'We are heartbroken,' says manager of Saskatoon kennel where 14 dogs died

The manager of Playful Paws Pet Centre is apologizing after 14 dogs died when the room they were in overheated after staff at the Saskatoon kennel went home for the night.

Bonnie Clark says 'constant supervision' applies only to daycare, not animals boarding

Bonnie Clark says she and her staff are deeply sorry for the tragedy that unfolded at the Playful Paws Pet Center in Saskatoon overnight Friday. (CBC)

The manager of Playful Paws Pet Centre is apologizing after 14 dogs died from heat exhaustion while staying at the Saskatoon kennel.

On Friday, Sept. 9, staff put the dogs into their plastic crates, shut off the lights and locked the doors.

The next morning, employees came back to a horrific scene, as 14 large dogs lay dead in sweltering temperatures. The kennel said its heating system malfunctioned and pushed hot air into the upstairs windowless room for hours.

"If I could say this to the owners, I would like to [say] we are so sorry here. We are heartbroken. We loved each and every dog like they were our own," said Bonnie Clark, general manager of Playful Paws Pet Centre.

"I know they hurt, I wish I could take their hurt and put it inside mine. I'm not sure they can know how hard this is for us."

Corpses sent for necropsies

Clark said she did not work on Friday. She said she called animal control immediately the next morning, after women working at the kennel discovered the dead dogs and alerted her.

Clark arrived with the kennel's owner, Dave Deplaedt, and moved the dogs from the kennel in Saskatoon's Sutherland neighbourhood to the University of Saskatchewan's Western College of Veterinary Medicine, for necropsies.

"It was heartbreaking because I could name every one of those dogs, and one I knew from when he was eight months old," Clark told CBC News.

One of those dogs was a chocolate Labrador, Ardie, who worked as an autism service dog for six-year-old Easton Irwin. The boy's family spent months fundraising the $30,000 it cost to train the dog and bring her to Saskatoon.
Easton Irwin's service dog Ardie was among the dead. (Submitted by family)

Room overheated unexpectedly 

Clark said the room where the 14 dogs were staying became warm on Friday, as temperatures approached 20 C in Saskatoon. She said although heat frequently rose to the second floor, the temperature of the building typically would drop when the air conditioning came on automatically. 

She noted staff used two standing fans from time to time to cool overnight kennel areas, and saw nothing out of the ordinary about their use. 

"We've brought in third party people to investigate the issues," said Clark. "To investigate the rooftop and everything throughout the building."

When asked about allegations made by a former employee about sanitation, infection control and ventilation issues, Clark said she had asked an animal control officer to come in and inspect the facility. There were no red flags, she said.

"They came through and the ventilation was more than adequate, that's the term they used," she said. "There was never any indication that there would be a problem."

There was never any indication that there would be a problem.- Bonnie Clark, manager of Playful Paws Pet Centre

Clark insisted no door was closed in the room where the dogs died. She said a closed-circuit camera in the room was visible to front office staff, but not to anyone outside the building. When asked about a thermostat dangling from wires on the ground floor, Clark told CBC the device was not in use. 

As for questions around the kennel advertising "constant supervision" on its website, Clark said that only applied to the dog daycare, not boarding. She said Playful Paws is considering installing heat sensors in its overnight rooms.

"I think if people would investigate other dog kennels, there's no one that stays in the kennel overnight," she said.

Kennel reaching out to dog owners

Deplaedt, the kennel owner, said staff are doing their best to reach out to owners of the dead dogs.

'"Most of them [the owners] don't want to talk to us and that's understandable," Deplaedt said. "But every person that works here, their hearts and their souls are just so pouring out for those people. And it's really difficult because we can't reach out to them outside of a phone call here and there."

He said the kennel will make changes, and staff hope to continue working there.

"Once we get through what's really, really important, which is the people who lost their dogs and making sure that the staff are safe, then the next step is … what do we learn, what do we do different, there must be a whole bunch of things we should do differently," Deplaedt said. "And you know what, [those things] are already coming out in spades, right?"

SPCA says stricter rules needed

On Tuesday, Saskatoon's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said the province needs tougher laws when it comes to kennels.

Right now animal protection officers have the right to enter businesses that either sell or provide animals for entertainment without a search warrant. That does not include groomers or kennels.

Saskatoon SPCA director Patricia Cameron called that lack of oversight "a serious shortfall," noting animals are effectively treated as property under provincial law.

"There's been an outpouring of feeling, and desire for something better for animals," said Cameron. She noted the American-based Animal Legal Defense Fund has ranked Saskatchewan last among Canadian provinces in its animal welfare and protection laws.

Saskatchewan's chief veterinary officer told CBC it would likely be years before any changes are made to animal protection laws.

With files from Jennifer Quesnel