GILBERT, Ariz. — The dog kennel where 20 dogs perished continued to accept other pets into their care after the other pets had died, according to a woman who left her dogs at the facility hours before Maricopa County deputies responded to the kennel.
Snow Aubel, 33, said she phoned the Green Acre Dog Boarding facility to confirm her pets' drop-off time at about 10 a.m. Saturday morning and told the facility's owner, Todd Hughes, she could be there within the hour. That was no problem, he said, and nothing seemed amiss at the facility when she arrived on schedule.
About two hours later, deputies from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office would swarm the property, transporting blanketed, dead dogs in wheelbarrow gurneys. They are said to have been dead since late Thursday night or early Friday morning.
"He never said anything about what was going on," Aubel said of Hughes. "He just took my dogs."
The kennel's owners did not respond to request for comment at their home and over the phone on Thursday.
In total, 20 of the 28 dogs the Sheriff's Office found at the facility perished. Aubel's were alive.
Her 7-year-old Weimaraner, Cheyenne, and 6-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Yepa, would remain at the facility until Sunday afternoon, when a representative from Rover, the canine-booking site Aubel used to make the reservation, called to say they would be finding the dogs' accommodations elsewhere.
Aubel, who is a relative of an azcentral.com employee, said she was never contacted by the owners or the Sheriff's Office, and was unaware of the situation until Rover relayed the news.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio said deputies did not take custody of the living dogs away from the facility because it was, and is still, unknown whether a crime had occurred.
"We haven't proven any cruelty," he said. "Usually if we arrest people on cruelty we put [the dogs] in our air-conditioned jail, but we haven't proven anything."
Aubel said Cheyenne and Yepa seemed at ease just before she left — Cheyenne darted off to chase a goose and Yepa chewed on some grass. Later she would see photos online of her two animals, alive with at least five others, in small, tiled room.
Other photos, released by the Sheriff's Office but deemed too graphic to be published by many media outlets, show the crammed carcasses of several other dogs, stored in a shed.
Workers told investigators that the dogs were last checked on Thursday night at about 11 p.m., and that by 5:30 a.m. Friday, a large number were discovered dead. Others were on the brink of death.
Sheriff's Office officials initially called the deaths a "tragic accident" that occurred after one of the dogs chewed through a power cord attached to an air-conditioning unit. The dogs died of heat exhaustion, they said.
But Arpaio on Monday acknowledged that the designation may have been premature, and promised a thorough investigation.
In particular, Arpaio said the owners' timeline didn't add up.
"How can you be healthy at 11 o'clock and dead at 5:30 in the morning? I think that's the key element," he said.
Aubel, who had visited the facility two months prior to her vacation, said she saw no red flags Saturday morning, and that everyone was acting normal.
Looking back, she said, it did occur to her that she didn't see one of the owners' dogs like she did last time. When she checked on the kennel before, she saw a yellow lab and a black lab. On Saturday, she only spotted the owner's black lab and a wolf hybrid.
Aubel said Hughes did mention to her that his family had just returned from vacation, but did not elaborate.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Chris Hegstrom said later that the owners flew back home Friday night, after hearing the news.
After the initial drop-off, Aubel realized she left her sunglasses there and called back. When she returned to the facility to pick them up, one of the owners' daughters greeted her with them in the front yard rather than letting Aubel come back inside.
"What really makes me upset is when I was there, the poor dogs that had passed away were right underneath my nose, and I didn't even know it," she said. "We would have postponed my vacation. They should not have accepted any more dogs."