerk Magistrate on Oct. 13.

During the investigation, the police news release said, officers also contacted the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals about the trainer's case and − with help from law enforcement in Connecticut − four other dogs were "recovered and safely returned to their owners" in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

A Thumbtack spokesperson released the following statement to USA TODAY:

"We are actively investigating this heartbreaking situation and have responded to all requests from the authorities in connection with this incident. We take the integrity of our platform seriously and will continue to take action in the best interest of our community."

A similar connection in California

In California, news outlet Palo Alto Online this week reported the same 27-year-old woman has been under investigation in connection to the death of another dog, also hired by a family through the Thumbtack app.

The outlet, referenced KKCI-TV's story and named the woman charged in the Massachusetts case.

USA TODAY is also not naming her because she has not been formally charged.

Scott, a German Shepherd, disappeared in January, and was presumed dead while in her care, according to his owner from Palo Alto, California, the outlet reported. In that case, the trainer brazenly returned a German shepherd to Scott's owner − but the dog was not his, the owner said.

"(The trainer) eventually claimed that Scott had escaped from a residence in Humboldt County, where she had placed the dog while attending a funeral," the outlet reported. "Only small parts of Scott's fur were reportedly found by the person who was caring for the dog. Ragland said the person responsible for the dog believed it was killed by a predator such as a coyote."

Palo Alto police Capt. James Reifschneider told the outlet their investigation into the dog's death was complete and the agency planned to submit their findings to the local District Attorney’s Office Thursday for review.

Anyone with information about either case can contact North Reading police at 978-664-3131 or Palo Alto police at 650-329-2413.

Natalie Neysa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at and follow her on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter @nataliealund.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: French bulldog dies in care of trainer hired on Thumbtack app