Grieving 'Gilbert 23' dog owners file civil suit against boarders

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX--- The owners of more than 20 dogs that died at a Gilbert boarding facility filed a civil lawsuit against the kennel's owners on Thursday.

"The owners deceived a group of dog owners who loved their dogs so much.  Our dogs were like our children," Shannon Gillette told 3TV.

Gillette's two golden retrievers, Sherman and Parker, died, along with 21 other dogs in June.

The civil suit accuses Jesse and Maleisa Hughes, the owners of Greenacres, of fraud and racketeering.

The dog owners say they were told the Hughes family would only board a few dogs at a time.   A Maricopa County Sheriff's Office investigation found more than two dozen dogs were kept in a small room together, and ultimately suffocated to death.

"Our clients were deceived.  They were told their dogs would be boarded at a Disneyland-type facility, where the dogs would run free.  In reality, it was 28 dogs crammed into a nine-by-twelve [foot] room, where they died," said attorney John Schill.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.  The plaintiffs say their goals are to prevent something similar from happening again, and to shut down Greenacres.

In addition to the Hughes family, Austin and Logan Flake, the son and daughter-in-law of US Senator Jeff Flake, are also named as defendants.   The Flakes were the caretakers in charge of Greenacres at the time of the dogs' deaths.

"Our dogs suffered a horrible death. They died because the Hugheses and Flakes didn't provide them with adequate shelter, food or water.  We want people responsible for the dogs' deaths to be held accountable," Gillette said.

The dogs' owners say initially they were told their dogs ran away.

"They were neglected. They didn't provide adequate shelter. It ultimately caused their deaths," Gillette said.

Criminal animal cruelty charges, recommended by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, are still under review in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.