Playful Paws owner pleads guilty to negligence in dog deaths

The owner of Playful Paws Pet Centre apologized in court to the owners of the 14 dogs who died in an overheated room at the kennel last September.

'We failed you in the most unimaginable of ways,' he tells owners of dogs who died at overheated kennel

Playful Paws Pet Centre owner Dave Deplaedt (right) and his lawyer outside the provincial courthouse in Saskatoon on Tuesday. (Jen Quesnel/CBC)

The owner of Playful Paws Pet Centre has pleaded guilty to charges related to the deaths of 14 dogs from heat exhaustion at the Saskatoon kennel last September.

Dave Deplaedt pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon to a charge of negligence. 

The Crown and defence have suggested he be fined $19,600.

Deplaedt was charged with negligence after an investigation by the Saskatoon SPCA. The SPCA recommended the charges to Saskatoon police.

Investigators found the dogs were left unattended without water for 12 hours in a second-floor room that was dangerously warm.

According to the agreed statement of facts, staff members had repeatedly voiced concerns about the temperature in the building since early in 2011, after a thermostat was relocated and wired incorrectly.

On Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, staff put the dogs into their plastic crates, shut off the lights and locked the doors. One staff member had noted it was 27 C in the building at 6:30 p.m.

The next morning, employees came back and found 14 large-breed dogs dead of hyperthermia.

The walls of the box-type kennels — made of thick, high-grade plastic — had warped from the heat. A plumbing and heating company that arrived at 10 a.m. noted the ambient temperature was 37 C.

Ardie was an autism service dog for six-year-old Easton Irwin. Ardie was one of 14 dogs that died at Playful Paws. (Submitted by Brandon Irwin)

A staff member told investigators, "I couldn't stay there for long. It smelled like pee, poop and death."

Another staff member said the dogs "looked like they were melting. Some of them looked like they didn't have eyes."

In a victim impact statement read out in court, an owner described her eight-year-old golden retriever as having hated thunderstorms and hot weather.

"It haunts us she died the way she did," she wrote. "She would have been frantic to get out of that place."

The kennel said its heating system malfunctioned and pushed hot air into the windowless upstairs room for hours

Deplaedt's lawyer said his client "was not aware of these facts that led to the tragedy" and said it was likely it could have been prevented.

An online ad for Playful Paws Pet Centre in Saskatoon had advertised constant supervision. It has since been revised. (CBC)

In court, Deplaedt turned to face the dog owners and apologized, adding he doesn't expect forgiveness. 

"We failed you in the most unimaginable of ways," he said, noting there were "lots of chances along the way" to resolve the thermostat wiring problem.

Outside the courthouse, Deplaedt told reporters Playful Paws takes "full responsibility for what happened."

"There was a wiring defect that occurred six years ago that was the root cause of the accident, but having said that, since then it's been six years. We had the opportunity to identify that problem, to resolve that problem and to ultimately protect the animals that we had in our care, and we failed to do that.

"We should have and could have done more and we didn't, and we will live with that for the rest of our lives."

His lawyer says although no civil claims were filed, Deplaedt has paid "more than six figures" in compensation to families of the dead dogs.

With files from Jennifer Quesnel