Families are mourning the loss of their beloved pets after a heating problem led to the deaths of 14 dogs at a Saskatoon boarding kennel over the weekend.
For owner Ailish Irwin, the pain of losing autism service dog Arden is compounded by the void it now leaves for her six-year-old son, Easton.
“He’s absolutely devastated. I don’t know if he really understands the full impact,” she said, adding Easton was calling for Arden when the family returned home.
“He’s very, very upset. He went everywhere with her and she provided him with so much comfort, with safety. She was always a constant in his life.”
Arden was paired with Easton two years ago. The family waited three years for the highly-specialized animal and fundraised to cover the $30,000 cost.
Irwin said Arden attended doggie daycare at Playful Paws Pet Center, and always enjoyed her time, but had never stayed in the kennels.
While the service dog typically goes everywhere with Easton, the family made a last-minute decision to leave Arden overnight as they drove to Calgary, Alta. for Irwin’s sister’s wedding.
“We thought, ‘Let’s give her the weekend off. She would have more fun,’” Irwin said.
While posting a photo from the wedding to Facebook Saturday, Irwin noticed news reports about what happened at Playful Paws. They called the business to find out more, when they learned of Arden’s death.
“It’s utterly horrendous and shocking. It’s really unimaginable that this could have happened,” she said.
The dogs were all staying at Playful Paws Center overnight Friday. In a Facebook post the following day, the business said one of its rooftop heating units malfunctioned, pushing heat into an upstairs kennel room.
It became so hot, 14 dogs staying in the room died.
“We are incredibly saddened by this travesty of life and cannot express enough our sympathy to the families of these dogs” the post read.
“We love our dogs and each of our team is trying to personally cope with this terrible loss. Having said that we understand that our pain is small compared to the loss that is being experienced by our dog’s owners.”
Members of a closed Facebook group for victims of the tragedy shared photos of their pets and offered condolences, some from even outside the country.
“So sad that all of our fur babies have left us too soon,” one member wrote.
“All of them are playing around with each other up there and loving it. They don’t want us to be sad. They want us to remember the great memories that we had with them.”
Acadia McKague’s Funeral Centre is planning a public memorial for the dogs and their families on Saturday at 11 a.m. The service can seat 300 people with the possibility of outdoor broadcasting depending on turnout.
The backlash on social media to the dogs’ deaths has been swift, with many responding to the Playful Paws post wondering why there wasn’t an apology.
Others were concerned how the deaths could have occurred when the kennel’s website states dogs are under “constant supervision.”
Corman Park Veterinary Services rents a space beside Playful Paws and posted online the kennel business immediately took the deceased dogs to the veterinary college for confirmation on cause of death.
“The staff of Playful Paws have acted professionally and respectfully in the aftermath of this situation,” the post read.
“At times of such grief it is normal to lash out in anger and despair as has happened on the social media, however, it is also important to understand that real caring people are at the butt of these condemnations.”
Saskatoon’s SPCA has started an investigation into the deaths.
The organization’s executive director, Patricia Cameron, told The Canadian Press the SPCA handles investigations under Saskatchewan’s Animal Protection Act, but notes that there are no licencing regulations for kennels.
Cameron said the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has guidelines and standards for kennel situations, and that she expects many people will be talking about the issue in the next few weeks.
“A lot of people need pet care and this is a matter of deep concern. There is an element of trust in these relationships and it’s a big shock to everyone’s system to hear about this,” she said.
—With files from Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press.