SASKATOON — Families are mourning the loss of their pets after an apparent heating problem led to the deaths of 14 dogs at a Saskatoon boarding kennel over the weekend.
Ailish Irwin tells radio station CKOM the pain of losing autism service dog Arden is compounded by the void it now leaves for her six-year-old son, Easton.
She says the boy is "absolutely devastated" and she's not sure if he fully understands that Arden won't be coming back.
Officials with Playful Paws Center posted news of the tragedy to their Facebook page, saying a rooftop heating unit malfunctioned, pushing heat into an upstairs kennel room.
Business owner Bonnie Clark said Monday there's still no confirmation on the cause of death but the heating units are being inspected to help pinpoint "exactly what happened."
Saskatoon's SPCA has also started an investigation into the deaths.
Irwin said she and her family usually took Arden everywhere with them but decided to leave her at the kennel on the weekend while they were attending a wedding in Calgary.
“We thought, ‘Let’s give her the weekend off. She would have more fun,’” Irwin said.
Arden was paired with her autistic son two years ago. The family waited three years for the highly trained dog and fundraised to cover the $30,000 cost.
"(Easton) went everywhere with her and she provided him with so much comfort, with safety," said Irwin. "She was always a constant in his life.”
She called the dog's death "utterly horrendous and shocking."
There has been both condemnation and support for the boarding kennel in the wake of the deaths.
Fred Glawischnig, a former kennel operator who says he was hired by Playful Paws in January to evaluate what the company was doing, said he had warned of a problem with ventilation and inadequate air quality in the building.
“I said it’s just a matter of time before an animal dies," he told CKOM.
He also said he recommended the company employ staff at night so the dogs would not be left unattended.
Clark said dogs at the kennel are left alone for 10 hours overnight, and described that as "standard" and information that customers are provided during an introductory tour of the facility.
Corman Park Veterinary Services, which rents a space beside Playful Paws, posted online that the kennel immediately took the deceased dogs to the local 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.”
Clark said she has spoken personally with each and every owner who lost a dog and has offered to pay for the pets to be cremated, and for a private memorial service for each animal and their families.
“There has been nothing but tears in this building with every customer who’s come through these doors,” said Clark.
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.