Another dog's body found in kennel deaths investigation

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

GILBERT, Ariz. -- Deputies with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday morning served a search warrant at Green Acre, the Gilbert kennel where 23 dogs died late last month.

Aerial video from Chopper 3 showed the operation. Sheriff Joe Arpaio confirmed that searchers found a dog's body buried on the property. It is not known if that dog belonged to the owners or to a client of the boarding facility.

Wednesday's search stems from the deaths of nearly two dozen dogs that were in the care of Green Acre.

According to the owners of the facility, the dogs died from heat exhaustion last month after a dog chewed through a wall and wire that shut off the air conditioner.

One of the things deputies were looking at as they scoured the property Wednesday was that air conditioner.

Two electrical and air flow forensic experts assisted the 12 sheriff's detectives, testing the business owners' theory that a chewed-up wire tripped the breaker.

"We're not so sure that's what happened," Arpaio said in a statement. "Also, these air flow experts suspect that even if the air conditioning system to that small room was functioning the day these dogs died, the air flow in that size room with so many large dogs inside it may not have been sufficient to keep those dogs alive."

According to the sheriff's office, 28 dogs were kept in the 9-foot-by-12-foot room at the time of the incident.

Deputies also seized computers, cellphones, ledgers, business documents, dry wall and wiring as evidence.

While the kennel owners called the incident a tragic accident, owners of the dogs that died are not so sure.

"The Hugheses have received death threats from individuals, threats to burn down their house," said Robert Jarvis, the kennel owners' attorney. He says his clients have done nothing wrong.

New concerns are now surfacing about Green Acre staying in business. Many of the people whose dogs died at the Green Acre boarding facility say they not only want owners Tod and MaLeisa Hughes out of the dog boarding business forever, they would also like to see more regulation of such facilities.

Some pet owners are also asking for criminal charges against those responsible. And according to Arpaio, that could happen as early as this week.

"I'm pretty confident that we'll get a final conclusion rather soon," Arpaio said.

Arpaio said Tuesday that his high-profile criminal investigation into the deaths of more than 20 dogs at the unlicensed East Valley boarding facility last month is now nearing completion, with results to be released probably this week. 

"Do you anticipate charges?" 3TV's Mike Watkiss asked the sheriff.

"I don't know," Arpaio replied.

But the sheriff did say that the facility's owners and their daughter Logan and son-in-law Austin Flake, son of Sen. Jeff Flake, all continue to be the focus of investigators' attention.

Logan and Austin Flake were reportedly taking care of the animals at the time of the deaths.

Sheriff's detectives determined they needed to speak with the young couple and owners of the dogs being boarded at Green Acre before seeking a search a warrant.

"I understand that people think the process to search the business took too long, but a lot of face-to-face interviews had to be conducted, and many of those dog owners remained out of town during this time," Arpaio said in a statement.

Arpaio said Logan and Austin Flake would not answer phone calls and left the state. Investigators tracked them down in Provo, Utah this week, and Austin Flake referred questions to his attorney.

"No matter who may be involved, we are going to pursue it. It doesn't matter who it is," Arpaio said. "Anybody that violates the animal cruelty laws has a big problem."

MCSO said the owners have not been cooperative, which is why deputies served a search warrant Wednesday morning.

As that operation was underway, one of the owners reportedly asked to speak one-on-one with Arpaio. The sheriff declined.

Deputies described MaLeisa Hughes' demeanor as "somewhat hostile and uncooperative" when the search warrant was served. Aside from offering Watkiss a cold beverage, she refused to speak to 3TV.

Shannon Gillette is one of the pet owners hoping for justice.

"This is Sherman here," she said while showing Watkiss photos of her dogs. "He was the best man in our wedding. And Parker, our blind golden retriever, who was only 6. They had their whole lives ahead of them." 

Owners said they were told originally that their pets had escaped and were missing.

"I'd love for them to also tell the truth," Gillette said. "Stop lying. Everything is a lie. Just tell us what happened. Admit you neglected the dogs." 

Gillette was at the facility as deputies conducted their search.

"We definitely think this is a step in the right direction here," she told 3TV's Jill Galus. "All of us dog owners do not believe the story of the air conditioning going out so we're very excited to see that there are people on the roof checking out that AC. We're confident that they'll be able to find evidence that that is one of the many lies told here."

"It's sad being out here this morning, to think that this was where our dogs had just a horrible death and were neglected," she continued. "We never got to say goodbye to them."

Gillette said she and other owners had necropsies performed to determine exactly what killed their dogs.

"All the dogs died at different times," she explained. "We're confident that those test results will come back and show they did not die of heat exhaustion."

"There is an overwhelming sense of sadness by dog lovers about this awful occurrence, and everyone is screaming for justice," Arpaio said in a statement. "Justice is what we are seeking, not revenge. We rely on what the evidence tells us and nothing more."