Saskatoon's SPCA has started an investigation into the deaths of 14 dogs at a boarding kennel over the weekend.
The organization's executive director, Patricia Cameron, says she was shocked when she learned of the incident Saturday at Playful Paws Pet Centre where the animals appear to have perished from too much heat.
The centre posted on its Facebook page that a mechanical failure on a rooftop heating unit caused it to continuously push heat into one of its upstairs kennel rooms.
It says the heat continued to the point that the dogs died.
Cameron says the SPCA handles investigations under Saskatchewan's Animal Protection Act, but notes that there are no licencing regulations for kennels.
The post from Playful Paws Pet Centre says staff are devastated.
"We are incredibly saddened by this travesty of life and cannot express enough our sympathy to the families of these dogs," the post from Saturday stated.
"We love our dogs and each of our team is trying to personally cope with this terrible loss."
Sarah Gee, the owner of a German shepherd-cross named Aurora that died, said she was an hour-and-a-half north of Saskatoon conducting field work for a master's program when she took a break on Saturday and called the kennel to see how her dog was doing.
Gee said she was put on hold for a moment and then the manager came on the line. The manager said there had been a terrible accident — an electrical malfunction with the heating system. The manager was holding back tears to give her the news, Gee said, but still hadn't told her Aurora's fate.
"I interrupted her and, 'I said is the dog dead?' And she said, 'Yes, your dog is dead. All the dogs in that area died,'" Gee said.
Gee said she left her field work and made her way back to Saskatoon. She said she met with the owner of Playful Paws, who was compassionate, crying and embarrassed. The owner said staff had left at 8:30 p.m. on Friday and when they came back at 6:30 a.m., all the dogs in the upstairs area were dead.
Gee was directed to the Small Animal Clinic at the University of Saskatchewan where the body of her dog had been taken. She said there was a social worker at the clinic, and staff asked several times to make sure she was up to seeing the dead dog.
She said she was told Aurora died of heat exhaustion.
"They brought her in and she had a blanket over her, and they took it off and she was still big and fluffy. She just had some sweat around her head and she looked very noble. I told my boyfriend she looked like a bodyguard that just went to sleep," Gee said.
"She was just a big, beautiful animal that was laying there and I hugged her and kissed her. So I got to say goodbye."
Playful Paws Pet Centre did not immediately return calls or emails.
Hundreds of angry comments followed the kennel's original Facebook post.
Gee said she understands that it must have been traumatic for staff to find the dogs, but adds she believed the dogs would be under 24-hour care. She also noted the upstairs area where she was told the dogs died had not been part of a tour she had taken of the facility when she took Aurora there for a stay last month.
"I don't think I have enough energy to be able to muster up anger towards the centre. Right now I'm just coming to terms with the fact my dog is dead. That when I go home, she's not there," Gee said.
"I just have a bruised heart."
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," Cameron said.
—by Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton