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Valerie Collins looks under a blanket where her two dogs lie in Gilbert, Ariz. / D.S. Woodfill, The Arizona Republic

The death toll in a pet-boarding accident has risen to 20 after three more dogs were found dead, Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio said at a news conference Monday.

"We are going to check phone records. We are going to check air condition meters," Arpaio said. "We will see if there is any violation of the animal cruelty laws, any criminal intent, neglect."

Seventeen dogs were found dead Friday at a pet-boarding service in Gilbert, Ariz., after one of the dogs apparently chewed through an air-conditioning power cord.

The dogs died of heat exhaustion after the air conditioning went out on the side of the Green Acre boarding facility where the dogs were staying, according to the sheriff's office.

The sheriff's office called it a "tragic accident."

Workers at Green Acre last checked on the dogs at 11 p.m. Thursday and returned Friday at 5:30 a.m. to find a large number of the dogs dead and others on the brink of death, said Chris Hegstrom, spokesman for the sheriff's office.

The workers took the dogs out back and tried to cool them off by spraying them with water, but the dogs later died, Hegstrom said. Many of the dogs were piled up inside a shed, he said.

Todd and MaLeisa Hughes, who own Green Acre, were not arrested or charged in the canine deaths.

"The wire was sparking. It could have burned down our whole house," MaLeisa Hughes said. "My whole house could have burned down and all my children could have died, and then it would have been a tragedy. But because it didn't catch fire, we're dog killers."

The Hugheses operate the boarding business out of their home on a large, grassy lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. Todd Hughes said the dogs sleep in an air-conditioned room attached to the house.

"Each dog had their own spot," MaLeisa Hughes said. "Nobody was touching each other."

Owners of the facility returned from Florida on Friday evening and started calling the dog owners Saturday morning. Some dog owners who arrived at the facility on Saturday said they were initially told their pets had escaped.

Doug Hart was looking for his sister's dogs and was told the dogs had run away after the air conditioning went out.

"My mom and all these people have been driving around looking for their dogs for two hours to find out the dogs are dead in the shed," he said.

Todd Hughes initially told people that their dogs had escaped rather than died, a lie he has since admitted to.

"I wasn't thinking straight, but I should have thought better than that," Hughes said. "Nobody trained me on how to handle this. I made a bad decision. It was terrible.

"We were 100 percent transparent" with investigators, Todd Hughes said. "We want the people to know what happened."

When he's the one caring for them, Hughes, his wife and their nine children let the dogs outside and play with them during the day and clean the room where they sleep, he said.

At night, the dogs are kept in a room kept around 72 degrees, 5 degrees cooler than the rest of house, MaLeisa Hughes said.

Meanwhile, Valerie Collins said she thinks her two dogs, Carson and Daisy, died earlier than Thursday or Friday. She and her husband have hired an attorney and are having necropsies done on their dogs.

"I chose (Green Acre) because they advertised 'no kennel care,' because ... it was supposed to be a home environment where they would be surrounded by kids, like a family, like just a place they would be more comfortable in," she said.

No certification is required to operate a pet boarding facility, said Melissa Gable, spokeswoman for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. She added that several factors could lead a sheltered dog to die, including room size, improper ventilation and no access to outside.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Arizona sheriff: 20 dogs dead in pet-boarding accident

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