FAIRFIELD — Two pet owners who trusted their dogs to a Fairfield woman who claimed to be a "Pet Sitter" have filed a lawsuit against the woman after they say their animals were either hurt or lost under her watch.

Rosa Cinque of North Caldwell and Gina Luongo of Fairfield filed the lawsuit against Nicole Debellis in Essex County Superior Court on Sept. 22. The lawsuit claims that other dogs being cared for by Debellis also had a history of being lost or hurt with her.

According to the lawsuit, in December of last year, Luongo left her Maltese Shih Tzu mix "Louie" at DeBellis' home. The lawsuit claims that while Louie was staying at the home, DeBellis' larger dog attacked Louie, causing him to lose an eye. The lawsuit also says that the attacked dog now suffers from tremors and was "forced to undergo veterinary care" after the attack.

Cinque left her dog with DeBellis in July of this year, according to the lawsuit. DeBellis  was supposed to care for that dog, a Yorkshire terrier mix named Lexie, over a weekend, the lawsuit says. But two days after taking in Lexie, DeBellis called Cinque to inform her that the dog had gone missing, it says.

According to the lawsuit, DeBellis claimed Lexie had only gone missing that day, but that the dog could have been missing for as much as a day, or at the very least several hours before being reported missing. The lawsuit says DeBellis "did little, if anything to attempt to locate Lexie."

The lawsuit says that DeBellis calls herself the "ultimate caregiver," and that she lives on "three-quarters of an acre of fenced yard, for hours of playtime." The lawsuit calls DeBellis "incapable and/or severely incompetent at caring for animals."

The lawsuit says DeBellis "provides sitting services for animals solely to make a profit by taking in as many animals at one time to accomplish same." The lawsuit says that despite how she advertises her home, several animals can be found in a crate at a time, and that many were kept in crates that were too small for them.

The lawsuit also says the women "continue to expend money and endure emotional distress in the search for and/or loss of Lexie and the physical harm perpetrated on Louie."

The lawsuit cites two other instances where animals were allegedly either harmed or lost under DeBellis' care. According to the lawsuit, eight years ago DeBellis was taking care of another Yorkshire terrier named Chloe, who also went missing while with DeBellis, and is still missing. The lawsuit claims that DeBellis "demonstrated little remorse and failed to appropriately assist with attempting to determine Chloe's whereabouts."

The lawsuit says another dog named LuLu also went missing under DeBellis' watch. LuLu was found by another person and returned to her rightful owners after being seen wandering around the neighborhood, it says.

NJ.com linked to a now inactive profile for DeBellis on Petsitter.com, which the story said describes the woman as a stay at-home mom who takes care of animals.

"I treat them like they are my own. They are in a family setting, and get lots of love, hugs and kisses," the story quoted the profile as saying.

Darren DelSardo, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told New Jersey 101.5 that it was DeBellis' demeanor as much as anything else that led to the lawsuit being field.

"I think most troubling to my clients is the lack of remorse shown by the defendant in this action," he said. "An apology may have gone a long way, although the conduct is inexcusable — how someone can advertise to care for pets, take in pets, and then have multiple incidents where these pets were either neglected or turned up missing."

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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