MCSO: Investigation ongoing after deaths of 20 dogs at Gilbert boarding facility

GILBERT, AZ - An ongoing investigation is underway and charges are being considered after 20 dogs died at a Gilbert boarding facility .

In a Monday press conference, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio confirmed 20 dogs died after air conditioning at the East Valley facility was cut off when one of the animals chewed through a wire. Initial reports indicated 17 dogs were killed.

Arpaio said it appears that there were 28 dogs at the Green Acre pet boarding business, located near Val Vista and Queen Creek roads, but some survived.

"We all love dogs. This is an unfortunate situation that occurred," Arpaio said.

According to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, sometime between late Thursday night and early Friday morning one of the animals chewed through drywall and an electrical cord, taking out power to the area where the dogs were housed, cutting off the air conditioning.

Authorities said they are unsure of the timeline of events, considering that the animals were OK in the late morning and dead in the afternoon. 

Interviews are being conducted with caretakers, witnesses, owners Maleisa and Todd Hughes and others to determine exactly what happened.

“The only thing that could have prevented it is if I could read dogs’ minds or predict the future," said Maleisa.

“Guess what? Nobody’s to blame. This was a freak accident. We are heartbroken. No one wanted this to happen.”

“They say they’re going to check our meter. That would be great. They say they’re going to check our phone records, that’s just going to substantiate everything we said, so I hope they do,” Maleisa said.

Arpaio has acknowledged that the Hughes' initially lied about the incident, claiming that the dogs had run away.

Air conditioning meters, call records and possible past complaints will be investigated to determine whether animal cruelty or neglect was a factor.

Necropsies are being performed on several of the dogs to hopefully confirm the cause of death.

"I think you know my record...We get the evidence and we take action," Arpaio said about animal cruelty cases.

It is unclear at this time what if any criminal charges will be filed.

Some pet owners said they already have contacted lawyers to pursue a possible civil case against the Hughes', who were vacationing out of state when the dogs died.

Sheriff's officials said the couple arranged for the dogs to be taken care of by their daughter and their son-in-law.

The son-in-law, Austin Flake, is the son of U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. The senator issued a statement calling it a "tragic accident" but didn't confirm or deny his son's involvement.

Sheriff's officials said the Flakes discovered the dogs Friday morning and the couple tried to save what animals they could by hosing and icing them down, but they failed to call for emergency assistance before the dogs died.

"If a crime occurred, someone will be held accountable," Arpaio said.

Arpaio said no permits are needed to run boarding facility businesses of this kind. He wants further action to be taken to ensure safety and proper care of the facilities.

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