Pet startup smackdown leaves vital question unanswered: Who will let the dogs out?

Petco and PetSmart are waging a war for pet supremacy -- and now the venture-backed startup Wag is on the market, and Petco is interested.

America spends about $70B annually on food, supplies, vet visits, and other pet services — up from around $40B a decade ago. But even with so many dollars dropped on Fido and Fluffy, there’s no clear winner in the Pet Wars.

How much is that doggy biz in the window?

As Recode reports, the dog walking startup Wag is looking for a buyer. Despite having raised $300m in backing from SoftBank — the VC of WeWork, erm, fame — Wag has failed to dominate the market and has come under fire for disasters like runaways and doggy-doo financial performance. Woof.

Wag is currently in talks with Petco, which stands to gain a stronger digital presence and connect with younger pet owners should a deal go through.

Naturally, Petco isn’t the only old-guard dog trying to get in on the digital game. Its immediate rival, PetSmart, acquired Chewy, an online pet product supplier, for $3.35B in 2017. 

This shoulda been a walk in the dog park…

… but in truth, it’s been a bumpy ride. Any startup trying to create an on-demand model faces big challenges. And even as Wag was able to vet and train its walkers, there’s no way to predict how a dog will react to strangers.

Then there’s the business side of things. There have been management shake-ups and several rounds of layoffs. Wag later opened a call center in the Philippines, which did not win over customers who assumed they’d speak to someone local when the dogsh*t hit the fan.

And that ain’t all

Adding to Wag’s woes, California recently passed a law that will require companies to provide benefits to contract workers — like dog walkers. This hasn’t been a boon to the Wag sales process.

Meanwhile, Petco and PetSmart were both bought out by private equity firms, proving there’s truly no single top dog.

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