Here’s how Ashley Owen Hill describes her tense phone call with 1-800-Flowers on Monday morning, hours after she posted a note on Facebook accusing the flower-delivery company of denying her animal rescue a contest prize:
She says she was placed on speakerphone, briefly introduced to the people on the line, and then the contest fiasco was promptly declared a “miscommunication.” Then, she says, there was — wait for it — laughter on the other line. Seems they thought the whole thing was funny, although Ashley certainly didn’t think so.
But here’s how Yanique Woodall, vice president of public relations for 1-800-Flowers, describes that same phone call:
“There was no laughter in the background,” Woodall tells Pets Adviser. “We told Ashley, ‘We are sorry — we apologize for the miscommunication.'”
The stark difference in these two versions of the phone call highlight just how divided and emotional the situation remains, more than three days after Ashley’s Facebook note went viral starting late Sunday afternoon.
I spoke with Ashley on Tuesday afternoon when I visited Lucky Dog Rescue to drop off some donations from Pets Adviser: around 120 pounds of dog food and two bags of toys. We sat down for lunch and Ashley explained her side.
Lucky Dog Rescue, in Meridian, Mississippi, is about three hours from where I live. At the time this trip was planned, it seemed that 1-800-Flowers and contest co-sponsor Wag.com were still trying to sort out the details, and Pets Adviser really wanted to make sure Ashley’s rescue received something regardless of the outcome.
Lucky Dogs Indeed
Even at first glance it was clear Lucky Dog Rescue was a great place for a dog. Toys were sitting on the patio table outside the front entrance, and dogs appeared smiling in their play areas.
Ashley pointed to a few bags of dog food that had been dropped off just before my visit. She was delighted to have both donations that day, but I couldn’t help noticing the empty shelves along the wall.
The bottom shelf is where I saw the bags of dog food. Before the two donations on Tuesday, there were only about eight bags on the shelf. Counting the runs on each side of the building and catching a glimpse of the interior run, I guessed she had enough food to last a week or two.
The Inside Story
Ashley says there’s more to the story than most people have heard so far.
First, some background. Her friend Maria Mandel was the one who actually entered the photo contest back in late March. After calling and calling for months after winning, Maria grew tired of fighting for the prize she had rightfully earned. That’s when Ashley stepped in and offered to see if she could make any progress.
Here’s where Ashley told me what isn’t widely known: “Maria used the address for Lucky Dog Rescue,” Ashley said. “She never asked 1-800-Flowers for the prize to be transferred or mentioned my name or the rescue’s name to them.”
Contrast that with what Ashley says a company representative told her on the phone during one of her many attempts to get the prize fulfilled over the past few months — she says the representative told her the prize could not be transferred and that the contest winnings were therefore nullified.
Ashley’s phone calls were met with ridicule and even denials that the contest had ever existed, she says. Finally, she took to her Facebook page on Sunday evening to share her frustration. (On Sunday at 6:21pm, Pets Adviser wrote the very first blog post on the contest uproar, based on her Facebook note.)
Wag.com, the contest co-sponsor that was originally supposed to provide the 12 bags of dog food (one bag a month for a year), acted swiftly when the uproar erupted. Even without an official decision or response from 1-800-Flowers other than that they were “looking into the matter,” Wag.com declared they would honor the prize regardless of what was decided by others.
I spoke with Lindsey Andrews of Wag.com and asked where the contest mishap had occurred. “That’s completely on 1-800-Flowers. I’m glad it came out, because we didn’t know about it,” she said. (On Thursday morning, after this article was published, Andrews disputed this sentence and said she was misquoted. I stand by my reporting.)
Woodall, the 1-800-Flowers PR VP, says who is to blame is precisely “what we’re looking into.” She adds, “We conduct hundreds of contests a year. Unfortunately, this happened, but it’s very unusual. We are looking into where the breakdown occurred. We take this very seriously.”
After Wag.com’s offer was made, Ashley heard back from 1-800-Flowers. They said they were prepared to go above and beyond her expectations to make things right, so they offered to match Wag.com’s offer by adding another 12 bags of dog food, for a total of 24 over the next year. This sounded all well and good, until the company requested a Facebook post from her praising the company and declaring the matter closed, she said. She told me incredulously, “They’ll give me something only if I make them look good?” She wasn’t comfortable with that proposal.
So, Is It Resolved?
Meanwhile, 1-800-Flowers now considers the prize matter settled. “We have apologized, and we are very sorry for this matter,” says Woodall. “We are a very responsive company, and I don’t think I can express how seriously we’re taking this.” She says the company has tried to contact and apologize to Maria, too, with no success.
She adds: “Genuinely, we’re pets lovers here at 1-800-Flowers, and we were all saddened by Ashley’s experience.”
Ashley’s not ready to call it over, however. “I have not reached an agreement with 1-800-Flowers and was shocked to see them declare the issue resolved,” she told me. She’s not ungrateful, but she is disappointed about what she says is the callous way they contacted her and seemed to claim all the credit.
On Tuesday she wrote on Facebook:
“After the contest was won, the one bag per month seemed AMAZING to me! However, for months, that promise was never honored…. I’ve never felt so helpless or hopeless as I did on the phone with this particular company. Yet I was simply trying to collect my prize.”
The next day, Ashley got a surprise care package from Wag.com. Allison Dempsey, social media manager for Wag, says, “We are happy to hear Ashley received the care package, which included a note from our team and some of our staff’s favorite products like Kong toys and Greenies treats, among other things.”
Wag did not respond to a question about whether they planned to collaborate in future contests with 1-800-Flowers.
Additional reporting by David Deleon Baker; Photos by Kristine Lacoste/Pets Adviser