Twenty dogs died of heat exhaustion last week at Green Acres Dog Boarding near Gilbert, Arizona, which has had recent daytime temperatures of over 100 degrees, when the air conditioning unit went out in a small shed where they were being kept overnight. The boarding facility’s owners, Todd and MaLeisa Hughes, told authorities that most of the deaths occurred during the night on Thursday after one of the dogs apparently disabled the air-conditioning unit to the room by chewing through a power cord. The Hugheses were in Florida at the time of the incident and had left the boarding facility where they live and work in the care of their daughter and son-in-law. Their son-in-law is Austin Flake, the son of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.
Todd Hughes initially told some of the clients that their dog had run away. Pet owner David Gillette, whose two golden retrievers died in the incident, provided a voicemail to the press in which Todd Hughes stated that one of the dogs had dug a hole through which Sherman and Parker had “somehow got out of,” adding that “right now…my wife, my girls are out looking for them.” Gillette’s mother-in-law went to the boarding facility on Saturday to help look for the dogs. Instead, she found their dead bodies, one with blood coming from his eyes. A few pet owners have claimed that they were notified about the death of their pet on Saturday morning. According to information given to investigators, this would have been a full day after most of the dogs had actually died. On Saturday, 20 dogs were found to be dying or dead in a small shed near the Hughes’ home. Valerie Collins, whose two dogs died in the incident, said that when her husband opened the door of the house, she saw Austin Flake but that “he ran to the back of the house” when her husband entered the house.
Deputies called to the scene told pet owners that no charges would be filed against the owners of the business. They also refused to call agency’s Animal Cruelty Unit to the scene. “That something stupid happened I totally agree with you,” a Maricopa Count Sherrif’s Office Deputy told the dog owners present at Green Acres on Saturday. “That it is a crime? I do not agree with you.” Pet owners connected through a Facebook page and a Change.org online petition was created by Ann Collins asking Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and County Attorney Bill Montgomery to investigate the Green Acres incident and to “prosecute those involved to the fullest extent of the law.” As of today, the petition had 9,122 supporters.
Yesterday, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he regretted not going out to Green Acres on Saturday and that a “quick evaluation” was made by the deputy on that day which will be supplemented with a thorough investigation: “I’m not going to leave any stone (unturned).” According to Arpaio, two main reasons instigated a full investigation of possible animal neglect or cruelty. First, Todd Hughes lied by telling some of the dog owners that their dog had run away. Secondly, the incident’s timeline is puzzling.
Investigators were told that the dogs were fine when the Flakes checked in on them Thursday night at 11:00 p.m. Maleisa Hughes says that the air conditioning unit failed at some point after that time. Because Austin Flake and his wife Logan were sleeping on the opposite side of the house, which was powered by a different air conditioning unit, the Flakes were unaware of any problem until 5:30 a.m. the next morning. At that time, says Hughes, the temperature in the dogs’ room was over 100 degrees, and the wire that had been gnawed was still setting off sparks. At that point, the Flakes used ice and a hose on the dogs to try to save their lives. Investigators were told that most were dead or dying by that point.
Todd Hughes called Sherie and Jason McIntyre on Friday to tell them that their three dogs had died, but he called back 15 minutes later to say that one of them was still alive and being cooled with water. When the McIntyres demanded that Mia, a miniature pinscher, be taken to a veterinarian, Hughes relented and the dog survived. This brings up the question whether, if other dogs had gotten veterinary care, they would have also survived. The sheriff’s office has stated that Austin Flake and his wife Logan “failed to call for emergency assistance before the dogs died.”
Arpaio said parts of the Hughes’ story seem suspicious: “It seems unreasonable that dogs could be healthy at 11:00 p.m. at night and dead by 5:30 a.m. the next morning.” A veterinarian with whom he conferred agreed with Arpaio’s suspicions. Investigators intend to re-interview the caretakers, business owners, and witnesses. The six surviving dogs will be evaluated, and phone records and electric meters will provide additional information. “Believe me,” said Arpaio on Monday afternoon, “by the time we are done with this investigation, we’ll have the answers to most, if not all, of the questions.” The answers to these questions will determine if criminal intent or neglect was present, and if animal-cruelty laws were violated. “If a crime occurred,” said Arpaio, “someone will be held accountable.”
By Donna Westlund