Former Saskatoon kennel employee says 14 dog deaths could have been avoided

A former worker at a Saskatoon dog kennel says he was ignored after he raised a number of safety issues at the Playful Paws Pet Centre.

Ex-worker says warnings were ignored before dogs died when heater malfunctioned

Ardie, an autism service dog for six-year-old Easton Irwin, died while in care at Playful Paws Pet Centre. (Submitted by Brandon Irwin)

A former worker at a Saskatoon dog kennel says he was ignored after he raised a number of safety issues at the Playful Paws Pet Centre.

This weekend, 14 dogs died after a heater in the dog kennel malfunctioned. Hot air was pushed into one of the facility's upstairs kennel rooms and killed the dogs being kept there overnight.

In January, Fred Glawischnig was hired by Playful Paws as a certified master dog trainer to start an obedience school. Before he started work, he said, he did a thorough inspection and was alarmed at what he found.

"A proper kennel exchanges its air four to six times an hour," he said. "They did not have any type of fresh air exchange for the entire building," he said. 

Glawischnig raised a number of issues, from the lack of vaccination standards to poorly educated staff, but his concerns were rebuffed, he said.

Their reaction was, in my opinion, very reckless, very arrogant.… Some of the points were met by laughter and scoffing.- Fred Glawischnig, former employee

The trainer is convinced that if the building's ventilation system had been brought up to standard, it would have prevented the deaths from happening.

"If that would have been in place, the hot air that was blasting in by the malfunctioning heater would have been blown in by the exhaust fan," he said. "And fresh, cool air from the evening would have been able to clear the room."

Ultimately, Glawischnig went to the local SPCA to make a formal complaint, but was aware that the organization has little power to shut down a business.
Fred Glawischnig says his concerns about adequate ventilation were ignored by Playful Paws Pet Centre. (Jennifer Quesnel/CBC)

Patricia Cameron, executive director of the SPCA, confirmed it is investigating Playful Paws after the 14 dog deaths. However, she said she could not comment on whether the business had previously been named as a concern. 

Most issues flagged to the SPCA are resolved through education and consultation, she said, rather than through pressing charges or through the courts.

When the Saskatoon SPCA receives an animal protection concern, it follows up using appropriate investigation procedures.

"You need to do a careful interview with those people, go and tour the site, look for any red flags like, 'this area is off limits'. You want to inspect the entire facility, it should be open and welcoming. You're looking for cleanliness, do the animals seem happy in their circumstance or stressed? Is there water and food readily available, what sort of exercise do they get? What sort of arrangements do they make for any emergency care that an animal might need?" Cameron said. 

      1 of 0

      Kelsie Fraser with the Saskatoon Police Service said police won't know if criminal charges will be laid until the SPCA finishes its investigation.

      Calling for stricter guidelines

      Glawischnig would like to see people call for stricter local guidelines for kennels.

      "Where the solution lies is having officials able to take the time, put forward a bit of expense and train the bylaw officers we have, and put some new laws on the books," he said. "What I fear is going to come out of this is it's going to be the flavour of the month, where people are going to be upset about it, and then it's going to go on, forgotten."

      The owners of Playful Paws have expressed their sympathy through social media. The owners have not responded to CBC's request for an interview. 

      The code of practice for animal kennels, which is developed by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, has standards for commercial operations.

      Ardie reduced Easton Irwin's anxiety and helped him socialize with people. (Submitted by Brandon Irwin)

      Autism service dog dead

      Meanwhile, one family is trying to pick up the pieces after their son's autism service dog died at the kennel.

      Brandon Irwin waited for three years to get a service dog for his six-year-old son, Easton. When his son heard the news, he was inconsolable.

      "He burst into tears," said Irwin. "Uncontrollable crying. He's six years old, and I don't think he can articulate himself in any other way. Honestly, I don't think he knows what the loss means."

      The dog was meant to reduce Easton's anxiety and to help him socialize with people.

      "Kids with autism normally take some time to form bonds," he said. "Over the past 10 months, we've seen him go from ignoring her to really forming a bond. The last couple of months, things have really progressed."

      Now Irwin feels like he's lost a family member and regrets not investigating Playful Paws more.

      "It seems like there were some red flags that, out of naiveté, we didn't pick up on," he said.

      Cameron suggests pet owners ask animal kennel operators about their sanitizing strategies before boarding an animal.

      "I think it's important that vaccination status be talked about. Some agencies will not take an animal unless its vaccines can be shown to be up to date and that's a good practice," she said. 

      Funeral home to hold memorial

      Acadia McKague's Funeral Centre will be holding a free public memorial for the families affected by the 14 animal deaths. 

      The event is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sept 17. Seating is available for the first 300 people. 

      With files from Jennifer Quesnel and The Morning Edition


      To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

      By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.