Twenty-eight dogs died over the weekend, possibly from heatstroke, at a training facility near Cave Creek, and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said his office will investigate.
The animals were housed at Partners Dog Training. The exact cause of death is yet to be determined.
Owners of all but about three dogs have been informed of the deaths, Arpaio said at a news conference Tuesday near the business.
Only two of 30 dogs being kept at the facility survived after an evaporative cooling unit apparently failed.
Located at 4640 E. Forest Pleasant Place, Partners Training is a large facility. A full acre separates Partners from its closest neighbor to the west.
According to the company’s Web site, numerous methods are used to train dogs, in- cluding a training camp in which the animals stay for two to six weeks. The site states the company "offers more classes and trains more dogs than any school in the U.S."
On Tuesday, no animals could be seen on the property. Arpaio said the animals were found at 7 a.m. Monday.
"Animal cruelty is one of my top priorities," he said.
Owner Leighton Oosthusien could not be reached. The gate to the compound’s office was locked.
The dogs were kept in a storage-type facility with a single evaporative cooler and ventilation fans, according to Arpaio.
He said his office will be try to determine if Oosthusien violated any laws that limit the number of animals that can be housed in a similarly sized facility.
The sheriff’s office will also investigate whether having only one evaporative cooler for the building was appropriate. "I’m not saying we’re going to press charges," Arpaio said. "But we’re going full force with this investigation." Neighbors who were contacted expressed regret that pet owners — as well as Oosthusien and his business — had suffered the loss. None complained of hearing unusual noises from dogs over the weekend.
"It’s very sad, but Leighton’s a wonderful man, a great trainer and cares about all the animals he works with," neighbor Kathy Critcher said. Critcher said she had taken her dogs to Partners only a month ago to train them to leave rattlesnakes alone. She said she had no reservations about taking her pets to the facility again.
"It was a terrible accident," said neighbor Jennifer Hitch. "I hope they fix the problem so it never happens again."