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Owner says service dog died following stay at PetSmart

Last Updated Jul 17, 2018 at 10:51 am EDT

A weeklong vacation turned into every pet owner’s nightmare for a Toronto man who boarded his service dog at a local pet hotel.

Corey Dixon chose to leave his cardiac alert dog Aspen in the care of a PetSmart location in Etobicoke for a week while he was visiting Muskoka.

When he returned to pick her up, he says he found her much worse for wear.

“When we went to go pick her up they literally brought her out to us … with drool and vomit on her face and she was shaking …she hobbled over and collapsed in my arms,” says Dixon.  The dog had also lost almost 10 pounds.

Dixon rushed her to an emergency veterinary hospital where she was later placed in the ICU for critical care. Vets were unable to treat her ailments and a week later, Aspen had to be put down.

Dixon says they were never notified that Aspen was ill.

“I trusted her in the care of PetSmart and I was calling on a daily basis asking how she was doing and they kept saying she was doing fine,” he says.

PetSmart agreed to refund the amounts paid for Aspen’s stay as well as pay $5000 in vet bills — an amount that does not entirely cover the costs of her treatment.

But Aspen’s loss hit’s far deeper for Dixon, who has battled both mental and physical health issues for the better part of his life. He also suffered a life-altering accident in 2016 when he slipped and fell off a cliff at Albion Falls. While he made a remarkable recovery, Dixon still battles health issues related to the accident.

Dixon also lives with a heart condition that can cause him to faint without warning. Aspen was his service dog that was trained to alert passersby if he suddenly lost consciousness. Dixon says she saved his life more than once.

He believes PetSmart was negligent in their care of Aspen and says she was perfectly healthy and energetic when he left her with them. PetSmart says Aspen’s condition did not develop while at their facilities.

In an email statement PetSmart says “The treating veterinarian reported the cause of death as a pre-existing autoimmune disease called Myasthenia Gravis, an illness completely unrelated to Aspen’s stay at PetSmart. We’ll continue to stay in contact with the pet parent during this difficult time.”

However, Dixon says there is no medical confirmation that Aspen suffered from the condition. Vets only told Dixon his dog died of severe pneumonia, but test results are still pending.

Further, Dixon adds that part of the agreement with PetSmart was to have an on-call vet available should Aspen fall sick.

“They didn’t bother to even phone their on-call vet. So she could have actually gotten treatment sooner for this type of disease, if it actually had been this disease. We’re still waiting to hear,” he says.

Dixon says he’s now considering legal action.

Dan Schofield, litigation paralegal at SFG paralegal services, says liability agreements with the kennel would state that if anything goes wrong “in the normal course of business,” the kennel can’t be held liable.

“But if behaviour occurs that is tortuous in nature – so something’s not maintained properly and as a result somebody gets injured, somebody in their care passes away and it was a result of negligence – those things aren’t covered under a waiver of any kind,” says Schofield.

How are pet boarding facilities held accountable?

Aspen’s death calls into question the regulation and oversight of pet boarding facilities and how they are held accountable for the welfare of the beloved family companions.

CityNews found out that kennels aren’t regulated by any government oversight in the City of Toronto. Pet boarding businesses like kennels do not need to have a municipal license.

That’s not the case in other parts of Ontario.

The City of Ottawa amended it’s licensing bylaw in April, 2013 to include kennels and similar boarding facilities in its purview.

It states the number of cats or dogs that are allowed to be boarded, raised, trained or bred in different types of facilities.

It also has an animal-care and control bylaw that says “no more than a combined total of five dogs and cats, with a maximum of three dogs, over the age of 20 weeks may be boarded, raised or trained for any period of time unless a kennel license has been obtained.”

While Toronto has similar animal-care bylaws about the treatment of pets and number of dogs and cats you can have, kennels aren’t covered nor are they are not governed by any bylaws specific to them.

CityNews reached out to The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and asked if more oversight is required in Toronto. They directed us to a set of guidelines they created called the Code of Practice for Canadian Kennel Operations.

It sets out the standard of care kennels should be providing and was designed as an educational tool for breeders, kennel operators, veterinarians as well as legislative bodies that may want to create laws around the breeding and keeping of dogs.

It covers topics like record-keeping and sanitation as well as provision of food, water and veterinary medical care.

Their hope is that these guidelines will be baked into law, ensuring the safety of all dogs that stay in kennels.

“Our hope is that this comprehensive document will be used by breeders, kennel operators, and people looking to purchase a dog from a breeding facility,” said Dr. Troye McPherson, CVMA President. “We want legislative bodies to incorporate into law a reference that will address the breeding and keeping of dogs, and we want veterinarians to use this resource to assist their clients who are dog breeders, kennel operators or prospective owners.”